Thursday, 31 March 2016

Cure the debt hangover from your student days

As the heady days of student life become consigned to the realm of nostalgia, it’s time to pick up the tab.
Reality might begin to bite when you find yourself landed in thousands of pounds worth of debt, money flowing out of your account that you cannot keep track of, and a credit history tarred from years of abusing credit. However, there are some quick and easy steps you can take to get your finances back on track.
Clean up your overdraft act
While your overdraft may have seemed like your best friend during your student days, now you are no longer studying it is likely to be more of a curse, particularly if it has become a permanent state of affairs.
Most student current accounts give you a grace period of a year or so to pay off your overdraft before hefty interest rates and other charges are added, so you will need to act before it starts costing you dearly. But how?
Cut the cost of your balance in the red
To do this, you essentially have two options:
1.    Transfer to a new overdraft account – the aim here is to get an account that will accept your outstanding overdraft and make it cheaper or, ideally, interest-free while you work on paying it off.
If you are a recent graduate, you should first look at switching to a specific graduate current account – this does not necessarily have to be with the same bank as your student account – as most offer interest-free overdrafts for two or three years after you graduate.
If it has been a while since your student days but you have never made it out of your overdraft, a standard current account with an interest-free overdraft is worth considering. Alternatively, you could look at moving the balance to another interest-free home, such as a balance transfer credit card.
2.    Transfer to an interest-free credit card – 0% balance transfer credit cards which offer money transfers could help you to significantly cut the cost of your overdraft balance. Using one of these cards, you will be able to pay off your overdraft balance by moving the debt onto the credit card. You will then be able to work at paying it off without any more interest being added.
Of course, the biggest drawback of using a 0% balance transfer card is that the interest-free period will only be temporary, often between three and 18 months long. If you have not cleared your overdraft by the time this deal is up, you will need to move the balance again. You will need to pay a handling fee (usually around 2-3%) each time you shift your balance too.
If you don’t fancy having a time limit imposed on you, you could consider moving your overdraft debt to a lifetime balance transfer card. Lifetime balance transfer cards will apply a low rate to your borrowing until you clear the balance, however long that takes.
Clear the balance
Once you have your overdraft balance cornered on an interest-free card or current account, you can work on clearing it for good so that part of your student debt hangover is wiped out.
Read our article on clearing the balance on your overdraft for more information.
Sort out the state of your credit cards
It may be that you ran up thousands of pounds worth of debt on credit and store cards while you were at uni, and it is only now, as you begin to look at the state of your finances, that you realise just how much you've spent on them during the last few years.
Again, the best course of action is to simply pay these off if you have the means to, but as you are unlikely to have a spare £1,000 laying around in the post-student fallout, your options are to make the credit card balances cheaper by transferring them elsewhere, then working on paying them off over time.
Prioritise outstanding loans
If you took out a personal loan while you were a student, you will have to look at how to make this cheaper too by paying it off or transferring the balance to an interest-free home. However, these are a little trickier and you will have to look at the loan terms carefully to avoid being charged for paying off the loan early, for example.
Figures like this can be alarming to say the least, especially when you barely have enough in your pocket for basic living expenses. The best thing to do about this whopping loan is not to worry too much about it.
Firstly, you will only have to begin paying back that loan when your earnings exceed a certain threshold (currently £21,000 per annum). At that point, a relatively small amount will begin to be automatically deducted from your wages and put towards paying off your student loan.
It is also worth noting that your student loan is likely to be the cheapest loan you will ever receive. Read our guide on whether or not you should pay off your student loan early.
Another outstanding loan that might be on your mind is money that was lent to you by family and friends during the course of your studies. Hopefully this will not be accruing interest, which means it’s not a priority to pay off if you have other debts that are not interest-free, but you should still work on paying it off as soon as possible if you want to stay on the right side of your nearest and dearest.
Tidy your credit report
This could be the first time in your life that you have thought about your credit report, and it is essential to get it in shape so you don’t have problems in the future with getting credit when you really need it – getting a mortgage for example, or financing a new car.
Moving around a lot while you are a student, as well as missing payments on credit cards and racking up debt in your overdraft, can mean your credit report comes out of the whole experience a little worse for wear.
As such, the first thing you should do is check your credit report. This will show any defaulted payments from the last few years, as well as the last addresses you are recorded as having lived at.
Check all the information is correct – for example, if you see an address listed that you have never lived, at or an account opened in your name that has nothing to do with you, you should contact the credit agency and inform them of the right information.
You can then start taking steps to rebuild your credit rating and to create a solid credit history. Obviously this will mean making all future credit payments on time, whether that is on your mortgage, a credit card, or a personal loan. You can also do things to make yourself look like more of a 'stable' borrower by registering to vote – read our guide for more details on how to improve your credit rating.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Not holding any teacher training offers? You may be able to use Apply 2...

