How to crowdfund your degree
If you don't have the cash needed to study your dream degree, why not try crowdfunding? It might sound pretty daunting, but plenty of students have done it before. Here's how...
If you're struggling to pull together the funds you need to get yourself to university, crowdfunding probably isn't the first thing that springs to mind.
It's certainly not the easiest way to make money, and it won't suit everyone. But, if you're good at marketing yourself online, and you've got a great story to tell, crowdfunding for your studies could be the ideal route for you.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about crowdfunding your degree, and whether it could be the answer to your financial woes.
What's in this guide?
What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is basically relying on the generosity of others (family, friends, academics and strangers alike) to donate towards a cause – in this case, the costs of your degree.
You set up an online crowdfunding page (these are the best sites to use) and promote it to the public, the press and the internet at large in the hope that generous people will help you out, and be nice enough to contribute in some way towards your financial goal.
Use your fundraising page to tell the world your story and explain why you're asking for donations. You'll also have to set a financial target that matches the cost of your degree, and be honest!
Don't 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.
What to do if you don't reach your crowdfunding target
Different crowdfunding sites have different policies on this, so you'll have to check the small print to be sure. Some sites will refund all your donors if you don't meet your target, whereas others will allow you to keep however much you make.
Can anyone set up a crowdfunding campaign?
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 than others.
For example, there's no point in crowdfunding the costs of your tuition fees if you could easily get the money through a Tuition Fee Loan from Student Finance.
And if you're trying to crowdfund a bit of extra money to help you cover living costs, people might wonder why you don't just get a part-time job to help you through.
On the other hand, crowdfunding for a postgraduate degree is a bit easier, and a lot more common. Although the government have now introduced financial support for master's degrees and PhD courses, the money doesn't go as far and can be more difficult to access.
International students often use crowdfunding too, as they face much higher tuition fees than home students and get very little government financial support.
Are you an ideal crowdfunding candidate?
If you're wondering whether you should start a crowdfund campaign, here's an idea of some of the situations that would make you an ideal candidate for crowdfunding your university costs.
Have a read through them and think if any of these (or something similar) would apply to you.
Master's students who are ineligible for the Postgraduate Loan
The government's new Postgraduate Loan (PGL) has been available since August 2016, but many prospective students are ineligible because they don't fit the criteria.
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 the maximum £10k loan won't stretch that far – this will barely cover tuition fees for a master's course at many UK universities, never mind additional costs.
Postgraduate courses often have a very specialised 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 far more likely to donate if they're convinced you're passionate and focussed.
Art students able to offer artworks in return for donations
If you're an art student, you are at an advantage when it comes to crowdfunding as it's easy to show off your talent to the world and attract attention from potential donors (and the media!).
A great crowdfunding idea is to offer something in return to those who make donations – for example, a limited edition print or a small painting to anyone who donates £100 or more.
In fact, with some crowdfunding sites, giving something back is now an official requirement. Make sure you provide lots of photos and examples of your work on your fundraising page to really impress your audience.
You could take inspiration from the art student who funded some of their degree by making a necklace for Lil Wayne...
International students with a great story to tell
Whether you're a UK student looking to raise money to study somewhere abroad, 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? If so, share your story – potential crowdfund donors will want to know.
Lower-income candidates without a grant
Are you in a position that has meant you're particularly impacted by all the changes to university funding over recent years?
With tuition fees tripling in 2012 and Maintenance Loans struggling to keep up with increasing rent and living costs for students, many people from lower-income households are finding that university has become more financially difficult.
The media is always interested in tangible examples that show the negative impact that bad political decisions can have on young people.
Pros and cons of crowdfunding your degree
Pros of starting a crowdfunding campaign
- Publicity – You could potentially receive great coverage for your crowdfunding campaign. Getting your name out there is incredibly important to increase your chances of reaching your target.
- Debt-free money – If your crowdfunding is successful, you have the chance to leave uni free of debt.
- Rewarding experience – Working hard on your campaign and seeing your efforts (hopefully!) pay off will likely encourage you to work harder at uni knowing that people have put so much belief in you.
- Impressive CV content – Successful crowdfunding efforts demonstrate that you're great at marketing, you're committed, and you can apply yourself to get results.
Cons of crowdfunding
- Public criticism – You might get some stick from the general public after sharing your campaign on social media and in press, particularly from those who have funded themselves (but you'll find plenty of supporters too!).
- Donations could be refunded – If you don't meet your target, your money might be sent back to donors (depending on which site you use). You also need to think of a back-up plan if you don't generate enough money.
- Potential pressure – You might feel expectations to perform well in your degree if you know your fees have been covered by kind donations from others.
7 top tips for crowdfunding success
Here's how to maximise your chances of reaching your crowdfund target:
- Don't make it all about you – focus on how your research will benefit others as well as yourself.
- Start a blog – Writing a blog and using it as a platform to tell your story in more detail will give 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.
- Use your connections – Get in touch with anyone you know who might be able to help to fund your crowdfund campaign, and ask them to share the word as well. The more people who hear about your goal, the better your chances of success.
- Be controversial – Controversy is always a good way of getting attention online, but if you're worried about ruffling feathers, at least try to approach your campaign creatively and stand out from the crowd in some way.
- Promote, promote, promote – In order to reach your target, you'll need to get stuck in and spend time reaching out on social media and other platforms. This includes contacting journalists online as well as individual potential donors.
- Be realistic with your crowdfunding target – If you set your target too high, you may risk losing it.
- Keep your donors updated – They'll want to see how you get on with your studies and how you've put their money to good use!
The best crowdfunding websites for students
Planning to set up a crowdfunding campaign? These are the most commonly used sites for students crowdfunding their degrees:
Loads of students opt for GoFundMe as their crowdfunding platform as it's more focused on individuals and their personal stories than projects.
This site would be a good choice if you have an interesting story to tell, such as about overcoming a particular struggle to get to university.
Just be aware of the transaction fee which will reduce your donations slightly.
Charge: 2.9% transaction fee plus £0.25 per donation.
Crowdfunder is a more creative and community-focused platform, so a good option for those interested in socially conscious studies, environmental arts, and similar subjects.
They place an emphasis on fundraising campaigns for charities and personal causes, so make sure you focus your crowdfunding page on how you can help others, not just yourself.
Charge: 1.67% transaction fee plus £0.25 and VAT on each donation.
Students who have crowdfunded their degree
If you're unsure how to start a successful crowdfunding campaign, here are some stories of students who have fundraised for their degrees.
Ebun Azeez got a place on a prestigious Law course at Oxford University, but as an international student she wasn't entitled to any Student Finance and set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise the whopping £31,000 needed.
She successfully raised £8,000 before her campaign was noticed by an Oxford alumnus who offered substantial support, which was matched by the Oxford Law Faculty. Together with her crowdfunding money, she had enough to take her place a few months later.
Similarly, Lindsey-Anne Bridges 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.
Sometimes it's just about being noticed by the right people. Fiona Asiedu, an Oxford University student, set out to raise £12,000 so she could study at Harvard in America. She raised it in less than 24 hours after Stormzy generously donated £9,000.
Joanne Garner 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.
Finally, Pablo La Torre is an international student from Peru who is currently trying to crowdfund for an MSc Real Estate degree at Cass Business School.
Following the coronavirus pandemic, he's been looking for alternative ways to fund his studies – hence his decision to start fundraising for £38,280 to cover the costs of the course. You can find out more about his crowdfunding campaign here.
Looking to make money quickly? We know of plenty of ways to do just that.