Parents of the students who sat their Leaving Cert this month are facing a bill of as much as € 13,305 to put their child through their first year of college, according to the latest cost of student living survey by Technological University (TU) Dublin.
s this means it could cost as much as € 53,220 to send a child to college for four years, third-level education bills will be a daunting prospect for the parents of this year’s 63,383 Leaving Cert students.
Although Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris has pledged to reduce the annual € 3,000 student contribution charge over a number of budgets, it could be another year before parents feel the benefit of any such move.
So with just over two months to go before your child starts college, what can you do to make your mammoth third-level education bill as manageable as possible?
1 Avoid rent if you can
Parents can expect to foot a € 13,305 bill for their child’s first year in college if the student is living away from home and renting for nine months, according to TU Dublin.
As the cost falls to € 6,159 a year if the student can continue to live at home while attending college, rent is by far the highest cost faced by students living away from home.
So if you can avoid going down the rental route when your child starts college, this will clearly save you a lot of money.
“See if the course is in a college which is within a commutable distance,” said Dr Rachel O’Connor, student engagement and experience officer with TU Dublin.
Indeed, many students are already choosing courses within commutable distances.
“A lot of students are now choosing their course based on location rather than what they want to do – as accommodation has become such an issue,” said Clare Austick, president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
2 Get a student Leap card
Commuting is most viable for students living close to good public transport links.
Make sure your child gets a student Leap card if they’s commuting on public transport (if the Leap card can be used on their journey) as this will slash their commuting costs.
You can get half-price fares through the student Leap card on all subsidized public transport journeys on Dublin Bus, Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann, Luas, Go-Ahead Ireland and TFI Local Link.
Students who use the Leap card also have the advantage of fare capping – where you will not be charged any more than a set limit if you make a number of trips on Dublin Bus, Luas, Dart or commuter rail services in a day or week .
With Dublin Bus and Luas for example, you will not be charged more than € 2.80 a day or € 11 a week if you have a Student Leap card.
On top of this, there is also a 20pc reduction on all public transport fares until the end of this year – as part of the Government’s cost-of-living package.
The Leap card can be used in and around Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, Sligo, Athlone and Wexford.
3 Get student digs
Student digs is likely to be the most affordable and flexible type of student accommodation – so consider this option if your child is living away from home.
“The cost of utilities, food and accommodation will be the biggest hits facing students this year – but if your child is staying in a student digs, this will help manage those hits,” said O’Connor.
“Sometimes the host family will throw in breakfast and light meals. You also may not have to pay the full nine months if staying in a digs – you may be able to negotiate on this. Another advantage of student digs is that your child will have access to broadband, heating and electricity. ”
With student digs, students typically pay an average rent of € 140 for five days for approximately 25 to 30 weeks – with utility bills included in the cost, according to TU Dublin.
4 Get a grant if you can
Check if you qualify for a student grant as it could be worth as much as € 12,385 to you.
There are two types of student grant – the grant for day-to-day living costs (known as the maintenance grant) and the fee grant (towards the cost of tuition fees, essential field-trip expenses and the student contribution charge).
The maintenance grant is worth up to € 3,225 for eligible undergraduate students – or up to € 6,115 for students from families in most financial need.
The fee grant is worth up to € 6,270. Some students qualify for both the fee grant and the maintenance grant.
Be sure to apply for a grant by July 7 if you’re eligible for one. SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) will continue to accept grant applications after that date but your application will be given priority if you apply by July 7.
The July 7 deadline applies to those applying for the grant for the first time.
For those renewing the grant, June 9 was the closing date (for priority applications).
Even if you did not qualify for the grant last year, you may do so this year because of a recent widening of the eligibility criteria.
A family with three dependent children for example could be eligible for a full maintenance grant if their reckonable income (the proportion of your gross income considered by SUSI in calculating if you are eligible for a grant) is up to € 40,875.
5 Prepare food
Students should prepare their own food rather than eat out.
“Our advice to students living away from home would be to do a monthly dry goods shop – where you get your pasta and so on – and then to do a weekly shop for your fresh food,” said O’Connor.
“Previously students often did not do a weekly supermarket shop because they had no car for carrying groceries – however a lot of the big retailers do click-and-collect and deliveries now.”
Students should be sure there are good fridge and freezer facilities in any accommodation they’re considering, advised O’Connor.
6 Get a scholarship
“All colleges offer various scholarships so it’s worthwhile checking to see if you’re eligible for any,” said O’Connor. Scholarships could include anything from sports scholarships to special study scholarships to scholarships for studying abroad and so on.
You’d typically apply for a sports scholarship before you start college. There are also scholarships which could come up when you’re in college – such as Irish language scholarships. ”
7 Use college services
“Make sure your child is aware of the services at their college,” said O’Connor. “TU Dublin for example has a student health center which offers a discounted full GP service. A lot of campuses have subsidized sports and gym facilities. ”
8 Accommodation battle
“It’s very bleak out there,” said Karina Timothy, western regional services manager at the housing charity, Threshold. “We are aware of students who spent part – or all of – their college term living in tourist accommodation, such as tourist hostels.”
It’s important to start looking for accommodation early, advised Austick of USI. “Finding student accommodation is quite tough,” said Austick.
“Get in touch with your student welfare office if you’re having difficulties here. Some universities have an accommodation office [which can give advice around accommodation]. ”
9 Tackle savings shortfall
With only a few months to go until college kicks off, it is too late now to start saving for university bills. You – or your child – may be able to borrow money to fund college bills if no savings have been set aside.
A number of the banks and credit unions offer educational loans. Bank of Ireland’s student loan (where students can borrow up to € 5,000 at 5pc interest) is one of the cheapest student loans available. AIB offers a loan to cover the cost of the student contribution charge and it also offers student loans of up to € 50,000.
Even if your bank or credit union does not offer an educational loan, you can usually borrow money for college bills by taking out a personal loan. Should you have to borrow money, get the cheapest loan possible. Your credit union could work out cheaper than the bank.