If you're a parent of a university applicant and are baffled by the Student Finance System, you're not alone. Julie Kelly, Head of the Student Centre and parent herself, takes a look at what you need to know about the application process.
So you’ve trekked half way across the country attending open days, you’ve read 15 different versions of their personal statement, and you’ve watched in amazement as they’ve received offers for a place at university. It’s now time to start thinking about the next big hurdle - applying for Student Finance.
The basics of applying for student finance:
· The student finance application process is administered by Student Finance England (or equivalent in Wales, Scotland & NI) and is completely separate from UCAS (although they signpost to quite helpful information). UCAS will not be checking that the application for finance has been made; the responsibility for this sits with the student. Equally, their chosen university will have expected the application to have been successfully made before the start of term. Without funding in place, your son or daughter will be personally liable for their fees and will have no money to live off, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this!
· Just like when they applied for university through UCAS, your son or daughter will need to complete the application process themselves. Everyone is eligible to a basic level of funding, but higher level assistance (via a maintenance loan) is available based on your household income, so you will also have a part to play. Student Finance eligibility works on a sliding scale, so the more money you earn, the less your child will receive - and of course, the more the Bank of Mum and Dad will need to take the strain. All funding is in the form of loans that have to be repaid by the student, as the government no longer offers any non-repayable grants. However, some universities will offer some level of bursaries or scholarships. If this is something you are interested in (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t be interested in free money!) then you need to make sure you tick the ‘share my information box’ on the Bursary and Scholarship page.
· Repayments only kick in after graduation, and then only when the earnings of the student are above £25,000 (see here for more information about this). All students can apply to get the maximum loan to cover the cost of the course (tuition fee loan), but the level of living expenses they can apply for (maintenance loan) will depend on a number of factors, e.g. whether they intend to study in London, live at home, and how much you as parents earn. If you want to see how much they will be entitled to borrow, you can check using the Government Student Finance Calculator.
· Give yourself plenty of time, both in terms of applying for student finance early and putting aside a decent amount of time to complete the actual application process. Student Finance England promises to assess loan applications in 6 weeks, but it’s probably not a good idea to leave applying until the summer. The application process opens in February/March each year so apply early to ensure there's plenty of time to resolve any problems or queries. It’s important to keep checking to make sure that the status of the application changes from “submitted” to “approved”. The last thing anyone wants in September is to find out that their maintenance loan isn’t ready because of some small outstanding query.
· They don’t need to have decided on a university at the point of application. Although they will be asked to say where they intend to study, this can be updated at a later date; either because they’ve changed their mind or if they don’t get into their first choice university. Having said this, it’s vital that the new university details are updated before 1st September via their online portal. If not, the change has to be completed by the university then processed by Student Finance England which can take up to 6 weeks to process and could mean their maintenance monies are not ready for the start of term.
· Applying for student finance is an annual activity. Unfortunately, their application does not roll forward into the next academic year, so each year your son or daughter will need to reapply for funding and each year you will need to confirm your income.
What do we need to apply for student finance?
Okay, so they are about to start the application process. What do they need?
· National insurance number: Don’t be fooled by the guidance notes that suggest this is optional; Student Finance England will not release a penny until they have the national insurance number. Future loan repayments are made through salary deduction so this is critical to them. Equally, you will need it when you are asked to confirm your income.
· Your email address and that of your partner: As Student Finance England needs to confirm your household income, they will need to contact you by email – and if you’re anything like us, my daughter did not know my email address.
· A rough idea about how much you earn: You might not want to share exactly how much you earn, but they do need to know whether they are eligible to apply for the means tested element, i.e. whether their household income is less than £75k.
· Passport: It would be good to have this handy as they will need to enter their passport number. If they don’t have a passport, SFE will not pay any money until their identity has been established and will therefore ask for other evidence.
· Their bank account number and sort code: Details for where their maintenance loan will be paid.
The first step will be to set up an account with Student Finance England. Once completed, they will be given a Customer Reference Number (CRN) and will be asked to set up a password and a secret question and answer. It’s important to keep these login details handy as this is how they will be able to check the status of their application. Important to note as a parent, you will also be asked to set up an account and will also receive a CRN of your own. They will also be given a Student Support Number a little later in the process which Student Finance England will need if you contact them with a query.
Next, apply for both the tuition fees and maintenance loans. It’s all fairly straight forward, but worth just taking your time as you move through the questions. Once completed, they will be sent an email to confirm their application has been received and you (and your partner) will receive an email inviting you to set up your own account so that you can enter your income details. They are looking to confirm your last full tax year so it’s worth having your P60 or Self Assessment tax return handy. Entering the information was all relatively painless and only took us a few minutes. Again, make sure you have your national insurance number to hand as this is how they will independently verify your income details.
Once their student finance has been agreed, they will receive a letter in the post explaining their entitlement and outlining the amount of tuition and maintenance loans they have been awarded. It’s worth checking the details at this point and getting back in touch with Student Finance England if it looks wrong, i.e. do the loan amounts look correct? If you have any concerns you could either contact Student Finance England or the Student Finance team at their university who will have experts on hand to check assessments and provide advice.
That’s it - simple! What was all the fuss about?!
Head of Student Centre
University of Hertfordshire