As many students will know, being accepted on to your dream master’s course is only one hurdle in beginning postgraduate study. Before you can actually start, you have to decide how to fund it.
A yearlong master’s course at UEA will set you back between £5,000 and £19,500 for tuition fees alone – and even more if you’re an international student. They are only getting more expensive, and most of what’s left of the University’s scholarship money is being funnelled into PhD research.
So, what can you do? I’ve been out and about chatting to master’s students at UEA to see how they’ve managed:
'I was lucky enough to have received a studentship from the Arts and Humanities faculty for my Master's course – which covers both tuition fees and living costs. I would have struggled to meet the financial cost of an MA without this, so I'm very grateful to the faculty – but there aren't very many MA studentships out there at all, and I'm concerned about the number of students who just aren't able to continue their studies because of the lack of funding.'
UEA Continuation Scholarships
‘I decided I wanted to do a master’s at UEA when I was still doing my undergraduate degree. I applied for the few studentships in my school, but didn’t get one. However, I knew UEA would offer a 50% discount to alumni who got a first at undergraduate level. This made third year really, really stressful, but when I got the first I knew my tuition fees were down to £3,500. When I graduated I found out that I’d worked so hard I’d actually won some graduate prizes within my school, and this meant I got an unexpected £1,450. With this, and by working full-time over the summer, and part-time during term, I could just about manage. I think UEA has cut back on the number of prizes it gives out now, and I think this is awful – I probably would not have managed to raise that extra money by myself.’
'I knew that funding an MA would be a challenge, so I took a year out after completing my BA to work and save money. I didn't want to rely purely on my savings though, so I also chose to live at home and commute to UEA. Moving back in with my parents was a bit strange (I was used to being independent) but they were incredibly supportive and charged me very low rent. It wasn’t a long commute to Uni (about an hour’s drive), but finding a place to park is a nightmare. It also meant I had to make that additional effort to do social things in Norwich, but I was pretty determined to make the most of being a student. While studying, I worked part-time. Luckily, I had very flexible hours and a manager who was very understanding when I needed time off for deadlines.'
Take time off and save
‘I tried several methods to help reduce the cost of my postgraduate studies. I made the decision several years ago that I would live at home during my masters to save on rent, and only have to cover tuition fees. I became a commuting student, but being stubborn, I wanted to do it as cheaply as possible, which lead to me travelling by Megabus from Cambridge every week. 5 weeks in, I realised that long-distance learning wasn’t for me. I took a year gap to work and save for future accommodation costs. It was actually nice to have a break in study, and the one of the positives was that I could gain work experience and volunteering in my extra time. You do have to be careful if you plan to work for a year and save, as you can lose a lot of your income on living expenses, which depletes your educational pot. It’s a bit of a catch 22.’
Among the students I spoke to, there did seem to be a bit of reluctance to take on more student loans. ‘I’m already +£42,000 in debt from my undergraduate degree,’ one LDC postgraduate told me, ‘I don’t need any more hanging over my head.’
But for those who don’t get scholarships or fee waivers, for those that can’t commute, work or get help from their parents, loans are an attractive option. From August 2016, postgraduates can take out a government loan, which allows you to borrow up to £10,000 under similar terms to the undergraduate student finance – meaning you don’t have to pay it back until you’re earning over £21,000.
Bank loans are an option if you’re not eligible for the government loan, or if you want to pay back the loan at a faster rate on fixed conditions. These might be preferable, since the government has been known to retrospectively move goalposts, but the terms of repayment are pretty iron-clad, regardless of whether or not you have a job.
Is it even worth it?
Talking to these students, and listening to how hard they’ve worked to get on to their master’s, fund their master’s, all so they can work incredibly hard doing their master’s – I had to ask, is it worth it?
‘Yes’, every single one of them said. ‘Absolutely.’