If you’ve applied for teacher training programmes starting this year but are not holding any offers, you may be able to apply elsewhere using Apply 2. If you’re thinking about taking this path, there are a few things to consider first.

1) Check vacancies
Before using Apply 2, give the training provider a quick call to make sure they still have vacancies for the training programme you’re interested in. Even if the training programme is listed with vacancies in our search tool, it’s still worth double checking.

2) Is it the right programme for you?
Don’t rush into adding the first training programme that looks appealing – research what it offers and whether it meets your expectations. We’ve got lots of advice on what you should consider when choosing a training programme.

3) Open days
Where possible, try to attend an open day to get a better feel for the training provider before accepting a place. You’ll get to see the provider in action, learn more about the area, and will have a great opportunity to meet the tutors and ask questions about the programme.

4) Interviews
You’ll need to attend an interview before you’re offered a place. Keep this in mind when applying as you may be asked to attend an interview within 40 days of adding a choice. If you’re offered an interview, congratulations! Check out our top tips on how to prepare before you attend.
If you have any questions, take a look at the Apply 2 information on our website, or get in touch with our advisers on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

How to afford to send your child to university

If your child is hoping to go to university in the next few years, chances are you’re more than a little concerned by the recent jump in tuition fees. Here is what you can do to prepare your finances (and theirs) for university life.

Going to university can be an essential step onto the career ladder, but with tuition fees up to £9,000 a year, getting a degree has never been less affordable.

If you or your children are planning to go to university in the not too distant future, it is essential that you consider how you will cover the cost sooner rather than later.

Students who started their education from 2012 onwards fall into the higher fee threshold, where universities can charge anywhere up to £9,000 a year in fees alone.

However, not all course providers have decided to set their fees to this maximum level. Check how much the universities your son or daughter is looking at plan to charge for their chosen subject, and take this into consideration before they apply.

Accommodation costs
Accommodation costs represent one of the biggest outgoings for students.

Most undergraduate students spend the first year of their studies in university halls of residence, before moving into private rented accommodation.

Compare their cost of staying in halls to that of renting a room in a house in the town or city where they will be studying.

If your son or daughter is studying closer to home, they may save money by staying with you and commuting to university rather than paying accommodation costs.

Some student halls may be catered, meaning they’ll cost more but will provide meals for your son or daughter. Work out whether they would spend more on food if left to their own devices.

Your son or daughter may also be able to cut the costs of student accommodation by volunteering as a warden, although this is not always open to undergraduate students.

Start saving
Saving in advance is a must for any potential student and their parents. Even if your son or daughter is heading off to university in just a few months, it is never too late to start putting money aside, especially as the first few months can be some of the most expensive.

You can also encourage them to do the same by taking advantage of the better interest rates offered by under 18s savings accounts.

Compare instant access accounts to find an option that helps you and your child save for the cost of university life and lets you draw your money when you need to.

Check for bursaries and grants
Checking each university's website for grants and bursaries, and applying for any that you are eligible for, is a good way of reducing the cost of your child's university education.

Some universities offer money to the highest academic achievers, to encourage applications from the highest achieving students. If your son or daughter needs any extra motivation to study, the possibility of a financial reward for their efforts could help spur them on.

Apply for student finance
Your son or daughter can apply for both a tuition fee loan and a maintenance loan:

Tuition fee loan
The tuition fee loan is paid directly to the university to cover the annual cost of their tuition fees.
This means the money never actually passes through your child's bank account.

Maintenance loan
The maintenance loan is designed to provide funds to cover the costs of living while studying.

The amount your son or daughter will be eligible for depends on your household income and where they will be living during their studies. For 2016/17 the maximum available to students is as follows:

£6,904 for students living at home while studying
£8,200 for students living outside of London and away from home
£10,702 for students living in London and away from home
£9,391 for students living or studying abroad for at least one term

Remember, while a student loan is one of the cheapest ways of borrowing money, it will still have to be repaid once your son or daughter is working and earning enough to pay it back.

