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My top ten tips for paying your way through university

May 13, 2011

Lyndi Smith raised £25,000 to fund her studies.  Here are her ten top tips.

1. Don’t settle for second best. Pick the course you love. Enjoying your education will make you more motivated to raise money, study hard and put your course before your leisure time. Huge numbers of young people are settling for third or fourth choice universities, because of the social scene rather than the course content and dropping out halfway through the second year. Dropping out is just about the most expensive thing you can do – you pay out thousands and fail to graduate! It also ruins your chances of getting grants for other courses in the future. Resist pressure from peers or parents to dive straight into university aged 18. If it’s not the right time and you’re not passionate about the course, take a year or two out until you decide what you really want to do.
Affordability should be absolutely the last reason you choose a course or university. Get onto the very best course you can and just trust that everyone will help you take advantage of this fantastic opportunity. People donate more generously to students on the more prestigious courses.

2. Seek help from the government and your university.’s Student Finance pages have full details about grants and benefits for students.
Disabled students and students with children or adult dependants are entitled to extra government funding. Also contact the university for details of their bursaries and scholarships. Every university and college has an Access to Learning Fund to help students who are in real financial hardship.

3. Ask charities and businesses for help. Do not accept that you have to get a huge student loan. Many students, including myself, have successfully fundraised more than £25,000 for their studies and have graduated without any debt at all.
The usual sources of money from fundraising include business sponsorship, awards from grant-making charities or trusts, private donations from individuals and income from fundraising events.
Business sponsorship is a very viable way of raising money for your education and involves a company sponsoring you in return for good publicity that raises their profile.
Many charities and grant-making trusts help students in need. The usual process is to apply to the board of trustees who meet regularly to choose who benefits from the available funds. Applications can be lengthy but this can be a fantastic source of student income: more than £12,000 of the money I raised came from charitable awards.
Running events can be a great source of income and are also great fun! Get your friends and family to help you organise an event – this could be a sponsored event like a fun run or a ticketed event like a dinner-dance. If properly organised and marketed, just one event can bring in thousands of pounds.

4. Fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Put together an annual budget. Find out exactly how much rent, food, travel costs, utility bills, and equipment for the course will cost you and table it. Dividing this by 52 will show you how much money you need to have per week. Now you know what you funds you need to raise, and what you should be spending.
If you are fundraising, this budget can be a useful thing to show potential sponsors or donors. They can see that you have calculated exactly how much you require, how you will spend it, and reassures them that their money will be used wisely.

5. Don’t suffer in silence. Ask for help sooner rather than later. Every college and university will have a student money advisor. If you are struggling to make ends meet, or want advice on managing your money, go and see your advisor before it’s too late.

6. See what you can achieve with friends. As a group, organise fundraising events to help pay for your studies. In terms of saving money, buying as a group often opens the door to bigger discounts. Can you shop for groceries as a whole household, for instance? Can you share meals together?

7. Use the power of the internet. Subscribe to free, e-mail newsletters on money saving or fundraising from websites like or

8. Make holidays pay. Choose holiday activities that boost your income. I wrote fundraising letters to businesses and individuals, applied to charities and ran charity events in the summer holidays. This raised thousands and also gave me a chance to share my newly-learned skills with members of my community: at the end of my first year, I returned from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to work with seven to 13 year olds on a Shakespeare evening for parents and friends. We sold tickets and ran raffles and all monies raised went straight into my training fund.
My sister worked abroad every summer as a holiday rep and earned thousands of pounds in sales commission.

9. Teach others and fund your education. If you have an interest in teaching you might suit working as a private tutor. You can advertise on your university website, or put up postcards on noticeboards or in local shops. Tutoring pays about £15 or £20 an hour.

10. Buyer beware. You are going away to further your education, in the hope of achieving a career within a specific field. It is easy to get dragged into a consumer whirlwind of eating out, drinking every night and dressing like a celebrity but if you want to save money, don’t get sucked in to this kind of lifestyle. It is both a recipe for getting into debt and for failing your course.

Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, suggests you ask yourself three questions before you buy anything:

  • Do I need it?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Can I get it cheaper elsewhere?

Simple questions, but they might just save you a fortune.

This article was originally entitled ‘Pay your way through college‘, published in the Sunday Telegraph, October 11th 2009.

Lyndi Smith is the author of Free Degrees, published by The White Lion Press and priced £6.95. She is also the editor of, which has many free resources on student funding.

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