How to crowdfund your degree

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By in Student Finance. Updated August 2016.

Crowdfunding your studies might sound like a bit of a crazy idea…and maybe it is! But it’s worked for some students in the past, so why not you, too?
crowdfundCredit: Opensource.com 
Crowdfunding probably isn’t the first option that springs to mind when contemplating how on earth you’re going to be able to afford uni, but with financial situations getting increasingly difficult for students in the UK, this is becoming an increasingly popular option.

Tuition fees have tripled, maintenance grants have been scrapped and student scholarships are still and always will be cripplingly competitive. In this kind of climate, it’s unsurprising that students are trying every option available to make their dreams of further study possible.

If you’re good at marketing yourself, and you’ve got a great story to tell, crowdfunding for your studies could be just the ticket!

However, it’s worth remembering that crowdfunding isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t an easy option, so have a serious think about whether it’s the right option for you before you start devoting a lot of time to it.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about crowdfunding your degree, and see if this could be the answer to your financial woes!

Check out our complete guide to student finance for everything you need to know about how much your degree will cost you.

What’s crowdfunding and how will it pay my fees?

CrowdfundingCrowdfunding basically entails relying on the generosity of others (family, friends, academics and strangers alike) to donate towards the costs of your degree.

It works by setting up an online crowdfunding page (you’ll find a list of the best sites at the end of this article) which you then promote amongst the public, the press, and the world wide web, in the hope that generous people will come a-runnin’, and be nice enough to contribute in some way towards your financial goal.

On your fundraising page, you start by telling the world your story and why you’re asking for donations. A financial target is set related to your study at the start of your fundraising (so don’t, for instance, set your target at £20,000 if you’re applying for a master’s course that costs £10,000 unless you make clear why you need the extra cash– otherwise, anyone can just google your course and see how much it costs, so be honest!).

WARNING: Beware of setting your target too high – if you don’t reach your goal, you won’t get your money!

Can anyone do it?

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Technically, yes! Anyone can try their hand at crowdfunding their degree, but whether you’ll be successful with it is another story.

Crowdfunding is clearly a better option for some students more than others. For example, crowdfunding to pay for an Undergraduate degree would be particularly tough, as this involves at least three years of funding at around £9,000 per year, meaning you’d have to raise at least £27,000 to fully fund your course – and that’s without even factoring in living costs, course materials, etc.

On the other hand, crowdfunding for a Postgraduate degree is a bit easier, and a lot more common. This is because a Master’s will set you back (or, more accurately, your kind donors) around £10,000 (although you’ll also need more to cover living costs), which is a slightly more realistic target to reach.

Also, Postgraduate courses tend to be a lot more specialised, which makes it easier to show your passion for a particular topic or global problem you’re hoping to solve single-handedly (we believe in you!).

Examples of ideal crowdfunding candidates

Here’s an idea of some of the situations that would make you an ideal candidate for crowdfunding university. Have a read through them and think if any of these (or something similar) would apply to you, and if so – get that fundraising page set up!

The Postgrad candidate ineligible for the PGL

application deniedCredit: GotCredit
The government’s new Postgraduate loan (PGL) will be available from August 2016, but many prospective students are ineligible due the niggly criteria.

Read our guide to the new Postgraduate Loan to check if you’re eligible!

Not only this, but the PGL isn’t the best option for everyone, whether you meet all the criteria or not. Loan repayments will be steep if you already have an Undergrad loan you’re paying off (they need to be paid off at the same time) and what’s more, the maximum £10k loan won’t stretch that far – this would barely cover tuition fees for a Master’s at many UK universities, never mind additional costs.

As mentioned previously, the good thing about crowdfunding for Postgraduate study is that courses often have a very specific focus and candidates will normally have a clear idea of what they want to research.

This is an advantage when it comes to crowdfunding, as you can be more specific about exactly what you plan to study and how much it means to you – strangers (particularly academics in your field) are much more likely to donate if they can be convinced you’re passionate and focussed.

The crafty art student willing to dish out freebies

jewellery makingCredit: James Temby – Flickr
The great thing about being an art student when it comes to crowdfunding is that it’s easy to show off your talent to the world and attract attention from potential donors (and the media, of course!).

A great crowdfunding option is to offer something in return to those who make donations – for example, a small sample of your work to anyone who donates £100 or more.

In fact, with many crowdfunding sites this is now an official requirement. Make sure you provide lots of photos and examples of your work on your fundraising page to entice your audience!

The overseas candidate with a great story to tell

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This can work in either directions – whether you’re a UK student looking to raise money to study somewhere abroad (although note that many countries in Europe offer free tuition to UK students so crowdfunding might not be necessary!) or you’re an international student hoping to study in the UK, crowdfunding can be a good option provided you know how to market yourself properly.

Is there a reason you’re desperate to study this particular course at this particular uni in this particular country rather than the one you’re currently living in?

Tell your story and tell it well – you might be in for a surprise!