Compare student bank accounts
A student bank account is likely to be the centre of your child's finances throughout their university life. Choosing an account that best suits their needs could save them a substantial sum over the duration of a three or four year university course.

Many student accounts also offer other perks like travel insurance or a student railcard that may prove useful and save your child money during their university life.

Compare student bank accounts.

Re-examine your finances
One way you may be able to help your son or daughter is by cutting your costs in other areas, allowing you to save more towards their university fund.

Your utility bills, mortgage provider, and financial products are areas you might want to consider reviewing.

Prepare a budget
If your son or daughter has had little experience in managing their money, then work out:

what their major costs will be while at university
what you can afford to contribute
any other income they will have, such as a maintenance loan or a wage from a job

You could then prepare a budget with them before they leave, outlining how much they can afford to spend each week.

Shop smart
Chances are you will need to buy quite a few household items to prepare your son and daughter for life away from home.

Compare prices online before you buy, or even while you are out shopping, and you could end up saving quite a considerable sum of money in total.

Consider renting out their room
If you need to find extra income to help support your son or daughter, you could consider renting out their room to a lodger while they are away.

Many lodgers will only need a room during the week, meaning that if your child wants to come home at the weekend, they would still be able to.


Thursday, 17 March 2016

Can distance learning earn you a degree in your spare time?

Have you ever considered a distance learning course, but been put off by the cost and a lack of free time? Here is what distance learning is all about, and how you could fit it around your schedule.

Distance learning can be a flexible, time efficient way of learning from home in your own time, without being in regular, face-to-face contact with teachers or lecturers in the classroom.

You are supplied with learning materials by the college or university providing your course, which can be usually accessed online.

You will still have one-to-one tutorials, but these will take place remotely by phone, email, Skype or webinars. Most courses now have message boards and study forums where students on the same course can discuss their studies.

Courses can include summer schools or residential weekends where you can work with fellow students on a specific project.

Why choose distance learning?

Distance learning is a fantastic option for thousands of people, for a variety of reasons.

Allows you to work and learn at the same time; gain qualifications that will improve your career without giving up work.
Flexibility to fit your studies around your work and family commitments.
Access to education even if you live in remote areas, or have health issues or disabilities that make going to university difficult.
Cheaper tuition fees, and reduces associated costs of campus based university life.
Quality of the course and qualifications are the same as campus based programmes.
Distance learning courses often have lower entrance requirements

There are a few downsides, however. You will miss out on the social aspect of campus life, and you will not have access to resources like the university library or regular contact with your lecturers.

Part-time or full-time study?

A major advantage of distance learning is the level of flexibility of scheduling your learning around your day-to-day life. One of the first and most important decisions you will need to make in this regard is whether you will study part-time or full-time.

Part-time study

The part-time option is popular as it allows you the time to study and work at the same time. 70% of Open University students work full-time whilst studying and most will spend around 16-18 hours a week on their course, taking them six years to complete a full undergraduate degree.

Before considering a distance learning course whilst you work have a think about whether you have enough time to dedicate to your studies.

If you think you would struggle to find the time, try to think of creative ways to fit your study around your day. Could you listen to any audio material on your drive to work?

The obvious downside of studying part-time is that it will take you a long time to get your qualification. If you are in no rush then this is not a problem, but if you want to qualify quickly you will need to consider dedicating more time to your studies.

Full-time study

If you study full-time, you will be expected to spend around 35 hours a week on your course. This is not an unreasonable amount of time if you are not working, or if you work a few part-time hours, but if you work full-time it will probably be too much to handle.

It can be tempting to try and tackle as much as possible, but if you are working full-time it is recommended you do not study for more than 18 hours a week. By keeping your study manageable you give yourself the best chance of getting good grades.

If you can dedicate yourself full-time to your studies then you could complete an undergraduate course in three years.

What is available?

Many universities also offer distance learning courses, for example the Universities of Leicester, Derby, Aberdeen and Reading all offer distance learning options. Start by deciding upon the subject you would like to study and pick the course that best suits you.

There are also providers who specialise in distance learning courses, such as The Open University.


Many thanks to for their words of advice! You can look for distance learning courses in our search tool. Pick the subject that you're interested in then click the 'Flexible/Part-time study' filter to see what's available.

Take the Spotlight - and the winners are...

