Applying for Student Finance 2020/21
Don't get stumped by Student Finance – get funded! Our application walkthrough has everything you need to know...
IMPORTANT: Worried about how coronavirus will affect your Student Finance application? Click here.
Student Finance is the official government funding you apply for in order to pay for university tuition fees or living costs while studying.
The cash is bankrolled and regulated by the government, then doled out by an official student finance organisation – there’s one for each country in the UK.
While we can’t promise to put the 'fun' into funding (we’re money experts, not miracle workers) we can do our best to make it as painless as possible. Here’s everything you need to know about applying for Student Finance without the drama.
What's in this guide?
Who can apply for Student Finance?
Broadly speaking, Student Finance is open to UK nationals who have lived in the UK for at least the last three years.
On a more regional level, each of the four Student Finance bodies usually requires you to "normally" live in that part of the UK. So, to apply for funding from Student Finance Wales, you'd need to "normally" live in Wales.
You may also be able to apply if you have refugee status, or if you're from the Republic of Ireland.
There’s no upper age limit for Tuition Fee Loans, but if you're on the hunt for a Maintenance Loan to cover your living costs, you’ll need to be a UK student aged under 60 on the first day of your course to be eligible.
There's also no lower age limit for any Student Finance funding.
You’ll need to be studying a valid course at an approved institution (check with the uni if you’re not sure), and studying a higher education course for the first time.
We cover the eligibility criteria in more detail in our guide to Maintenance Loans but if, for whatever reason, your circumstances aren’t that clear cut, your best bet is to contact your Student Finance body for the full list of rules and regs.
What financial support is on offer for students?
Here's a quick summary of the funding available to students in the UK:
Just like it says on the tin, this is borrowed cash that you’re expected to pay back at some point. The Tuition Fee Loan covers your course fees and is paid directly to your university or college, so you never actually see, smell or touch any of it.
You can also get a Maintenance Loan (click here to see how much you can get) which, like the mother of all tooth fairy payments, lands in your bank account at the start of each term (monthly in Scotland).
Bursaries and grants
Bursaries and grants are like when you ask to borrow a teabag from your flatmate – they're yours to keep and they don't have to be repaid. It's well worth taking the time to see what's going and what you're eligible for, as there are loads of unusual funds out there!
In England, however, things aren't so generous. For the last few years (since 2016, in fact), new students have no longer been eligible for Maintenance Grants from the government.
Crucially, the amount of money on offer to English students hasn't gone down. It's just that the support is now entirely in the form of a loan, which not only has to be paid back, but also accumulates interest over time.
UK students can also apply for extra support in the form of a Childcare Grant, Parents’ Learning Allowance, Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) or Adult Dependants’ Grant.
Depending on what you’re studying, there may also be other bursaries (including the NHS Bursary) and travel grants up for grabs – Student Finance will let you know if you’re eligible for a few particular funds once they get your application.
How much Student Finance support will you get?
If you’re eligible for the Tuition Fee Loan, you can ask for as much or as little as you like (up to the cost of the fees, obviously), no matter how much income you or your folks have coming in. The only exception to this is if you attend a private university, in which case your Tuition Fee Loan most likely won't cover your fees in full.
Maintenance Loans, on the other hand, are awarded on a sliding scale: the higher your household income, the less support you’ll get (other than in Wales, where it simply affects the proportion of support that comes as a loan or as a grant). How much you can apply for also varies by country.
All of this means we can’t give you precise figures, as it’s different for everybody. However, if you head to the following guides, you'll see how much you can get across the UK:
And remember, if you don't think your loan will be enough to cover your living costs, there is extra funding out there.
Ask your uni about extra support for students from low-income backgrounds, or start sniffing out bursaries, grants and scholarships for yourself.
Applying for Student Finance
How to apply for a Student Loan
If you come from England, Northern Ireland or Wales, you can either apply online or by post. Scottish students can only apply online. But wherever you're from, we've got your Student Finance website and deadline listed.
Either way, you may need to send evidence in the post – things like your passport or birth certificate, or other paperwork if you’re applying for extra support such as dependants’ grants or DSA.
How long does it take to apply for Student Finance?
The form has enough questions to rival University Challenge so, depending on your circumstances (and how organised you are with paperwork), allow a couple of hours to complete your application. And always double check it!
After that, the Student Finance bods reckon it can take at least six weeks to crunch the numbers and get back to you. That said, it could be longer if you leave it until peak time during the summer holidays.
