Going to College: The Financial Lowdown

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Nowadays, college is a very costly endeavor. Even if you are eligible for a grant, thanks to skyrocketing rent prices and the overwhelming cost of living, those supports are unlikely to cover all your expenses. Overheads, books, travel, food, and clothes will soon put a major hole in the allowance you receive. But you don’t have to let looming costs get the better of you.

Hidden Costs

Those not in receipt of a grant must also pay the student services charge. This presently stands at €3000, which is the second highest in Europe. It’s important to bear in mind that certain institutions might even add on an additional fee to cover the cost of new building work, for example. And remember, not all courses are created equal. Many private colleges do not qualify for the free fees scheme – even if they are in the CAO system.

According to a nationwide survey from the Union of Students in Ireland, for students living away from home, the average cost of going to college in Dublin is over €12,495 per academic year – which is much more than the maximum ordinary grant rate. The figure for those who are living at home is about half this amount. So what is a poor student to do? Basically, unless your family has the means to finance your college career, the only option is to make up the shortfall yourself.

Available Options

Taking out a loan is one option to consider, but flexible repayment plans are essential to ensure that the debt doesn’t get too unwieldy to handle. Many students take on part-time work during college, but this too can prove problematic, as it can be difficult to juggle work and study commitments. And while working part-time doesn’t necessarily mean that you will fail your course, it could, for example, mean the difference between a 1. 1 and 2. 1 degree.

It’s important to know your options when it comes to supports out there. Your college of choice might have a scholarship or bursary. There’s SUSI, the Back to Education Allowance, as well as Rent Supplement. You can read more about your options on our other article here. One source of relief that’s often overlooked is the Student Assistance Fund. The SAF provides financial support to full or part-time students who are experiencing short or long-term financial difficulties while attending higher education. Find out how to apply for this here.

Preparation is Key

Insofar as it is possible, you should try to accumulate as much money as you can during summer holidays to keep you going throughout the year. However, if a job during term-time is necessary, then working hours should be tailored so that revision doesn’t fall by the wayside. If you are finding that you are having difficulties financing yourself through college, then don’t despair. There are ways to get additional help. Your students’ union can provide you with practical advice on how to cope, and most colleges operate a hardship fund that will allow you to borrow some extra cash if you are in need.

Balancing the Budget

There are also some practical ways that you can ensure that your finances don’t run out. First of all, work out how much money you have coming in and how much you have going out. Then make up a budget – and stick to it. In the time-honoured tradition of students past, you will have to learn to get the most out of the little you have. For example, try and get as many course books as you can second hand. If you can’t find what you are looking for in the bookshops, put a request up on your department’s notice board – there may be dozens of second-years who have held on to the books you need.

Living on tight finances doesn’t mean that you have to sit in every night doing batik, but planning ahead is important. Do some research into all the discounts that students are entitled to and use them well. Learn to love Lidl and Aldi. Bring only as much money as you can afford on a night out – and leave the ATM card at home. If you are careful, then you will be able to get through college without offering yourself up to the loan sharks and you will do what you came to do – finish that course!


Whichcollege.ie is a national database of universities, colleges, institutes and providers of third level and PLC courses in Ireland. We operate a national search database of courses at certificate, diploma and degree level as well as providing information about career paths and directions.
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