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 by Lydia Chantler-Hicks
, posted on 14 Jun '17

Studying with a Postgraduate Loan - One Student's Story

Before the postgraduate loan was introduced, many students couldn't afford to do a Masters straight after an undergraduate degree.

I'm one of those people. After graduating, I longed to do a Masters in Journalism.

Knowing that I wanted to get into the industry as soon as possible, I was keen to do my Masters straightaway. But after finishing my Bachelors, there was no way I could afford to do this.

Then, in 2016, the postgraduate loan came along, enabling me and thousands of other students to move straight onto postgraduate study.

This blog shares some of my experience of applying for and receiving a postgraduate loan, and highlights some things to think about when applying for yours.

Deciding whether to take the loan

For me, this decision was straightforward. Despite being fortunate enough to receive a postgraduate scholarship from the University of Sheffield, I knew that I'd need to take out at least some of the loan, if I wanted to do a Masters.

Many students earn money through part-time jobs like babysitting, waitressing, or working as student ambassadors during university open days.

I was able to do this as an undergraduate with very few contact hours, but my Masters course is full-time. It may have been possible to fit a part-time job around my MA, but with so much to learn in the space of a year I was reluctant to rely upon a job for a steady income.

After three years of tuition fee loans and maintenance loans, borrowing a little more for a Masters felt like a pretty small drop in the ocean of loans (albeit sans sharks).

Working out how much you will need

The application process for a postgraduate loan itself is simple. Student Finance England requires some pretty basic personal information - your address history, passport details, that kind of thing.

Things only get tricky towards the end of the process, when it comes to the section entitled ‘How much would you like to borrow?’

You'll need to state how much you would like to receive, and, if your course started in 2016-17 (like mine) you'll need to say how you would like your total loan amont to be spread out over your Masters. Alternatively, if you’re applying for a loan for 2017, you can request payments for courses lasting up to four years.

Either way, it might be worth thinking about your future budgeting before you make a decision!

If your course is only one year long, this section is more straightforward. You can either tick a box saying ‘the maximum' (£10,906 for courses beginning in 2019-20), or alternatively write in a lower amount.

Regardless, it can take a long time to work out how much to put in this little box.

Deciding how much money you are to live on for a year or more feels like a big call, after all. Most people are understandably reluctant to apply for the full loan if they do not need it, and are keen to get by on less if at all possible.

With a few calculations, you can estimate your monthly rent and outgoings for food, bills, and external exams.

It's OK to change your mind

Unfortunately for me, there’s a good reason why I did a degree in English, and not in Maths. Shortly after beginning my course, I realised my calculations had been way out of whack.

Somehow, I made a huge oversight: no matter how well I budgeted, my postgraduate loan payments weren’t going to be enough.

Luckily, Student Finance had the forethought to insure against blunders like this. If you, like me, inadvertently ask for too much or too little loan, don’t panic. You won’t have to start making your own soap or reusing tea bags.

You just need to fill out a loan request form, which can be found on the GOV.UK website. This must be sent in by post.

There’s no need to worry that you will need to wait until the next scheduled instalment before receiving an extra sum: this isn’t the case.

Interim payments boost your previous instalment(s) up to the amount they would have been if you had asked for the correct amount to begin with. Payments can be made as soon as the paperwork is processed by SFE.

What is it like to receive the loan?

For some people, payment dates for tuition fees can come at an awkward time. This is particularly likely for the first payment, which is due at the beginning of the academic year.

There’s a chance that your loan instalments may not be received until after your tuition fees are due. In this case, universities are generally understanding, allowing students to pay their fees as soon as they receive their loan.

For me, since initially underestimating how much of the loan I would need, everything has gone very smoothly.

Instalments have always come through on time, and the money I have received has genuinely changed my life. Without a Masters loan, I would certainly not be where I am today, studying a subject I love, and gaining new vocational skills.

Last month, I received the fourth and final instalment of my postgraduate loan. I know I’m going to miss receiving those texts with which SFE, like some kindly Dickensian benefactor, dutifully reassures students everywhere: ‘Your money will arrive in your bank account within 3 working days’.

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