Author: Dimitris Nestoras.
When you’re living away from home alone for the first time, especially in a distant country, it is natural to be apprehensive about managing your finances.
This is a guide explaining how to guarantee financial aid, gain some extra cash, seek help if needed and monitor your income and expenses, saving time and money as a postgraduate student at the University of Surrey.
Paying tuition fees and accommodation
Probably the major expense in your university life will be accommodation and tuition fees. That is why decent planning ahead is needed in order to be to meet financial deadlines.
If you have been selected for student accommodation on any of the university campuses (Stag Hill, Manor Park or Hazel Farm) an advanced instalment will be asked from you a couple of months before arriving to the accommodation. Four more instalments will follow throughout your year of study, with the latest one being around August. During the initial weeks of the winter semester, the accommodation services will provide you with a full plan of what you need to pay and when, so don’t worry, it’s very difficult to mess this up!
When it comes to tuition fees, things are relatively the same. There is an instalment to pay in advance, during the summer, before the start of the semester, and then two or three instalments follow, depending on what arrangement you make with the student services office (see “postgraduate loan” below). Just make sure you contact them during your first weeks of studies.
A helpful way to be confident with your finances, throughout your studies, is to apply for the postgraduate loan, provided by the British government. It is a great assistance to get you on your feet! Personally, I was quite reluctant to begin with because of worries around paying it off afterwards, however, after a short seminar with an accountant, it was explained to me that I must be really unlucky to pay back the whole of the amount in a 25 years future. The University also gives you the opportunity to make an arrangement of paying your tuition fee instalments a couple of days after the postgraduate loan instalments get into your bank account. Pretty neat, huh?
Find out more about eligibility and procedures here: https://www.gov.uk/masters-loan/eligibility
There are many ways of getting that extra cash you need for your everyday life, if you consider taking on casual part-time jobs that are available in your area. Relevant or not with your subject of studies, you can have flexible hours provided in various shifts at a number of different venues in Surrey and London (it is really easy to commute between London and Guildford). For this reason, you can talk to agencies that will be presented to you during the first days of the semester at the Fresher’s Fair and Career’s Fair, so literally that means that you don’t search for them, they come and find you! I, for example, had some really great hospitality related shifts at the Harry Potter Studios, at the Financial Times, at the Ascot Racecourse and the Kensington Palace. Go for it, it is an amazing experience, and gives you plenty of time not to mess it up with your studies!
Your daily routine will differ a lot if you come from abroad, and as long as life in the UK is relatively more expensive compared to a number of countries in the EU and rest of the world, you will find your expenses get larger regarding simple things like groceries, drinks and coffee. What I suggest is choosing wisely what you buy from the supermarket, compare prices between stores, so as to achieve the best balance between quantity and quality. For instance, search for items that while are available at Tesco’s, you can purchase them for just £1 in Poundland, Guildford downtown. That will save you a lot, trust me! You can also buy fruit and vegetables from the market in Rubix! club inside the University every Thursday, rather than from a superstore, they will be fresher and cheaper.
The university itself helps!
While all these ways of saving are good, you still might struggle with your finance, so don’t be afraid, because you are not alone. You can refer to the Student Services Centre for some extra support on any issues you have, debts, liabilities, as it is totally free and confidential.
Be careful of the exchange rates and commissions!
If you are an international student, you might find it hard to adapt in a new currency in the beginning. While opening a UK bank account is a must, what I suggest is to be careful when transferring money from your original bank account to your new one. Consider reading in detail the terms of international transactions, so as to minimize the chance of loosing amounts of pounds as exchange rates and commissions banks usually deduct.
A little tip
Finally, my most important proposal to you is to continuously monitor your income/expenses, so as not to end up with any surprises and know exactly where everything goes. So, what I do is maintain a spreadsheet, where I record each and every payment I do, and as a result I can see the daily total (how much I spent today), the total expenses (how much I have spent since the beginning of my postgraduate year), and what is my grand total at this point (my current balance in cash and bank account), sample of it you can see below. Good luck with it!