Diary Of A Third Year: 'I've spent nearly £30,000 in the name of education'

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The Independent Online

Despite finishing university, I'm not yet a graduate. Until I don my mortar board and gown,I am a graduand, a grand-sounding title that means I'm in academic limbo, between student and graduate. Only on 19 July will I finally become a paid-up member of the graduate community. Paid-up is certainly the right phrase. In all, my degree has cost me £29,000.

This sounds a lot, but it accounts for everything – every meal I ate, every drink I drank and every textbook I foolishly bought but only looked at twice. That £29,000 is the all-inclusive rate for a history degree from the University of Sheffield. Of this, approximately £19,000 is debt – around £8,000 in tuition fees and £11,000 in maintenance loans – the rest comes from my parents and my job.

To calculate this, I had to delve into the Kafkaesque, bureaucratic service that is Student Finance England, which gives lumps of cash to England's students. Their website is a confusing labyrinth that can reduce students and their parents to tears. It's even worse when you know you're navigating it to work out exactly how many thousands you owe them.

The figure of £29,000 sounds a lot – but it is based on doing university on the cheap. I studied in the north of England, where rents are not extortionate and entertainment is inexpensive. I paid £65 a week for my house this year, which was more than average, but helped me avoid the two pitfalls of most student digs: damp and an unheatable house. A pint was nearly always less than £3, and you could go to the cinema for less than a fiver. Despite this, my maintenance loan barely stretched to meet my rent, never mind nights out. Things such as food and heat had to come from other sources.

To cover the shortfall between a student loan and living expenses, you usually need one of two things: a job or generous parents. I was lucky – I had both. Some friends managed on neither. My parents gave me enough to pay for living expenses, without getting a job. Despite this, in the first year I still managed to max-out my overdraft and had to get a term-time job to pay this off.

I fell into the trap of treating my "free overdraft" as free money. The money was just there, ready and wanting to be spent. It's easy to forget that it has to be paid back at some point. Students tend to treat their overdrafts as small loans that have to be repaid speedily after graduation, before the banks place a crippling amount of interest on the debt.

Rather than taking out a £1,500 overdraft, there's a much more fun way of being £1,500 better off: study abroad. I spent a year in Canada, which halved my tuition fees to £1,570 from just over £3,000. Study Abroad is a wonderful loophole that gives you a North American education without North American fees. Students are often reluctant to study abroad – they probably wouldn't be so reticent if they knew the savings involved.

I've spent nearly £30,000 in the past three years and got myself into £19,000 of debt, all in the name of education. I hope it was worth it.