Our second ‘Take the Spotlight’ competition, exclusively for UCAS Conservatoire students, came to a close at the end of February.

To enter, students sent us a short video. Amongst other things, they were asked to think about:

• who or what inspired them to pursue a music/dance/drama-related course
• why they chose to study at a conservatoire over university or HE college
• the benefits of studying at a conservatoire

One lucky winner would win our top prize of £2,500 and two runners up would bag themselves £1,000.

We received so many truly inspiring entries and… drumroll please, here are the winners…

Winning entry:
Our winning entry came from Liam Vincent-Kilbride who studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. In his entry he passionately tells us everything that he loves about conservatoire life in this fantastic video.

The runners up
David Sharp from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and Sarah Lockhart from Royal Conservatoire of Scotland were our runners up with their videos. They both won £1,000 with their inspirational takes on conservatoire life.

Feeling inspired to study at a conservatoire? Check out our website for more information on the courses on offer and how to apply. If you’ve got any questions about how to apply then put them to our advisers on Facebook or Twitter.

Top tips for revision

Exam season is just around the corner – even though it can be a stressful time for many, with a bit of preparation you can do well! These seven tips will get you started:

1. Have a plan
Create a timetable in the weeks leading up to your exams. Jot down when your exams are and what topics you need to revise. You know yourself what subjects you may need to commit more time to so keep this in mind when planning your revision.

2. Take regular breaks
Shorter revision stints work much better than trying to do hours at a time. Try 40 minutes revision with regular ten minute breaks. This will keep you focused and help you retain more information.

3. Use post-its
Keep post-its with key info dotted around your revision space, these will act as reminders for the stuff you’ve previously revised.

4. Practice exam questions 
These will be available at your school, college, and even online. What better way to prepare for an exam than taking previous papers?

5. Disconnect 
The urge to look at Facebook, take a quick YouTube break, or put an episode on Netflix may be quite high. But there is a quick solution - disconnect from your mobile, tablet, or TV! Turn them off and have them out of sight. Minimising any distractions will keep you focused on the job in hand.

6. Test yourself with family members or friends
Share what you’ve learnt by relaying any key info to family members and friends. Repeating the information will keep it fresh in your mind. Also, ask them to test your knowledge with a few quick-fire questions here and there.

7. Eat healthily and remember to sleep!
A healthy diet and plenty of sleep will keep you feeling fresh, fight off any germs, and keep you on top of your game. The last thing you want is to feel under the weather around your exams.

Good luck in your exams!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

How to pick a bank account for uni

Banks want you as a customer so will try to tempt you with gimmicks like gift certificates and freebies, but other features could save you money and help you stay on top of your finances.

Student accounts work like normal bank accounts but they come with extra features, and you can only open them if you are in higher education.

Here’s what to look for:

Look for the best overdraft

Overdrafts let you keep spending after the balance in your account hits zero. Your account will then show a negative balance, so if you withdrew £30 with just £5 left in your account, your new balance would be -£25.

Overdrafts usually charge interest on what you borrow. However, many student accounts offer interest free overdrafts of up to £3,000.

Some student overdrafts increase each year; for example, you could get £1,000 in your first year, £2,000 in your second year, and £3,000 in your third year.

You will have to repay the amount you borrow at some point, so check how long each interest free overdraft lasts. Some will be up to six years, which could give you time to graduate and get a full-time job before you need to pay it back.

Be careful not to spend beyond the overdraft limit because you will be charged fees and interest and could damage your credit record.

Watch out for fees

Bank accounts can come with other fees too like:

monthly or annual fees for holding the account
fees for failed standing orders or direct debits

Most accounts charge you for sending money to another country, withdrawing cash abroad or requesting copies of old statements. Choose an account with low fees for these services if you will use them.

Who can get a student account?

Most student accounts will only accept you if you will be in full-time education, are older than their minimum age and a UK resident.

Some accounts also require you to pay at least two bills from your account every month (by direct debit), and some need you to pay in a minimum amount each month or term (whether that comes from your student loan or a job).

Find out how you can use the account

Most current accounts should offer:

A debit card
Online banking
ATM withdrawals
Telephone banking
Contactless payments or a service like Apple Pay
A mobile phone app

Decide which of these features you need and make sure the account you choose offers them.

Check for nearby branches

Having a branch close by could be useful if you need to:

pay in cash
pay in a cheque
take out cash if you lose your card

Check the interest rate
Some current accounts pay better interest rates than most savings accounts. You only earn interest when you are in the black, so only look for a high interest rate if you are sure you will always have money in your account.

