5 Rules to Finance Your University Degree
When you head off to uni it feels like the first real step into adulthood. You choose your own classes, the lecturers don’t know your names or hound you for your homework and can begin to structure your study and your life in a way which really suits you. Unfortunately, part of becoming an adult is paying your own way, and you will notice very quickly that university is a lot more expensive than school, especially when your parents decide that you should be covering some, if not all of the costs.
University study is an investment in your career and your future, and although that doesn’t make it any more affordable, it does mean that you should find a way to make your study work, rather than giving up because it’s too expensive. Following are five tips to help you finance your uni degree, and work out exactly what your study budget will be.
How much does university cost?
The cost of your university course will depend on what you choose to study, but the average Australian uni degree costs around $11,000. This is only the cost of the course, and doesn’t include food, transport and study supplies. The University of Western Australia has looked at the cost of living for its students and found:
- Uni student food costs are between $50 and $150 per week.
- Transport costs are around $16 per week.
- Books and school supplies are approximately $600 per year.
- Accommodation is between $140 and $350 per week.
- Total cost of living is between $370 and $455 per week, or between $19,200 and $23,000 per year.
In some cases, your field of chosen study may be considered a national priority area, and your tuition fees could be subsidised. In Australia for example areas such as math, science and statistics are cheaper to study as the government wants to increase the number of skilled workers in these areas and a uni degree in one of these areas will cost around $4,300 per year. However, arts, humanities, social sciences, education and nursing can cost around $5,400 and a uni degree in health, agriculture, computing or engineering can cost around $7,700 per year. At the highest end of the scale the courses with the greatest tuition costs are dentistry, medicine, law, accounting and economics, at around $9,000 per year.
1 – Government loans and assistance
The first rule to financing your uni degree is to find out what sorts of government assistance you are entitled to. Australian uni students in the 1970s and 80s were able to study for free and receive a study allowance to pay for their other expenses, and while governments aren’t quite that generous any more, you do have a few avenues to pursue for government support.
The first is a government student loan which can come in many forms depending on where you are studying. In most cases you can apply for a student loan with the option to pay it off at the beginning of the school year, when you graduate or when you start earning above the income threshold.
You may also be eligible for an allowance from the government while you are studying, whether you are living at home or independently. To apply for an allowance:
- You will need to be a full time student or studying at least 75% of the full time load of your course.
- Complete the relevant paperwork and provide the necessary identification.
- Provide proof of income from your parents or spouse.
The amount you receive will depend on your age and your own income and that of your parents if you are still living at home. Your assets and income will be taken into account if you are married.
2 – Scholarships
Remember in school when you worked your arse off to get your assignments in on time and study hard for your tests, while your classmates breezed in with excuses of sickness, forgetfulness or just plain apathy – and they still managed to pass? Well your hard work wasn’t all in vain because the difference between you and all of the average-achievers in your class will be recognised, because you have the opportunity for a university scholarship.
Scholarships don’t just rely on your academic achievements at school, so it is a good idea to keep your nose clean, study hard, participate in a lot of school activities and avoid the temptations to be a rebellious teen. Your high school career can then be a foundation for making you an attractive candidate to your chosen university. There are both public and private scholarships available and a quick online search will reveal your options and the criteria you need to follow for your submission. Just be aware of scholarship scams, and don’t pay anyone any money to find you a scholarship, as you can find them yourself for free through a little searching.
3 – Work while you study
With the amount that study will cost you, it doesn’t seem like a part time job between classes will cut it. However, as long as you know your rights you can make your job work for you:
- Ask for a regular payment. It is up to employers whether they pay you weekly, fortnightly or monthly, but they do have to stick with their choice. Make sure you are paid on time every pay period and that you are paid fairly for the work you do.
- Worker’s rights. You have the right to a safe and respectful work environment, this means the right to ask for certain days off so you can attend classes, or have enough time to study. Remember that you have the same rights as any other worker, even if you are working part time or as a casual. It is also your employer’s obligation to provide a safe work environment and that you receive the right care and compensation if an accident does happen.
