Many people contemplate going to university in their later years, but are often held back from doing so due to concerns about the cost.
Being a student can be very expensive these days, and many graduates finish their courses in a lot of debt.
The good news is, there is plenty of financial help and support available to academics of all ages.
Here we take a closer look.
Student finances: what’s on offer?
Student finances usually consist of a combination of a tuition fee loan, a maintenance loan, and additional top-ups and grants. This will depend on where you live and your income.
Tuition fee loan
Tuition fee loans of up to £9,250 a year are offered to almost all students, with no age limit. These apply if you are studying full-time or part-time, and are paid directly to your university or college.
It’s important to note, though, that universities in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland charge less (or nothing) to students already resident there, or students from the EU.
Be mindful too that you may not be eligible for one of these loans if you already have a higher-level qualification.
That said, there are some exceptions. For more information visit the Student Loans Company
You may be able to access a maintenance loan to help cover the day-to-day cost of living, such as food, rent and travel.
Maintenance loans are only available to students under the age of 60 on the first day of the first academic year of your course. If you switch to a different course after turning 60, you will no longer qualify for this loan.
For students from England, the minimum maintenance loan on offer is £3,414. This is paid to students with a household income of £62,212 or more who live at home during their time at university.
The maximum maintenance loan is £11,672. Students living away from home (and in London), and whose annual household income is below £25,000, can qualify for this.
Remember: these figures apply to England. The criteria is different for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Repaying your loans
You’ll repay 9% of your income above the repayment threshold. Earn less and you won’t repay.
Once you leave your course, you’ll only repay when your income is above the repayment threshold. The current UK threshold is £25,725 a year, £2,143 a month, or £494 a week.
If you choose a full-time course, you must begin repaying the loan the April after you finish or leave your course, on the proviso that at the time you’re earning more than the repayment threshold. For example, if you graduate in June 2020, you’ll start repaying in April 2021, if you're earnings are high enough.
Repayment requirements for part-time courses stretch somewhat further. You’ll begin repaying the loan in the April four years after the start of your course, or the April after you finish or leave your course, depending which comes first. Again, this applies only if your earnings at the time exceed the repayment threshold.
Obviously, if you clear the loan early you will no longer need to pay back anything further, and the loan itself if wiped out altogether after 30 years.
If your earnings never exceed the repayment threshold, then in that instance too you won’t have to pay anything back.
Read more about doing a degree in later life
Beware of paying fees upfront
If you are looking to study in your later years, you need to think carefully before deciding to pay your fees upfront.
Crucially, if you graduate but never earn above the repayment threshold during your working life, you will not be required to pay your loans back.
Equally, if you retire before paying your loan back in full, there is a good chance your pension will not exceed the threshold beyond which repayments are required. This could mean you are not liable for the full amount.
This loophole in the rules could make becoming a mature student more of a possibility for those interested in a university education.
Maintenance grant for living costs
In addition to tuition fee loans and maintenance loans, you may be able to claim a grant – as long as you are under 60. Eligibility will depend on your household income. This grant will reduce your maintenance loan allowance, but does not have to be repaid after graduation.
Special support grants
If you’re aged 60 year or above, you can apply for a special support grant instead of a regular maintenance grant.
Other financial help
Further help may be on offer from universities in the form of bursaries and scholarships, while charities and trusts also give out money for a wide range of reasons.
Take advantage of the funding on offer
As a mature student – as with students of any age – the key is to ensure you apply for all the funding to which you are entitled.
For more information visit the student finance pages on Gov.uk. There is a useful student finance calculator here.
If you are considering part-time work to fund your studies, read our guide to working part-time in retirement
Tips for doing another degree in later life
Fancy firing up your braincells with a return to learning? It's never too late. Here are a few useful tips to bring you up to speed with the world of studying for a degree today.
How does the modern degree system work?
The modern modular system for degrees gives mature students far more flexibility. To gain an honours degree, a student needs to earn 360 credits.
Rather like on any self-respecting game show, you can opt to stop after the first 120 credits, having safely earned a Certificate of Higher Education. The next 120 credits will earn you a Foundation Degree or Diploma.
Alternatively, turn up the heat, accumulate the full 360 credits and become the proud owner of a first degree.
Read our job hunting tips for the over-50s
Part-time and flexible learning
Many universities offer part-time degrees in combined studies or humanities, so you can mix and match the units that most appeal to you. Some universities will allocate credits if you already have a qualification higher than A Levels.
This system is known APL - Accreditation of Prior Learning - and can help speed the process of getting a degree.
If you decide you want to switch university, or put your study on hold, you can still keep the credits you have earned. They can then often be transferred to another university course in the future. But it's worth checking in advance.
Most universities also have lifelong learning departments to cater for mature students. Check on the university websites for details.
What are the rules around working part-time in retirement?
Masters and Doctors
If you already have a BA or BSc, you can clamber even higher up the academic ladder by taking a Masters.
Your first degree may be a few decades old. But as long as it was of a reasonable standard, then age is no obstacle to continuing your education.
MAs can be taught, or just research led. It's best to trawl around a few university websites to see what’s on offer.
If you already have a first degree or Masters and a passion for researching a specific subject, you can aim even higher for an MPhil or a PhD at any age.