If not, choose an account with a cheap overdraft because this will save you more money.

Free stuff

The freebies offered with student bank accounts can include:

free software like Microsoft Office
free student railcards
gift vouchers
cards that offer discounts in shops and restaurants like the tastecard or an NUS extra card

These freebies can be useful, but finding an account that offers what you need is more important, so don’t pick an account for its perks unless they will save you a lot of money (like a railcard if you frequently travel by train).

You can use our comparison of every student current account to find one that suits your needs. If you find two or more accounts that offer everything you want, then pick the one with the best freebies.

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How to cut the cost of bills and insurance at uni

If you can cut the cost of the dull things in life, you’ll have more money to spend on exciting things.
It’s worth spending a few minutes shopping around for cheaper utilities and insurance if it will save you enough for a night out. Here’s how:

Paying bills
Halls of residence and some student houses include most of your bills in your rent, but if you live in private accommodation that you share with others you will need to share the bills too.

To make it fair you could use a service like Split the Bills. Everyone in the house makes one monthly payment, and they use this to pay your bills and cover their costs.

You could set up a joint current account to pay your bills from instead and all pay enough into the account to cover the bills each month. This would create a financial association on your credit report with your housemates, so you would need to be able to fully trust everyone.

Electricity, gas and water
If they are not included in your rent you can save on your gas and electricity bills by cutting how much you use, sending meter readings to your supplier and switching to a cheaper deal – here’s how.

Although you can’t change your water supplier to save money, here are five easy ways to cut your water bill.

Broadband, phone and TV
Make sure you get a good enough internet connection to handle everyone in the house sharing it. You can find packages that are affordable and have a high enough download limit and speed by comparing student broadband deals here.

You can also get bundles that include a home phone line and TV package, but don’t pay extra for free landline minutes if you only ever make calls on your mobile. Here is how to get the best deal on a broadband bundle.

Some packages have a minimum length of a year, so if you’ll only be living somewhere for nine months, find a deal with a shorter contract.

Other bills
You don’t need to pay council tax if everyone you live with is a full-time student. You will need a TV licence if you watch programmes as they’re being shown, whether you watch it on a TV or another device.

The best way to get value for money from insurance is to work out exactly what you need.
You legally have to have some types of insurance (like car insurance if you drive). For others, weigh up if the cost is worth it or if it would be cheaper to replace what you are insuring yourself if something went wrong. This will avoid wasting money on expensive cover or policies you don’t need.

There are lots of ways you can cut your car insurance costs like paying upfront, fitting an alarm or getting black box – here are the ten best ways.

Although you don’t have to get contents insurance, it can pay out to replace your possessions if things go wrong, including fire, floods or accidents. It can be worth getting a policy that covers theft as well because students are more likely to be victims of property theft than other adults. Here are some tips on picking a policy that will pay out if you need it.

Alternatively, you can get a separate policy for an expensive gadget like a phone, laptop, tablet or camera. Here’s how gadget insurance works.

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Why study an apprenticeship?

Why study an apprenticeship? The biggest draw for many is the fact you earn while you learn, but you also experience what full-time employment is like and receive a qualification at the same time!

But don't just take our word for it. Alex and Conor, who are both apprentices at Airbus Group, share their experiences first hand with us.

When did you start your apprenticeship?

We began in September 2014 and we are now progressing through the second year of our apprenticeship, currently situated at the Airbus Broughton Site.

What are your daily activities?
Alex: My current placement within the business is in A350 Lineside Quality. My daily activities in this department include carrying out technical investigations in order to discover the root cause of a certain issue or non-conformance. The idea is to gather as much information as possible by analysing engineering documentation and conducting physical inspections on the defected areas.

Although this can sometimes be challenging, the rewarding feeling when an issue has been resolved makes it worthwhile. As part of my BEng Degree I am currently managing a work based project in which I am looking at possible redesigns of tooling with an aim to reduce the number of defects per wingset. I am also responsible for analysing inspection data; areas with a high concentration of defects can then be targeted for improvement. The type of tasks you can expect in Quality Lineside is varied, especially due to the unique characteristics/ material properties of the A350 Wing.

