Student finance: what you need to know before you start your nursing degree

Juggling studies with financial responsibilities can be difficult. Here are our top tips for nursing students

Juggling studies with financial responsibilities can be difficult. Here are our top tips for nursing students

  • Managing your money while getting to grips with the demands of your nursing programme can be tough
  • There are things – big and small – you can do to make sure your money goes further
  • Read our comprehensive round-up of expert advice and common-sense tips 

This article was first published on 1 September 2019, and updated on 1 September 2020

Illustration of student carrying an oversized credit card
Picture: iStock

If you are embarking on a nursing degree this autumn, you are in good company.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, competition for nursing degree places was fierce. In total, 58,550 people applied for a place on a UK course starting in September 2020.


maximum annual tuition fees for UK nursing students

Source: UCAS

Student numbers are up – and so is the nursing profession’s profile

Recent figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show a 15% rise in the overall number of applicants to nursing degree courses in the UK.

The Council of Deans of Health says the increased interest reflects the perceived value of a nursing career and the high esteem in which the profession is held.

But the demands of long days filled with lectures, assignments, clinical placements and other commitments mean that juggling a nursing degree with financial responsibilities can be difficult. 

It is perhaps unsurprising that ‘finances’ is cited as the top reason nursing and midwifery students consider leaving their degree programme, according to a 2018 survey by training body Health Education England (HEE).

Significant financial challenges include balancing placements with part-time work, as well as being left out of pocket while waiting to be reimbursed for placement-related costs, such as travel and parking.

Whether you are starting a course for the first time or returning for another year, Nursing Standard has put together a one-stop guide to keeping on top of your finances while you study.

What sort of government funding can I get?

Funding for nursing degree students in the UK varies according to what country you are a resident of and where you are studying.

After changes in 2017, new nursing students in England are no longer eligible for the NHS bursary and instead rely on a tuition fees and loans system.

However, from September 2020 all nursing students are eligible for a £5,000 maintenance grant and up to £3,000 more if they are studying mental health or learning disability nursing, or are in certain parts of England.

In Wales, nursing students who commit to working in that country post-registration are entitled to free tuition and bursary help.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, bursaries are still in place for nursing students. Other country-specific funding may be available for students with dependants, children or who have disabilities.

RCNXtra website offers members deals and savings
Take advantage of websites such as RCNXtra, which offers members deals and savings

National Union of Students (NUS) vice-president higher education Hillary Gyebi-Ababio advises new nursing students to ‘look into every funding scheme for which they are eligible’.

Ms Gyebi-Ababio says the new nursing grant will be a great benefit to many students, but will not cover all students' expenses.

'Make sure that you look out for every other source of available funding,' she says. 'Extra funds are also available from the NHS if you have children, incur travel expenses on placement or are in severe hardship.

'If you are uncertain or are struggling, make sure you contact an adviser in your students' union or university for guidance and support, for example, if you think you might be eligible for benefits as a student parent or a disabled student.’

Can I work part-time while studying?

The RCN advises nursing students to think carefully about taking on part-time work in case it has a negative impact on their studies.

Nursing programmes tend to have more weeks of academic contact time, which means ‘holidays’ do not exist to the same extent that they do for non-healthcare students. 

Combined with the additional requirement for nursing students to carry out clinical placements, this can make it hard to hold down part-time work while studying.

Keep up to date with issues affecting nursing students

‘I recommend you get onto the nursing bank’

​​​​​Newly qualified nurse Sam Richards

Newly-graduated Swansea University mental health nursing student Sam Richards was a retail manager for 20 years before being inspired to become a nurse by an outreach team of specialist nurses working with homeless people. 

Mr Richards, who is starting a new job with Swansea Bay University Health Board’s unscheduled care team, is married with three children and has a mortgage.

In his first year, he had a part-time job in retail, but quickly realised the shift pattern was not compatible with clinical placements. He then started working on the nursing bank at his university’s affiliated hospital and says the move gave him more flexibility.

Flexibility of working around placements and study

‘I recommend any nursing students who wish to work get onto the nursing bank as a healthcare support worker,’ he says. ‘I took the conscious decision to only do the nurse bank and to leave another part-time job because of the flexibility of working around placement and study.

