Written by Rosie Neill

Head of marketing

Many of the support staff members within our community have been telling us recently how, from their experience of communicating with students each day, they’re seeing a worrying emerging trend of students arriving on campus less financially prepared than ever before. Perhaps this is something you’ve seen first-hand at your university or college too? 

Like with much at the moment, Covid must shoulder some blame. The disruption of students’ time at school over the last two years has likely contributed, so too has the impact of the pandemic on students’ ability to save by securing part-time or summer work in the lead up to university. 

And there’s a new player, too: the cost of living crisis. With inflation rising at its fastest pace in 30 years to 5.4% in December 2021, it’s likely that some students are less able to rely on as much financial support from their parent(s)/guardian(s) and family to supplement their Student Finance funding. 

So what can university and college support staff do to help, ideally before students even arrive on campus? We’ve put together five suggestions to try and address the issue.

Help students to consider the financial implications of student life before applying

Students are often so excited to head to university and start the next chapter of building their futures that they don’t always properly think through one important thing – how much it’s going to cost. And with inflation on the rise, it could be that they’ve planned a budget but that in reality, it’s simply not enough.

Many therefore begin a degree who aren’t in a financial position to do so. While bursaries, scholarships and funding can bridge this gap and allow more people the opportunity to attend university, conversations around affordability and feasibility will never cease to be important.

Having these conversations and access to relevant information before applying will help to prevent situations in which some students realise, after a few weeks, that they can’t afford to study. For those students who stay at university but struggle to fund their studies, we know that money worries take a significant toll on their mental and physical health, as well as their ability to learn and study – the very purpose of higher education. Of 1,002 students surveyed for new research due to be published soon, 75% said they worry about finances with 44% of these reporting that worrying about finances negatively impacts their ability to focus and study and, for 1 in 3, this affects their grades. 

A whole university approach can really help when it comes to making sure students have the necessary information to be able to consider the real cost of student life prior to applying. With all student-facing teams working towards this same goal,  incorporating information and spreading awareness of university costs in any outreach comms and brochures you send out could be one way to do this. So too can weaving finance information and signposting into all other support and pre-arrival areas. It’s about delivering clear and consistent messaging to students and saying as loudly and as often as possible all the financial implications students must consider, as well as the help available to them.

We’re working with the Bank of England and Pearson to address this issue; Blackbullion Futures will help students make more financially informed decisions about their future and all the options available to them after school.

Provide an accurate picture of the real cost of living

It could be tempting to assume that students are perhaps fixating on tuition fees and accommodation costs before becoming a student and possibly failing to consider everyday finances. But our 2021 research shows this isn’t the case: 84% of 1,000 students surveyed said they considered living costs before making their decision about attending university. This figure was in actuality higher than those who considered accommodation costs (79%) and the cost of their course (72%).

So what these findings indicate is that while students are considering living costs prior to deciding whether to go to university or not, they are perhaps underestimating what they’ll need and possibly have an inaccurate picture of the real cost of living.

Highlighting the true month-to-month costs of university life is needed to give today’s current and prospective students a more accurate picture of affordability. It’s also of greater importance now than ever before thanks to the cost of living crisis. And with the possibility of continued inflation, encouraging students to factor a buffer for this into their consideration of what student life might cost them is key.

Inflation aside, it’s always important for students to think beyond the first year of their degrees as their outgoings might change. For example, if first-year on-campus accommodation is subsidised by the university, moving into somewhere that’s privately rented for the remainder of their course often comes as a nasty shock to students. So too can the cost of travel if in second year they need to move further away from campus. The earlier students think about possibilities such as these (ideally before they make the decision to go to university), the more comfortable they’ll feel dealing with them.

Students are possibly also overlooking certain costs, so any financial information needs to encourage them to consider:

  • Accommodation
  • Bills
  • Food
  • Books and other resources for their course
  • Travel
  • Existing payments and subscriptions e.g. mobile phone contracts
  • Socialising

We’ve heard tales from our student community about how they’ve forgotten to factor weekends into their budget, planning only for Monday-Friday. While this is likely a small minority, gentle reminders about budgeting basics can’t hurt.

Encourage students to apply for funding

Many students aren’t aware of what funding is available to them. Even if they are aware, they might not know that they’re eligible.

Improving visibility around funding, pre-arrival, will help students to feel much more confident in their ability to go and complete a degree. Whether this is your own university’s funds or funds from public and private companies, getting funding in front of students will help to alleviate the financial pressure they feel and help them feel more financially prepared.

Clearly signposting eligibility requirements for each fund will also go a long way to ensure that those who need funding most get access to it and reduce wasted time for staff in dealing with ineligible applications.

It’s great to have information on hand about the different available funds at open days and Freshers’ Fairs. Also, ensuring your student support departments have high visibility on campus is extremely valuable and will make clear where students can go for help. 27% of students previously told us they would be reluctant to turn to their university for support with financial concerns as they wouldn’t know who to go to.

As well as signposting around eligibility, it could be good to set expectations about how long it will take for an application decision to be made. This can help to prevent unnecessary back and forth and give more clarity for applicants. According to 67% of students, being able to see the status of their application is most important to them when it comes to the financial support process.

Check out our Funds Management System if you’re interested in integrating and managing all of your funds in one place (as well as allowing students to view external funds that might be of interest) to provide a streamlined experience for students and staff at your university or college.

Share ideas for ways students can make money or find a job

When we asked our student community what one thing they feel their university has done well to support their financial wellbeing as a student, many cited how their university provided jobs on campus and shared information about how to apply for on-campus employment.

67% of students would consider applying for a job (or an additional job) if they needed some extra cash so providing or signposting to relevant opportunities is one way that universities and colleges can support students here. This blog with 5 ideas for ways to make money as a student might be useful too.

Encourage students to take a proactive approach to their financial wellbeing

Improving access to and visibility of funding or helping students to think about ways to safely make some extra money themselves are really just a couple of pieces of the puzzle – making sure students feel confident to proactively manage their money is another key part.

Speaking to students about budgeting and other key financial topics as early as possible will normalise money and allow you to provide much-needed, personalised advice and form part of a preventative approach to supporting students when it comes to finances.

For our partner universities and colleges, signposting to the Blackbullion platform will allow students to improve their financial literacy in their own time and learn about all things money, helping to develop essential money skills and confidence for life and take a proactive approach to their financial wellbeing.

If you’re not sure how to go about engaging students around financial wellbeing, the Student Money Mentors from King’s College London have lots of ideas to help, such as creating low-cost, engaging activities online or in-person.

Helping students to feel financially prepared for their time at university will go a long way to improving their experience and alleviating the impact of money worries on their mental and physical health, which in turn will naturally improve retention rates and overall student satisfaction.

Make sure to sign up to the Blackbullion staff newsletter to be the first to get all new financial wellbeing resources to help you support your students straight to your inbox.

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