Conor: The department I am currently situated in is Non-Destructive Testing (NDT). My daily activities include assisting engineers to analyse the internal properties of the aircraft components when defects are found or created. This is where we would scan the areas of damage with a sensitive probe which is able to detect microscopic cracks, on or below the surface, and reveals them on a diagnostic reader. Advances in composite technology now allow us to carry out this type of work on carbon fibre components such as on the A350XWB, and ultrasonic inspections can now detect various forms of defect such as delamination, impact damage, surface notches, and thermal over-exposure.

What is the best thing about your apprenticeship?
Alex: Working with industry experts in a field that I am passionate about and knowing that I will be constantly challenged throughout my apprenticeship. The engagement activities, such as Outward Bound, was a personal highlight of mine last year as we got to meet and work with apprentices from Germany and France. Being in an office that overlooks the runway is good too!

Conor: It’s great knowing that I am gaining the qualifications I would’ve achieved at university without the worries of debts, whilst also earning a comfortable salary within a well-established business and working alongside world-class engineers. Our recent visit to the Filton site was also an eye-opener as it showed us the scale that Airbus operates on, and gave us an insight into projects currently being developed for future aviation technology!

How has your apprenticeship prepared you for your future career?
Our apprenticeship has given us the qualifications we need to take on the diverse and demanding job roles that are available here at Airbus, and the experience we have gained along the way from industry experts is invaluable!

The practical skills and hands-on experience we have learnt is something that we wouldn’t have been able to gain in university alone and the experience in the field is second to none when compared with sitting in a lecture theatre. We believe that this will allow us to make successful careers for ourselves in Airbus and the aerospace industry.

What would be your advice to anyone thinking about an apprenticeship?
Apply! There aren’t many opportunities where you get paid to study; usually it’s the other way around. In terms of advice, we recommend doing as much engineering related work experience as possible as this will give you an idea to whether or not you enjoy working in a factory environment; not to mention strengthening your application.

It is one thing saying that you are passionate about aerospace engineering, but showing it is a different thing altogether. Try to get involved in any clubs that are STEM related in school, or if you are in college, set one up yourself and manage it for the lower school. Teamwork is a big deal at Airbus; try to get involved in as many team activities as possible, and finally research the Airbus website to see if you possess or could demonstrate the Airbus Key Values.

Meet some amazing apprentices and enter our apprenticeship competition to win an iPad Air.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Are apprenticeships the right path for you?

Apprenticeships come in all shapes and sizes but did you know that loads of famous people began their careers as apprentices?

Elvis Presley was an apprentice electrician, Sir Alex Ferguson was an apprentice tool worker and Ozzy Osbourne started out as an apprentice plumber. Admittedly they didn’t become famous in their chosen apprenticeship careers but the skills they learnt stood them in good stead.

These transferable skills are what employers rave about. They say that apprentices are 15% more employable than those with other qualifications. They can communicate effectively, plan and think ahead and are helpful and trustworthy.

So don’t rule out the apprenticeship route, it could be the road to success. Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Gary Rhodes all did apprenticeships in culinary skills. John Frieda in hairdressing and Ruth Badger from The Apprentice studied a business apprenticeship.

Meet some amazing apprentices and enter our apprenticeship competition to win an iPad Air.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Options after your post-16 qualifications

The thought of what to do after your post-16 qualifications may appear daunting, but there are many options for you to consider. From carrying on in full-time study to getting a flavour of work with your qualification, this short blog post looks at your options.

Study full-time
There are a few options available to you if you wish to stay in full-time study. Here’s a selection of what you may be able to study:

  •  A levels – you usually study three subjects or more. There is a wide range of subjects available. They’re usually studied at the same time over two years. 
  • Scottish Highers – the main qualification required for entry into higher education if you live in Scotland. There are over 60 subjects and you usually study four or five. Each Higher is made up of units – you need to pass all units and the course assessment to achieve the qualification. Highers and Advanced Highers are considered the equivalents of AS and A levels.

  • BTECs – give you a broader knowledge of a particular sector or industry. They are available in a range of sizes which are equivalent to one, two, or three A levels. They can be taken in combination with other qualifications.
  • Baccalaureates – these are broad-based programmes that combine academic subjects with components designed to develop skills.

  • Cambridge Pre-U – this involves studying a range of courses in a single qualification. There are 26 principal subjects available, and each is a two year course with exams at the end. You can take up to four Pre-U subjects, and they can be combined with other qualifications such as A levels.