The lower-income candidate without a grant

countingpenniesAre you in a position that has meant you’re particularly affected by all the recent changes to university funding? With tuition fees tripling in 2012 and maintenance grants now being scrapped, many students from lower-income households are finding that university is increasingly becoming financially impossible.

The one, very small perk to this terrible circumstance is that it’s a particularly good story to go to the media with. The press are always interested in having tangible examples that show the negative impact bad political decisions can have on young people, so give ’em what they want as this is likely to get you noticed.

Pros and cons of crowdfunding your degree

thumbs upCredit: Sarah Reid –Flickr.com

Pros

  • The publicity you receive could potentially be great. Although it’s not always necessarily good press, getting your name out there is handy – particularly for art students who need press for exposure
  • Free money, and the chance to leave uni debt free! Who could ask for more?
  • Can be rewarding to work hard for your donations, and might encourage you to be more devoted to your studies knowing that people have put so much belief in you
  • Great for your cv! Successful crowdfunding efforts demonstrate that you’re great at marketing, are committed, and can apply yourself to get results.

Cons

  • You can get a fair bit of stick for it from the general public (particularly from fellow students who are having to pay for their education out their own pockets)
  • If you don’t meet your target, the money is refunded to donors. Therefore, it would be very time-consuming and demotivating if you don’t reach it
  • There can be that extra layer of pressure to perform well in your degree if you know your fees are covered by kind donations from others.

6 top tips for success

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  1. Don’t make it all about you – focus on how your research will benefit others as well as yourself
  2. Start a blogcreate a blog and use it as a platform to tell your story in more detail, giving potential donors a better picture of who you are and why you’re asking for their help. You can also use this to keep track of your target, and remember to link to it from your fundraising page!
  3. Use your connections – it obviously helps if you’ve got a lot of friends and family, who have lots of friends and family… you get it. Spread the word!
  4. Be controversial – controversy is always a good way of getting attention online, but if you’re worried about ruffling feathers, at least try to stand out from the crowd in some way
  5. Be prepared to get your hands dirty – in order to reach your target, you’ll need to get stuck in and spend time reaching out and asking kindly for support. This includes the press as well as individual donors
  6. Don’t set your target too high – or you may risk losing it!

The best crowdfunding websites for students

  1. Hubbub

    hubbubHubbub is a crowdfunding platform created by university- focussed teams specifically for education and non-profit projects.

    Therefore, Hubbub should probably be your first option, particularly as you’re more likely to find potential donors interested in funding uni study browsing this site.

    Note that rewards for high donors are also a requirement when raising money with Hubbub, so get your generosity thinking cap on!

    Charge: Free

    Visit Hubbub »

  2. GoFundMe

    gofundme-logoLoads of students opt for GoFundMe as their crowdfunding platform as it’s more focussed on individuals and their own personal stories than projects.

    This site would be a good choice if you have a story to tell about overcoming a particular struggle to get to uni, or something along those lines.

    The only drawback is that GoFundMe charge a hefty 8% charge on each donation, so it will take considerably longer to reach your target!

    Charge: 8% of each donation

    Visit GoFundMe »

  3. Crowdfunder

    cf_logo_colour-1Crowdfunder is a more creative and community-focussed platform, so a good option for those interested in socially conscious studies, environmental arts, and other similar subjects.

    Their aim is to ‘crowdfund the future’ so make sure you focus your fundraising page on how you can help others, not just yourself!

    Charge: 6% of each donation

    Visit Crowdfunder »

Examples, past and present

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Emily-Rose Eastop

Emily-Rose raised £26,569 (target was £26,000) for her Master’s in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. She was pretty much the first student in the UK to try crowdfunding a degree, so she got a lot of press for it.

Bear in mind it would be extremely difficult to raise this kind of money now that the first wave of popularity has settled. Arguably, her high number of donations were partly thanks to the backlash she received from other students, who accused her of being lazy and a “posh brat”.

She rewarded high donors with access to her exclusive blog that followed her course week by week, as well as a promised signed and bound copy of her dissertation (if she finishes it) to anyone kind enough to offer more than £500 to her cause. Posh brat or not, it worked!

Lindsey-Anne Bridges

Lindsey-Anne spent months raising money to help fund her English MSt at Oxford, only to be offered a scholarship shortly after reaching her target! In response, Lindsey refunded all her donors, and invited them out for a pint!

Cristal Lopez

The first in her family to go to university, Christal Lopez is raising money to do the “impossible” according to her tutors and spend a semester studying in the UK.

Joanne Garner

Joanne funded her Master’s in Jewellery and Metal at the Royal College of Art by offering donors free pieces of her jewellery in exchange for their generosity.

Now it’s your turn!

With all this info in mind, are you ready to give crowdfunding a shot? I mean, if this guy can raise £80,000 to make a potato salad, surely you’re in with a chance!

Let us know how you get on, and good luck!

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