‘Often you can pick up a shift on the same day and there is a huge variety of shifts available, which you can pick around your placement.

‘That can be particularly good for students who are reliant on public transport, if it is in the same hospital.’

Yet Mr Richards warns self-discipline is vital to ensuring your studies take priority. 

‘If your financial situation affects academic work then you may have to resit the year, which brings an additional financial burden.’


Your checklist for student savings

Student paying for a coffee
Skipping regular store-bought coffees
can make a big impact over time 
Picture: iStock

Cutting back on takeaway coffees and taking a packed lunch on placement are two small, simple changes that can make a real difference.

The RCN Student Money Guide offers comprehensive advice on funding, housing, benefits and other money matters, including the following checklist for students to ensure they are making the most of savings and help they could be entitled to.

Council tax exemption: Usually, full-time students living on campus or in shared accommodation with other students in England, Wales and Scotland are exempt from council tax, but must submit an exemption certificate every year.

Part-time students in England, Wales and Scotland may be eligible for a 25% reduction in council tax if living alone. 

In certain circumstances, council tax benefit is available for those on a low income. In Northern Ireland, certain categories of students, such as lone parents, are eligible for rates relief.

Information on exemptions in England and Wales

Information for Scotland

Information for Northern Ireland


the cost to train a nurse from scratch

Source: NHS England

Working part-time? Check your payslip: If you have a job when you are a student you may need to pay income tax and national insurance. How much income tax you pay in each tax year depends on two things:

  • How much of your income is above your personal allowance – this is an amount of income, usually £12,500, that you do not have to pay tax on.
  • How much of your income falls within each tax band (note that tax bands are different in Scotland).

Check your payslips and make sure you are not overpaying. Students who have overpaid may be entitled to a refund.

Government advice on tax for students 

Save money by cycling to university or placement where possible Picture: iStock

Money-saving tips for students 

Find items for free on websites such as Freecycle
Find items for free on websites such
as Freecycle

  1. Find free furniture, kitchenware and bicycles using websites such as
  2. Check out savings and deals on RCNXtra and always use your NUS/Totum student discount card when buying from high street shops, which do not always advertise student discounts
  3. Make sure your supermarket shop is the cheapest by using the Supermarket Comparison App, and take a packed lunch when on placement
  4. Use online materials instead of buying text books, or if you do want to buy them, use the RCN students Facebook page, online marketplace AbeBooks, or try advertising on university noticeboards
  5. Divide your student loan or bursary over 52 weeks to help you work out a weekly budget
  6. Look at student bank accounts that will save you the most money and give you the best interest rates
  7. Make batches of food and freeze in portion sizes
  8. Get a 16-25 Railcard if you spend over £72 a year on rail travel (all full-time students are eligible, regardless of age)

Adapted from the RCN Student Money Guide


Shop around for the best student bank account: Despite the freebies that banks use to persuade students to open accounts with them, the most crucial offer remains the size of the interest-free overdraft. 

With debt often an inevitable part of student life, consider opting for an account with the largest or longest interest-free overdraft, and check the interest rate after the ‘free’ period has finished.

Benefits: Depending on your circumstances (for example, if you have dependants) you may qualify for benefits such as child benefit or universal credit.

Turn2us, a national charity that provides practical help to people who are struggling financially, has information on benefits that might be available to full-time students. 

Student shopping in a supermarket
Always check savings websites and review your budget before spending Picture: iStock

Save when you spend: Never make any large purchase without first checking if you can reduce the cost with an online voucher or deal, and always check if a company offers student discount.

Money-saving sites can save you on things like insurance, utilities, gym memberships and eating out.

The website Save the Student provides free, impartial advice to students on how to make their money go further, plus details of the latest deals.

Struggling financially? Talk to your university: Most UK universities have discretionary hardship grants and loans for students who get into financial difficulties, but will set their own eligibility criteria. 

You can usually apply through university student services departments.


the year NHS bursaries were scrapped for students in England

Benevolent funds for nurses and nursing students: Charity the Cavell Nurses’ Trust can assist nurses (including some nursing students) in the event of unforeseen financial hardship. 

This support is not for students who have a regular monthly shortfall, rather for those experiencing unforeseen circumstances that have had a negative impact on their lives, such as ill-health or a family bereavement.

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