Are Students Worse Off Than Ever Before?

The true cost of the qualifications needed for a better career.

Raising the issue of student debt often triggers a mixed response. Some people have the perception that students do nothing but party – and that their debts are therefore well deserved – but the reality is that the cost of university is now higher than it has ever been before. Combine that with less availability of grants and financial support, as well as a less than attractive graduate jobs market and it’s easy to see why many students feel they are far worse off than ever before. But are they really?

The true costs of university

If you’re a student now then you’re experiencing student life in the context of many other economic upheavals, including a rentals market peaking like never before. Many students now find themselves forced to pay upwards of $130 a week for student accommodation. In 2016 just 36% of students were paying out this kind of cash for their accommodation. However, by 2017, this figure was up to 52% according to accommodation search engine University Cribs. And then there are tuition fees – many universities charge up to $12,000 a year for tuition fees. So, a basic three year course demands at least $36,000 to cover it – around $1,000 more than the average annual salary. If you add that to rent of $130 a week then the basic cost of just getting to university and keeping a roof over your head throughout the course comes in at $54,720. And that’s before you factor in other expenses, such as food, travel and books that give a more accurate picture of the true cost of being a student.

Studying back in 1997

For students 20 years ago the picture was very different. There were no tuition fees to pay before 1998 and maintenance grants were still available in 1997 to help cover the cost of living. In 1997, house prices were roughly 281% lower than they are now and the buy-to-let market was a much fairer place where demand had yet to outstrip supply so rents were still cheap. Students graduated with smaller debts that were often incurred by choice – as opposed to being necessary to enable them to even take a place at university.

How to survive as a student in 2017

There’s no doubt that students today pay a much higher price for a university education than 20 years ago. Not only that but graduate prospects are tougher and with house prices rising much faster than salaries, homeownership is far from a given. So how, in this current climate, can students ensure that they don’t end up worse off in the long term?

  • Avoid unnecessary debt at university – borrow only what you need
  • Steer clear of high interest debt such as loans with no credit check.
  • Get a job – instead of borrowing, work to cover some costs
  • Overpay student loans on graduation – clear student debts as quickly as possible
  • Have some lean years in your 20s – cutting back after graduation can make the next decade a much more profitable one
  • Earn as much as you can – make the most of your degree and the skills you’ve learned and don’t be afraid to ask for what you believe you’re worth as a result.

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