What is the true cost of university?

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A student doing her finances to work out the cost of university

Yesterday, a legal bigwig predicted that a future barrister starting university this year could pay £127,000 for their education. Whatever you're studying, this news may have come as a shock if you're off to uni soon. So just how much can you really expect to fork out on the cost of university?

We all know that higher education carries a hefty price tag, but the truth is, most students won't spend anywhere near this much on the cost of university.

£127,000 is the worst-case scenario

Even yesterday's estimate was an extreme example. It was based on the case of a student who studies a non-law subject at a university charging the highest fees, who, after graduating, decides to study further to become a barrister (someone who defends or prosecutes people in court, not someone who makes coffee).

This student has already paid £27,000 on tuition fees alone when they decide to go into law. They then have to turn their original qualification into a law degree, then do a third course on how to work in court (yet another £18,000). Factor in London living costs and they qualify with a bill of roughly £127,000.

What it costs to be a student

Now, if you're not studying law and not living in London, the chances are you won't be spending close to that figure. So what do the numbers look like more typically?

Tuition fees

Back in 2012, the government increased the amount universities were allowed to charge for tuition fees from around £3,000 to just under £9,000. In 2015-16, £9,000 is the maximum amount universities are allowed to charge per year for tuition fees.

Although about three-quarters of universities charge the maximum, it is possible to find cheaper courses. On average, students pay £26,000 for a three-year course.

*This information is true for England and Wales. The system works differently in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Books, travel and equipment

A student reading a book
You'll have to budget for equipment like books – an essential part of any student's life

You can expect to pay just over £700 per year on travel, and just under £1,100 on books, your laptop and printer, stationery and other equipment.

If you're a good library user, you could reduce the amount you spend on books by quite a lot (unless you forget to take them back!) but, depending on your course, you may need your own copy of some of them.

Living costs

You may feel fine about surviving on beans and lentils and living in a shoe box for three years today, but it won't look so attractive when you get to university. Unfortunately, living expenses are something you can't avoid.

You may be able to beat the average, but you still need something to eat and somewhere to stay. And having a roof over your head creates other expenses, such as insurance, and heating and electricity bills.

The average cost of living each year for students outside London is £12,056. Inside London, it's slightly higher at £13,338. This includes rent, food, things you need for your house (like washing-up liquid, soap and so on) and yourself (like clothes), as well as some money for going out and having fun.

How does it all add up?

So if you're bang on average, you could look at paying just over £21,000 per year. That's just shy of £63,500 in total.

While that's still a lot of money, it's less than half the £127,000 predicted for those who go on to become barristers. And according to the government, an average graduate can expect to earn of £12,000 per year more than people without degrees. This makes the cost of university well worthwhile over an entire career.

Is university the only option?

Whether the expense is worthwhile for you is something you need to think about and plan for. Remember that university isn't the only option.

An apprenticeship is another type of qualification which lets you train while you work, and get paid at the same time. If you're keen to do a degree, you could do a Degree Apprenticeship. These are new apprenticeships which include university study, allowing you to graduate with a Bachelor's or Master's degree.

Another option is a Higher Apprenticeship, which allows you to train for a range of highly skilled jobs, from bank manager to airline pilot (it doesn't get much more high-flying than that!).

If you're still undecided, why not compare the pros and cons of university and apprenticeships?

Dead set on uni?

If you're dead set on university, then don't forget that there's plenty of support out there in the form of student loans and grants, which make the up-front expense bearable for most students. Many students take on part-time work or a summer job to ease the burden.

You might also like...

What you need to know about student finance

Should I apply for an apprenticeship or university?

Degree Apprenticeships: What are they and are they for me?

Thinking about university? A higher apprenticeship could work for you too

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