Apprenticeships are a great opportunity for you to earn a salary while you gain a qualification at the same time. They give you the chance to work alongside experienced staff while you gain valuable work experience. Interested? Check out our blog post on why you should consider an apprenticeship.

Traineeships prepare young people for future careers. They last anywhere between six weeks and six months, with content tailored to your individual needs. They offer:

  • work preparation training
  • skills you need to find a job
  • maths and English support
  • work experience
Find out more about traineeships and whether you’d be suitable on

A National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) offers you the skills to do a specific job; anything from plumbing to hairdressing. There are five NVQ levels so you’ll start at a level that suits your ability and work your way up. You’re tested on your ability in the workplace and you’ll be assessed to prove you can do certain work-related tasks. Sound like your cup of tea? Check out more info on NVQs on our website.

Supported internships
Supported internships are just for students with learning difficulties or learning disabilities who want to get a job and need extra support.

You can find out more about supported internships from your school, college, social worker, or from a job centre. Also, check out your local authority and visit the Preparing for Adulthood website for more info.

If you’ve got any further questions about what to do next, check out our website or send us a question on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Student Finance: your questions answered

Now you’ve sent in your application, many of you will be keen to start your student finance
application and to know what support is on offer. Mark-Lee Kelly, Corporate Communications Executive at the Student Loans Company is on hand to answer your questions.

What student finance is available? 
The finance available to you depends on where in the UK you usually live.  

If you’re from England you can apply for repayable loans to cover your tuition fees and living costs. If you’re from Wales, you can apply for repayable loans and non-repayable grants to cover your tuition fees and living costs.  

Students from both England and Wales may be entitled to non-repayable supplementary grants if you have child or adult dependents or if you have a disability, mental-health condition or specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia or dyspraxia.

Tuition fees 

Tuition fee loans up to £9,000 are paid directly to your university or college in three instalments throughout the academic year. The maximum amount of tuition fee loan available depends on the cost of your course and whether you are studying at a publicly-funded university or college — up to £9,000 — or a private one up to £6,000.

In England, you can apply for a tuition fee loan up £9,000 to pay your fee costs.

In Wales, you can apply for a tuition fee loan to cover the first £3,900 of fee costs and a non-repayable tuition fee grant to cover the remaining £5,100.  

Maintenance loans 

Maintenance loans help with everyday living costs such as rent, books, travel and other expenses and are paid directly to your bank account, in three instalments, one at the start of each term.
The amount that you can borrow depends on where you live, where you study and your household income level.

In England, part of the maintenance loan will depend on household income — that’s the income of your parents or your husband, wife or partner.

Non-repayable grants 

If you’re a student from England and your course started before 1 August 2016, you may be eligible to apply for a non-repayable maintenance grant, also paid in three instalments throughout the year. The amount available will depend on your household income.

If you’re from Wales then like the maintenance loan, the Welsh Learning Grant helps with living costs and is paid directly to your bank account, in three instalments throughout the academic year, but doesn’t need to be paid back.

The maximum amount is £5,161, available to students whose household income is £18,370 or less; no grant is available for those whose household income is £50,020 or higher.

Whether you’re from England or Wales you may be eligible to receive non-repayable supplementary grants depending on your circumstances. These include Parents’ Learning Allowance (PLA), Adult Dependants’ Grant (ADG), Childcare Grant (CCG) and Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). The amount available to you depends on whether you are from England or Wales.

I’m a student from the EU.  Can I apply for student finance? 

Yes you can; students from within the EU can apply for a repayable tuition fee loan only using a paper application form.

Students studying in England can download an application at and students studying in Wales can get one from

How do I apply for student finance?

Students from England can apply for student finance by creating an online account at:

Students from Wales can apply for student finance by creating an online account at:

What do I need to apply? 

To apply you’ll need to have the following information to hand:
– Identity evidence, that’s your UK passport details (in date) or your UK birth or adoption certificate
– University or college code and course code details
– UK bank details (sort code and account number)
– National Insurance Number

Can I apply for student finance before I've had offers back from university or college?

Yes! You don’t need to wait for a confirmed place on a course to apply for student finance.

Use the details of the course you’re most likely to study as you can update them in your online account later if they change.

Thank you Mark for all your help! If you have any funding questions or concerns, you can ask Student Finance England online.

Twitter: @SF_England on Twitter

Student Finance Wales is @SF_Wales on Twitter, and they’re on Facebook too at