What to do if you run out of money at university

Money worries getting you down? Don’t struggle on alone! Here are some things you can do if you run out of money at university.

Credit: Orignally posted by Ruth Bushi on savethestudent.org, photo: Dean Drobot - Shutterstock

Struggling with money can have a huge impact on your life as a student, affecting everything from your grades, to your diet and sleep pattern. 58% of students say that their mental health suffers as a result of money issues.

Surviving with no money is a situation no student should be in, but sadly with the Maintenance Loan still falling short, it's a reality for some.

But there are things you can do if you keep running out of money. Here are some solutions to help you survive being broke at uni and places to ask for help. 💜

Know someone who’s struggling to manage their money, or feeling overwhelmed by it all? Make sure they see this page – please pass it on!

7 ways to survive when you're broke

Having no money is a really difficult situation to be in. Here's what to do if you're having money problems at university:

1. Ask about hardship funds

Your university and students' union will have money advisors on hand to offer support and advice – but don’t expect a magic wand. Most institutions will have hardship funds set aside for students in financial difficulty. They decide how much you receive depending on your situation, and in most cases, you don't have to pay it back (although sometimes it is offered as a loan). Applications are decided on a case-by-case basis but here's a list of the types of students who are typically eligible. Students who may qualify for hardship funds

  • Students with children, especially single parents

  • Mature students with financial commitments

  • Students from low-income families

  • Disabled students

  • Students who have previously lived in care (care leavers)

  • Students who are homeless.

You’ll need to provide solid evidence, including copies of your bank statement, letters from your Student Finance provider showing how much Maintenance Loan and/or Grant you receive and details about your family income (which could mean that, even though you’re struggling, you may not be entitled to hardship funds).

However, don’t let the specific criteria listed above put you off. Even if you're not eligible or your situation is different to those listed, your university may be able to suggest emergency funds you may not know about.

2. Apply for bursaries and grants

Bursaries, grants and scholarships are definitely something you should look into before going to university, but even if you've already started it's not too late. Remember, there are absolutely loads of weird and wonderful funding opportunities out there, so don't give up immediately.

Funds are also set aside for students from ethnic minorities to increase diversity in higher education.

3. See if you qualify for extenuating circumstances Students have given us mixed reports on getting assistance from uni, but regardless of the outcome, you should definitely keep them in the loop with what's going on in your life. Your first port of call should be your personal tutor, who will have been trained to deal with these problems, or another trusted member of staff if you prefer.

They might be able to provide extra support in the form of extra tutoring sessions or long-term planning to help you meet deadlines if you're struggling to concentrate. Can you apply for extenuating circumstances?

In some extreme cases, you may be eligible for extenuating circumstances, which can mean deadline extensions and other support. Specific terms and conditions vary across universities, so head to your department website for the exact info.

They're usually reserved for people who have suffered a bereavement, are suffering from a severe medical condition or injury, or who have been the victim of a crime, but serious financial problems are sometimes also considered.

You'll normally have to prove that these circumstances are out of your control, are having a significant impact on your ability to study and they have coincided with a deadline or exam Don’t borrow extra cash to paper over the cracks without getting expert advice. Find ways to cut your costs or make your own income first, unless you’ve got bigger debt troubles (again – get specialist advice if that’s the case).

4. Plan how to pay off debt First things first, it’s important to get expert and impartial advice if you’re struggling to cope with debt – and especially before taking out private loans.

Make sure you know how different kinds of debt work: your Student Loan repayments will never leave you bankrupt, but commercial loans can come with high-interest rates and fees.

Think twice, then think for a third time. If you're in a position where you're struggling financially, speak up. Tell friends and family – you'd be surprised how many are actually in a position where they might be able to help.

As well as friends and family, there are several charities that can talk you through your options: Money advice charities

Don't forget to talk to your bank, too. Let them know how things stand and ask what support they can give you, such as an extended interest-free overdraft, fee-waiving or advice.

5. Know your tenancy rights if you can't pay rent If you're worried about paying your rent on time or potential eviction, housing charity Shelter can give advice by email, phone and webchat, as well as face-to-face where available. Find out when your landlord is legally allowed to evict you.

6. Get free counselling or use mental health apps Counselling won’t magic up any cash, but it can help you cope when your mental health suffers. Your university will likely offer free counseling, or your GP can refer you for counselling – but expect waiting lists for either.

7. Consider taking time out of uni Voluntary or authorised interruption of studies allows students to take time away from their studies without having to drop out of uni completely. This would give you the breathing space to get a job and sort out your finances.

You have to apply through your department, and prove that it's in your best personal, financial or academic interest to take a break. The uni also has to check that there won't be any major changes to the course while you're gone to ensure a smooth transition when you return.

If accepted, you'll cease to become a student completely and stop paying tuition fees. You may still be able to receive financial support (like your Maintenance Loan) during your break but it's not guaranteed, so check with your student finance provider first.

Also, make sure to clarify with your funding provider whether you will still be eligible for Student Finance for the remainder of your degree once you return.