In the meantime, do the following three things in order to stay on top of your finances:
- Estimate how much money you’ll need and, crucially, how much of it will be covered by Student Finance. Plan a budget to see how the numbers pan out and get a backup plan in place for any shortfall.
- Scout out scholarships, uni bursaries and charity grants.
- Start making some cash to tide you over when you first land on campus. You won’t get your first instalment from Student Finance until you've registered at your uni, so you may need to get by until your Student Loan lands.
What documents do you need when you're applying for Student Finance?
In short, you'll need paperwork, parents and some serious determination to hand.
More specifically, here's you'll need when you're applying for Student Finance:
- A working email address if you're applying online. When you first register with Student Finance, they'll email you a reference number – keep hold of it! You'll need it to get official funding for the duration of your course.
- A bank account in your own name. Any maintenance money you get will be paid directly into your bank account, so set one up before you apply and make a note of the account number and sort code.
- School, uni and course details. If you don’t have a confirmed place, use the one you’re most likely to get and update it later.
- An in-date UK passport. If you don’t have one, you’ll need to send original documents (passport or birth certificate) to Student Finance. Just make sure you allow a few weeks to get them back!
- Information about the income of your parents or parents (including National Insurance numbers and details about any savings or pensions), or for yourself if you’re applying as an independent student, or for one of the dependants’ grants. And before you do, find out what income doesn't need to be declared to avoid being short-changed on funding.
- Information about any support you’re already getting, as well as health evidence if you’re applying for DSA.
How does coronavirus affect Student Finance applications?
Unlike seemingly every other aspect of life, Student Finance applications are broadly unaffected by the coronavirus crisis.
All four Student Finance bodies in the UK have issued statements assuring students that they can (and should) apply for a Student Loan as normal, keeping to the deadlines as they would in any other year.
While most of the dates remain the same, the Student Loans Company has extended the application deadline for continuing students in England and Wales to 30th June.
Regardless of whether or not you reckon the 2020/21 academic year will start as planned in September, we would strongly recommend applying for funding as early as you can to avoid any possible delays. There's no point in risking your Student Loan arriving late!
Student Finance application deadlines 2020/21
We've listed the deadlines to ensure you hit them if you want to get paid on time for courses starting or continuing in 2020.
You can still apply after this time (up to nine months after the start of the academic year) so if you go through Clearing don't worry! Just be aware that this might mean you get your Student Loan late – so always get in ASAP!
As for when you can start applying, the process tends to open in February/March each year.
Here are the Student Finance application deadlines for the academic year 2020/21:
Student Finance England
The deadline for new university students in England is 22nd May 2020.
Meanwhile, the deadline for returning university students in England is 30th June 2020. This was originally 19th June, but in light of the coronavirus crisis, the Student Loans Company extended the deadline to give students more time to complete their applications.
Student Finance Northern Ireland
When we spoke to Student Finance Northern Ireland, they advised us that there was no set deadline for applying in 2020.
Instead, they reaffirmed to us that it takes up to six weeks to process applications, with this rising to as much as nine weeks during the busy summer period.
That said, based on the dates used in 2019, we'd recommend that new university students get their applications in by 10th April 2020, while returning students should do so by 26th June 2020.
Again, you can apply after these deadlines – but if you want to be sure that you'll receive your funding in time for the start of term, you should apply before then.
Student Awards Agency Scotland
Unlike the rest of the UK, Scotland doesn't stagger its application dates depending on whether you're already a student or not.
Instead, the deadline for both new and returning students applying for financial support in Scotland is 30th June 2020.
Student Finance Wales
The deadline for new university students in Wales is 15th May 2020.
Meanwhile, the deadline for returning students is slightly later, on 30th June 2020. This was originally 12th June but, as in England, the Student Loans Company extended the deadline to give students more time to complete their applications amid the coronavirus crisis.
5 tips for applying for Student Finance
- Apply early as the sooner you get your application rolling, the better. Plus you’ll have extra time to sort out any teething troubles before your course starts.
- Do your research and ask for everything you think you’ll need (and are eligible for) up front.
- Double-check everything before you submit! Any mistakes now will only delay when you get paid.
- Don’t forget to re-apply for Student Finance each year!
- Don't panic if you miss the deadline. You can apply for Student Finance up to nine months after the start of the academic year, but the longer you leave it, the more of your own cash you’ll have to shell out in the meantime.
Left it late to apply for funding? Check out our guide to surviving if your Student Loan is late.