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How do I pay for university without my parents' help?

If you’re heading off to university at the end of the summer, you might be wondering how to pay for university. This question is particularly pressing if you’re handling the financial side of things without any help from your parents.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of scholarships and grants in place to help you through your time at university, ranging from government-backed loans through to scholarships reserved for top-class sportspeople—so there are plenty of ways you’ll be able to make it through on your own two feet. Learn more below:

How to pay for university with a scholarship

A scholarship is a payment that does not need to be paid back—once it hits your bank account, it’s yours for good. As a result, scholarships play a key role in answering the question of how to pay for university. Scholarships are usually merit-based, meaning that they are awarded on the basis of academic ability, musical skill or sporting talent, for example. If you're wondering how to get a scholarship, here are some ideas:

  • Sports scholarships: Universities often offer sports scholarships to attract talented athletes to their teams. At the UK’s University of Loughborough, a sports scholarships can be worth up to £5,000. To be considered for one of these, you may have to demonstrate that you’ve represented your country in your sport, or have a high ranking in your sport’s national leaderboard.

  • Academic scholarships: The French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs offers €100 million in scholarships. Most of these are for graduate-level students, but there are some programs for undergraduate students. The ‘Excellence-Major’ scheme, for example, offers the brightest and the best students up to €685 a month.

  • Music scholarships: At the Royal College of Music, for example, applicants are automatically assessed for a scholarship of up to £6,000 per annum during their audition. And guess what? You don’t even need to fill out an application form for it!

How to pay for university with a grant

Like a scholarship, a grant is a non-repayable financial contribution. Unlike scholarships, however, grants are not merit-based. Instead, they are awarded on the basis of need—and can really help you with working out how to pay for university. Here’s an overview of how this works across the EU, and how to apply for grants:

  • The UK: Need-based grants are handled by individual universities. The University of Leeds offers a hardship grant of up to £3,500, for example.

  • Germany: Grants and loans go hand-in-hand, as German public funding is provided on a 50% grant/50% loan basis. For example, if you receive funding from the Ministry of Education:

    • Half of this is provided as a loan (which you need to pay back).
    • Half is provided as a non-repayable grant.
  • France: The ‘bourse d'enseignement supérieur sur critères sociaux’ offers grants to people in financial need. These are all applicable to people from other EU countries, too, as long as they’ll have spent at least 5 years in France by the time they finish their studies. The amount of support provided is based on parental household income, but can amount to €5,500 a year, in addition to free tuition.

  • Italy: The ‘Diritto allo Studio Universitario’ (‘right to study’) offers student grants on behalf of Italy’s Ministry of Education, Universities and Research. They are administered on a regional basis, and take into account financial need as well as academic achievement. In 2017, €217 million was given out in grants of this type.

  • Spain: As much as 27% of students are in receipt of a grant for their studies Grants average €2,500 per year (although some students receive as much as €6,240!). These grants are administered centrally by the government. You can apply for them as part of the overarching university application process.

It’s worth noting that you can also receive an Erasmus+ grant if you study abroad at another university in Europe doing your degree. The amount you receive is calculated on the basis of the country you’re studying in and how long you’re there for, but it can be up to €350 a month. This is money you don’t need to pay back—and it might really help you work out how to pay for university.

How to pay for university with a loan

Unlike scholarships and grants, loans need to be paid back: the money isn’t yours for ever. When working out how to pay for university, consider the impact of this on your future finances, and don’t forget about the interest rate, either. You could end up paying back a decent chunk more than you received—this is why it’s worth thinking about the future when working out how to finance yourself in the present, or more specifically, how to get a student loan. Here are some examples:

In the UK, there are two government-organised loans that you can apply for to help you work out how to pay for university:

  • A tuition fee loan is to cover the costs of your university course itself.

    • The government pays the loan directly to the university in question, and you start paying it back once you’ve graduated and your income reaches the repayment threshold.
    • The tuition fee loan will cover the total amount of your fees – or up to £9,250.
    • If you’re from the EU (rather than the UK specifically), you are still eligible for a tuition fee loan.
  • A maintenance loan is to cover your living costs while you’re studying.

    • This includes things like your rent, food, travel and other expenses.
    • The exact amount you’ll receive is calculated on the basis of where in the country you live and what your parents’ household income is.
    • You could be looking at over £11,000 a year.
    • The UK maintenance loan is not usually available to students from other parts of the EU.

In Germany, the Ministry of Education is the main provider of loans for students. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The exact amount you’ll get is based on a range of factors:
    • Your parents’ occupation
    • Your parents’ earnings
    • The type of degree course you’re undertaking.
  • However, the maximum monthly amount is €670.
  • The German government writes off 50% of the value of the loan as a grant, so you only have to pay half of it back.

In France, the government has paired up with banks to provide loans under the ‘Prêt étudiant garanti par l'État’ scheme.

  • This sees banks offer loans of up to €1,000 to students.
  • These loans are 70% backed by the state, meaning that no guarantor is required.

In Italy, the government subsidises undergraduate tuition as a whole rather than offering a central loan scheme to students.

In Spain, the situation is similar, with no central government loan program for undergraduate degrees.

As you can see, there are all kinds of ways to ensure you can pay for university without going into the red. But, once you’ve got your money and you're ready to start studying, don’t forget that you also need somewhere to keep it...


__Your money at N26

Thankfully, N26’s easy-to-open bank account is here to help, and it's the ideal companion for studying at college or university. With free ATM withdrawals if you're studying abroad, no foreign transaction fees or mark-up fees, and a handy Statistics feature that tracks where your money goes, you'll soon learn how to better manage your finances on your own–without a parent in sight!

And the best part? Opening an N26 online is fast, paperless, and free!

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