The costly college years: how much do students need to get by?
With a survey by the Credit Union putting monthly costs and bills for students at €950, third level is all about making meagre resources go further
Rent is the biggest ongoing cost for students. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Suddenly there are bills. The presses are empty and no one seems to be filling them. What’s going on?
Learning to manage money takes skill. College is expensive, with students effectively out of the workplace, and reliant on part-time work, parental help and grants or scholarships.
According to a survey just released by the Irish League of Credit Unions, annual costs for students have increased this year. Those who live at home can expect to spend €516 a month on daily expenses, up from €484 in 2011. Parents on average contribute €421 a month. Students who move out need to budget a lot more: the Credit Union suggests rent and bills bring the monthly cost to €950.
These figures are slightly more than those reckoned by the Dublin Institute of Technology’s most recent Campus Life survey on the cost of college (see panel, right).
Unsurprisingly, most students who can stay at home, will stay at home. Some deliberately choose a college that’s closeby, even if it isn’t their ideal choice. Others will make a long daily commute, even if it means travelling the guts of four hours a day from Dunshauglin in Co Meath to UCD or from Kildare to DCU.
A particularly long commute could cost €150 per month, or about half what you might shell out in rent, but you won’t have to pay bills or buy as much food.
Rent is the single biggest ongoing cost. The national average is €343 per month, according to the Credit Union survey - although this average is skewed upwards by higher rent in Dublin, where an accommodation shortage has raised prices by 4.5 per cent in the past year. The average rent in Dublin, according to a daft.ie rental report, is about €348. On the other hand, students living in Dublin have a greater choice of accommodation, particularly if they’re attending a city centre college (Trinity and DIT).
Transport costs have also risen. The monthly student short-hop ticket is up by €6. And to make things even more complicated, the March 2013 Consumer Price Index showed a 4.5 per cent increase in the cost of education, mainly due to rises in the student registration fee, which is €2,500. Be warned: this will jumpt to €2,750 in 2014 and €3,000 in 2015, and unless you are on a maintenance grant, you can either pay the charge or be booted out of college.
Accommodation costs, and the general cost of living, are lower in Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford.
Jobs are still hard to come by, although persistent students are still managing to find them.
Anecdotal reports suggest employers are becoming less flexible than some students need; working to pay for college defeats the purpose if you can’t manage to attend lectures.
“Students should not work more than 15 hours a week, if possible, to avoid negatively affecting study,” says Deirdre Moloney, a student advice centre manager in DCU. “If they have trouble securing work, we might advise them to visit the careers service to improve their CV, or discuss what the most appropriate clothes to wear when dropping it in to shops.”
Students who run into financial difficulty can apply to their college’s student assistance fund. The sums aren’t great – DCU estimates applicants get an average of €500 from the fund per semester – the money can be used to help cover the cost of expenses, including rent, bills, childcare, compulsory study abroad and medical bills. In more severe cases, the Saint Vincent de Paul has an education grant for limited relief.
About 20 per cent of students drop out of college. Evidence suggests students who score a high number of CAO points are more likely to stay the course, but financial pressure inevitably forces some to leave. If you can’t pay the college registration fee in first year, three or four years of college are likely to be a strain.
The student grant is means tested and students whose parents have fewer than four children, and who earn no more than €39,875 a year, qualify for full maintenance, which includes a monthly payment and covers the full cost of the college registration fee. Just over 30 per cent of students are eligible for this assistance.
Work out your bigger expenses, and then start reducing them. It makes a difference. How much are you spending on gas and electricity? Can you get a cheaper provider? Check out a list of service providers on comparison site bonkers.ie. And what about your mobile phone bill? If you are shelling out €60 or more per month, you are paying too much – time to switch. Callcosts.ie provides useful bill comparisons.