- Union membership. Being a member of the union can help to protect your rights as a worker, and to have a say about your rights in the workplace. At the same time you should never feel pressured to join a union, and you should be able to join or decline membership without risk to your job.
- Choose the right job. You may be feeling a bit desperate and want to settle for the first part time job you see, but you can quickly end up in a minimum wage job with terrible hours. Instead, look for a higher paying job, and even one which is on campus, for example you could work nights and weekend waiting tables in the uni bar.
- Maintain balance. Most people in the workforce struggle with maintaining a work-life balance, and you have an added pressure to maintain a work-life-study balance, because all three are important for your success. Therefore, make sure you choose a job which will pay you a decent wage, but won’t force you to neglect your uni work, or eat into your relaxation and socialising down time with friends.
4 – Restructure your study
You don’t have to do your uni studies in the traditional way, and if you look outside the box for ways to restructure your study you can find that it will save you money too. Some alternatives to the traditional uni format which could work for you include:
- Complete uni subjects at high school. Many high schools have introduced programs which allow you to start taking uni courses in your last few years of school, and the classes you complete count towards a uni degree. When you study these courses through your school it is often free (well, part of the school fees your parents are already paying) and you can reduce the amount of time you need to spend at uni when you do finish school.
- Standardised tests. When you look at getting into uni or moving into a particular course you are interested in, you may find there is some required knowledge. In most cases students will take a preliminary uni course in that subject, to give them the knowledge they need to qualify. However, that general requirement course is extra time and more importantly extra money, when you could simply sit the standardised test for that subject. You can study for the test in your own time at the library without the need to buy expensive text books, or pay for all of the classes.
- Equivalent college. If you get into a four year uni course for example, you don’t have to do all four years at the same institution. You can start doing the first two years at a community college, which will be much cheaper and are easily transferable to your preferred college later. Your course credits from the first two years of your study will be recognised and the degree you get at the end will be from your chosen uni.
- Take extra classes. Look at the course structure and decide whether you will have the time and the energy to do your four year course in three years, or your three year course in two years for example. If you take on one or two extra classes each semester you can cut a year off of your uni degree and you will be out in the real world earning a real wage much sooner. Many unis will also charge a flat tuition fee to all full time students, so it shouldn’t cost you any more to add a few extra classes.
5 – Have someone else pay for your uni degree
Asking your parents to help you finance your uni degree is about more than just tapping into the parental ATM, and to convince them to hand over the cash you’re going to have to make them see that. However, you can ask, beg, plead and guilt your parents into financing your uni degree but if they don’t have the money, they don’t have the money. Even still you can get them to finance your study by taking out a study loan in their name.
It makes far more financial sense for your parents to take out a uni loan for the amount of your tuition as they will likely have a strong credit rating, attractive security in their home, high incomes, low debts and reduced expenses if their kids are already in their late teens. They will therefore be able to qualify for a much better loan interest rate, and save you from being tens of thousands of dollars in debt, while it will still be years before you can start repaying it.
If your parents aren’t convinced of the idea of financing your uni degree, don’t let them off the hook that easily, because you can still live at home while you study. You will save hundreds of dollars a year by living at home, and if you can choose a uni close enough that you don’t have to move out you can even save on transport costs. If you’re worried about your family cramping your style during your uni years, just think about how much more debt would cramp your style for many years after uni.
While you’re looking at ways you family can help you finance your uni degree, don’t forget to take advantage of any family, or friends, who work at your uni. Both teaching and non-teaching positions unusually qualify for some staff discounts on courses, in the book shop and even at the bar, which they can pass onto you.
Another option is to look for the job and the employer before you have the degree. Many employers will be willing to pay for your uni degree while you work for them, so that they have you trained in exactly the way which suits their business, and they know they have your loyalty from the beginning. Just make sure you check on the limitations of these sorts of tuition reimbursement schemes as you may be limited to the types of uni you can go to, and you may have to agree to a certain contract with your employer after your study is completed.
Alban has been offering personal finance tips for the last 3 years. He has contributed a large range of articles on topics such as payday loans, savings account and interest rates.