Where to live on a student budget

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HAVING CHOSEN where to go, how much will it cost you to live there?

Costs vary from reasonable to outrageously expensive. There are a number of things to consider before you even sign up for a course at a university or college, and it's useful to make a list of the essentials of life: how much rent you will pay (will you be living in a room in the halls of residence, with meals thrown in or self-catered or will you opt for privately rented digs?); what bills you will need to meet, especially if you are living in a privately rented flat or room (electricity, gas, laundry, telephone); what your weekly food bill will be; transport to and from campus (would it be cheaper to invest in a bicycle?) plus the odd journey home; books, pens, pencils and whatever other materials may be needed for your particular course; and last, but by no means least, what you will put aside to spend on your social life.

For many students going on to higher education, this is the first time in their lives when they will need to prepare a proper budget and manage their own money.

The wise student will apply for a loan the moment he or she receives an unconditional offer of a place and accepts it. That same wise student will also open a bank account in the town or city of the place of study before - not after - moving in and starting the course.

Shop around. Most banks offer students not only good overdraft facilities but also great presents for opening an account with them.

Many of the better institutions helpfully prepare prospective students for their "new life" with brochures on managing their finances. Napier University, for example, has a delightful leaflet produced jointly by its student funding office and the Napier Students' Association, on the front of which is a little cartoon of a student juggling with five balls, each labelled with a different budget category: rent, access fund, grants, loans and food.

The most expensive regular expenditure is likely to be accommodation. Many universities guarantee first-year students a place in hall - if they apply early enough.

Unlike students south of the border, most Scottish students tend to go to their nearest university or college and continue to live at home. They clearly know on which side their bread is buttered!

According to Napier's leaflet, the student who lives away from home should roughly estimate "minimum weekly living costs of around pounds 90... possibly slightly more if they are coming from overseas".

A room at a hall of residence at the University of Edinburgh, for instance, will cost about pounds 73 a week with a decent breakfast and an evening meal thrown in; a place in one of the university's self-catering flats costs pounds 50 a week, and that includes light and heating bills; rents in digs in the private sector range from pounds 40 to pounds 50 (and even more in the city's plusher areas), plus bills.

In Glasgow, flats in tenement buildings are the norm, and the West End seems to be the most popular student location.

There, depending on quality, they will pay from pounds 40 to pounds 50 a week for a shared flat.

A University of Glasgow hall of residence rent depends on whether you choose catered, self-catered, shared or single accommodation, but it should be remembered that university-owned accommodation works out cheaper than privately rented rooms or flats because students take them on a nine-month contract, which does not include the long summer vacation.

At the University of Aberdeen, a hall of residence room costs from pounds 69 a week (with meals) to pounds 80.52 a week for a room with en-suite facilities. Private lodgings work out at pounds 35 to pounds 55 a week.

And at St Andrews, prices range from pounds 60 to pounds 80 for fully catered accommodation over a 30-to-33-week period, to pounds 31 to pounds 49 (for 37 weeks) self-catered. Town rents average pounds 50 a week.

The cost of travel depends on how far from the campus you live. On average, reckon on pounds 35 a month. A Lothian region bus pass covering four weeks costs pounds 29 plus a quid for a mug shot.

And if you are self-catering, you should budget for at least pounds 25 a week for food.

Spending it all on beer or starving yourself in order to save won't do brain cells any good.

If the university/college of your choice does not provide you with these and other details of the local cost of living, there's a splendid reference book that reveals all and covers every UK university - and it's the perfect students' guide.

The 1999 edition of the Push Guide to Which University is published next week; price pounds 11.99.