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

Juggling studying with financial responsibilities can be tough. Here are our top tips

Juggling studying with financial responsibilities can be difficult. Here are our top tips

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.

Competition was fierce, with more than 50,000 people applying for a place on a UK course starting this September.

Recent figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show a 6% rise in the overall number of applicants to nursing degree courses in the UK.

The Council of Deans of Health says the figures highlight the fact that nursing continues to be seen as a valuable and rewarding career.


maximum annual tuition fees for UK nursing students

Source: UCAS

‘Finances’ is the top reason why students consider leaving

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’ was the top reason nursing and midwifery students considered leaving their degree programmes, according to a 2018 survey by training body Health Education England (HEE).

Significant financial challenges included 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.

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

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

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, bursaries are still currently in place for nursing students. Other country-specific funding may be available for students with dependants, children or 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) women's officer Rachel Watters advises new nursing students to apply for 'every funding scheme you might be eligible for'.

'For example, in England, while most student finance is provided by the Student Loans Company, extra funds are available from the NHS if you have children, incur travel expenses on placement or are in severe hardship,' she says. 'If you are uncertain or are struggling, make sure you contact an adviser in your students' union or university for extra guidance and support.

'The NHS cannot continue its great work without student nurses, who will become its backbone in the years to come. Despite the financial challenges of being a student nurse, your nursing degree is immensely worthwhile not only for you but also for the thousands of patients and family members who will benefit from the care you provide.'

Can I work part-time while studying?

The RCN advises nursing students to think carefully about taking on part-time work in case it negatively impacts 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.

‘I recommend you get onto the nursing bank’

Third-year nursing student ​​​​​Sam Richards

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 his third year of study, 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; he 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 get 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 key to ensuring your studies take priority. ‘If your financial situation impacts on academic work then you may have to resit the year, which brings an additional financial burden.’


Checklist for student savings

Cutting back on takeaway coffees and eating out and instead bringing in a packed lunch to university or on placement can make a real difference.

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

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 sureyou 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

Top ten 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 and take a packed lunch and flask to university
  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. Visit your local bank and go through the accounts that will save you the most money and give you the best interest rates
  7. Share lifts to placements with your fellow students
  8. Make batches of food to take with you for long days on placement, and freeze in portion sizes
  9. Cycle to university and placement to save on petrol and parking charges
  10. 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.

‘I didn’t know how hard it would be to fit in part-time work’ 

Rachel Ames is in her third year of an adult nursing course at Buckinghamshire New University.

Mature nursing student Rachel Ames
Rachel Ames: Pressure is increased
by last-minute placement rotas

She lives at home with her mother, to whom she pays room rent, as well as half towards bills.

'The only big hiccup I have had is that I am not used to not being able to work and earn a wage and that is a pride thing,' says Ms Ames, who worked as an emergency ambulance technician before starting her nursing degree.

‘I knew money would be tight, but what I didn’t know was how hard it would be to fit in part-time work, as a lot of placements haven’t given me rosters in advance.

‘I went part-time [in my job] when I started my course, working Saturday only, but then I had to leave because I couldn’t tell them which Saturdays I needed off because I didn’t have my placement rota.

Stress of not being able to book work

‘You are told to call up a new placement, introduce yourself and get a rota in advance, but often you don’t get given a rota until the first day on a ward and you have to chase to get it.

‘There is a financial stress in not being able to book work.'

Ms Ames says she is eating away at the saving she had accrued for a house deposit, but recommends that students ensure they have some emergency back-up if needed.

So far, she has had to pay for repairs to her car and for new glasses.

She says: ‘I’m lucky I have savings and, if I didn’t have them, I have friends and family who would be able to help me out with a little bit of money, if I was in need.’



the year NHS bursaries were scrapped for students in England

Benevolent funds for nurses and nursing students: The RCN Foundation announced in August it was piloting a new grant, known as the RCN Foundation Leathersellers’ grant, aimed at undergraduate nursing students. 

To check if you are eligible click here 

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 negatively impacted on their lives, such as ill-health or a family bereavement.

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