Can I afford to do a Masters?

So you’ve finished your course – what’s next? Studying for a Masters degree or other (postgraduate) course is a popular choice – whether you loved your course so much that you’d like to carry on, you’ve decided that you need another qualification for your desired career, or even that you’d like a bit more time at Uni before deciding what to do next, there are plenty of exciting study options available.

However, funding for a Masters differs from what’s available for undergraduate study – before enrolling on your dream course, it’s definitely worth taking some time to plan how you’re going to fund yourself for the next year of study – if you don’t have savings, or family who are wealthy and/ or generous enough to offer support.


The first step is to work out what you need to live on as a Masters student. You’ll already know how much your living costs such as rent, food, bills, travel, etc, are likely to be, based on your spending as an undergraduate. Tuition fees will vary depending upon the course, the university, and whether you plan to study on a full or part-time basis; if you studied for your undergraduate course at the University of Northampton and plan to enrol on a Masters here too, you may be eligible for a 20% discount on postgraduate course fees (eligibility criteria apply).

Now consider other course-related costs such as books, printing, equipment, field trips, placements, etc – you may need to contact the course tutor for further details of typical costs here.

If possible, make sure that you allow some room in your budget for additional spending, just in case of emergencies.

Don’t forget that a full-time Masters course can typically run for 52 weeks – and sometimes longer.

For further budgeting guidance, see our How do I budget, and why do I need one? and other related posts; online tools like Student calculator and our Apps to help save you money post can also help.

Masters loan

You may be eligible for a Masters loan to help you with your tuition fees, living and course costs while studying (eligibility criteria apply). However, there are several differences between this loan and what you may have received when you are an undergraduate:

  • There are no separate loans for tuition fees and living costs (maintenance) – instead, you can apply for a single loan of up to £10,906 (2019/20), paid in three instalments during the academic year; if you’re studying for longer than a year, the funding will be spilt evenly across the length of your course. This means that you will need to arrange payment of your tuition fees directly to your university.
  • It’s not means-tested – therefore Student finance will not take either your or your family’s income into consideration when assessing. This can be good news if your family has a high household income, however parents with a low income may find that this is much less than was received as an undergraduate, especially as there are no allowances available such as Parents Learning Allowance or Childcare Grant. So if you need childcare while studying, you will therefore need to consider how this will be covered.    
  • Usually you can only apply for a Masters loan towards one full Masters-level qualification only, and there is no ‘plus one’ available if you need to repeat or retake part of your study.

Further information about the Masters loan including how to apply is available online.

As the Masters loan is unlikely to cover your tuition fee, living and course-related costs in full, you may wish to consider it as a government contribution instead, and then look at other ways to get the money that you need.

Loans from other providers

Loans towards fees and living costs may be available from private companies such as banks or other specialist providers – each will have their own eligibility criteria (you might not be able to take out both a Masters loan and another loan), interest rates and repayment arrangements. Unlike the Masters loan, your credit rating may also be a factor here.

Bursaries and scholarships

You may be eligible to apply for a bursary and/ or scholarship, either from your university or from a charity or trust; they are unlikely to fund your full study but can help towards specific costs such as fees or course materials. For further details, see our Bursaries, scholarships and awards page, Postgraduate search, and Prospects websites.

However, as these may be limited to students enrolling on particular courses or subject areas, and are usually only available on competitive basis, receiving an award cannot be guaranteed.

Financial Assistance Fund/ EU Hardship Fund

University hardship funding such as the Financial Assistance Fund/ EU Hardship Fund may provide support towards your living and course costs (NB tuition fees cannot usually be considered) (eligibility criteria apply); however, receiving an award cannot be guaranteed, and assessment criteria states that postgraduate applicants will need to show that they have made reasonable provision towards the cost of their fees, living and course costs before applying.

Work while studying

Many postgraduate students work while they are studying – if your main form of funding is from the Masters loan, this is often the best way to fund yourself through postgraduate study. We promote part-time work all the time on this blog, but it’s an excellent way of improving your CV as well as your bank balance. Speak to Unitemps or other local agencies to see what’s available.

Taking time out

Look at your budget and be honest as to whether you have enough money to start the course now – if your budget doesn’t balance or there’s no wiggle room in case of emergencies, taking a break from your studies so that you can start saving towards your next course may be the best option, especially if you are relying on a Masters loan as your main source of funding.

Although it can be frustrating to put your study plans on hold, it would be far worse to have to drop out halfway through your course due to lack of cash. There’s usually no rush to do a Masters – an October start is only a few months away, so if you’re feeling a little burned out after your final exams, taking time out can be beneficial. This way you will be fully financially prepared as well as mentally ready to take on your next challenge.

Talk to us!

If you have any queries about postgraduate funding or budgeting, contact the Financial Guidance team.

If you have any tips about postgraduate funding or budgeting, let us know and we’ll feature the best ones on the blog!