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What to do if you can’t afford university

Uni life
Published 7 Aug, 2023  ·  6-minute read

Interested in higher education but worried about the costs? It's normal to wonder whether you can or can't afford university, but don’t dismiss it as a pipedream just yet.

We know attending uni comes with expenses. There’s tuition fees to think about, and the cost of textbooks and study materials such as a laptop and stationery. For some, there’s also the financial strain of relocating and paying rent and utility bills.

But financial support is available. If you’re concerned about how to afford uni, there are ways to make it work for you. This might mean looking for a scholarship, a student loan, or a careful work/study balancing act supported by student services. Whatever it is that gets you to uni and helps you thrive, the first step is finding out your options.

Here are a few of the main programs that can help alleviate the cost of living and studying, so you can kickstart your journey towards your dream job through higher education.


There are a range of scholarship opportunities, financial assistance schemes, bursaries and grants available for future and current students who think they can’t afford university. If you’re worried about the cost of tertiary study, it’s worth investigating which scholarships you might be eligible for.

Types of scholarships

Contrary to popular belief, scholarships are not only for academic or sporting excellence. At UQ, there are scholarships and grants for prospective and existing students who:

  • live in regional, rural or remote areas
  • identify as LGBTQIA+
  • identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • identify as female and wish to study a STEM program
  • are living with a disability
  • are experiencing financial hardship
  • are citizens of another country, wishing to study at UQ
  • are non-school leavers/mature-aged
  • come from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds
  • come from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Eligibility for scholarships can depend on study area, income, enrolment status, and level of study. Some scholarships include a living stipend, a financial award, or travel allowances. Each scholarship comes with its own unique set of eligibility requirements and terms and conditions.

Equity scholarships

If you’re experiencing financial hardship that makes it hard to afford university, you may be eligible for an equity scholarship. This is often determined when submitting your university preferences through your state or territory’s tertiary admissions centre (QTAC, for those studying in Queensland).

At UQ, you may be eligible for this type of scholarship (called the UQ Link Scholarship) if you live in a household with a gross income less than $100,000 per year. You also need to be an Australian or New Zealand citizen (or Australian permanent resident).

The UQ Link Scholarship will help with financial costs while studying, providing up to $3,000 per year.

To apply for this scholarship, you must complete the 'financial hardship' category when submitting your university preferences through QTAC. If you mark this category, you will automatically be considered for an equity scholarship through the Educational Access Scheme.

Find out more about the UQ Link Scholarship

Finding the right scholarship to help you afford university

Whether you're an undergraduate, postgraduate or haven't started studying yet, there are several scholarships worth applying for. Many are offered by schools or faculties for specific study areas.

Explore UQ’s scholarships and use the filter function to find the best fit for you.

Most applications require you to submit documentation proving your eligibility for the scholarship, along with a personal statement. UQ has a series of application tips to help.

Are you an international student? There are scholarships available for you too. Learn more about the cost of study and find other international student support resources.

UQ scholarships team standing at booth at Open Day assisting future students

Tuition help

For domestic students, there are a series of government loan programs to help defer tuition costs. HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP are two such schemes.


Most undergraduate students in Australia are eligible for HECS-HELP, a government payment scheme that delays tuition costs. Notably, HECS-HELP covers the student contribution amount, which is the percentage of your course you are required to pay upfront.

HECS fees do not need to be paid back until after you get a job where you earn over a certain threshold each year (this is $51,550 for 2023-24). If you make less than this threshold, there is no expectation to repay your loan right away.


The main difference between FEE-HELP and HECS is that FEE-HELP is not subsidised by the government and has a set loan limit. Like HECS-HELP, however, it does assist with deferring tuition costs. A FEE-HELP loan is available to help pay part or all of your tuition fees when you attend university or another approved higher education provider.

If you’re an Australian citizen, you may be able to receive FEE-HELP to cover your tuition cost. If you’re a permanent resident, you may be able to receive FEE-HELP on approved bridging courses.

Student loan conditions

There are some conditions to these loan programs:

  • You must maintain a pass rate of 50% and be enrolled in a course at the FEE-HELP provider by the census date.
  • But as long as you pass half your enrolled courses, you remain eligible for FEE-HELP and HECS-HELP.
  • If special or personal circumstances impact you, your education provider can allow considerations for these conditions.

If you wish to receive FEE-HELP or HECS-HELP, you’ll need a Tax File Number (TFN) and a completed application form, available from your academic provider during enrolment.

HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP only cover tuition fees – these student loans do not cover things like accommodation, living costs, textbooks, and laptops.

Centrelink support

Centrelink offers a variety of government help schemes for students throughout Australia. If you’re worried you can’t afford student accommodation, you may be eligible for Centrelink payments to alleviate the cost of living while studying.

If you’re over 25 and a full-time student in an approved course, Austudy provides regular payments. Or if you’re under 25, Youth Allowance is available for a majority of approved undergraduate courses. Both programs help with the additional costs of living that HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP do not cover. These can be used in conjunction with scholarships, grants or other financial assistance received.

Working while you study

Another option if you feel like you can't afford university is to work and study part time. Part-time study covers the same areas and subjects, but courses can be taken over the duration of 6 to 8 years instead of the standard 3 to 4, to allow for work or life commitments.

In some faculties, there are external classes on offer to accommodate work schedules.

Your income from a job and your study load will affect Centrelink support such as Austudy and Youth Allowance. Always check the terms and conditions of your financial assistance programs.

Additional fees

Don’t let administration fees stop you from applying to study either. Most universities and higher education providers charge a Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) each year to help pay for student services and organisations. But there are exemptions for this for exchange students and doctorate candidates, and the SSAF can be deferred with SA-HELP.

SA-HELP, much like HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP, is a government-provided loan to help assist eligible students with the SSAF, making studying at university more accessible for those who don’t have the ability to pay it upfront.

Student support

Want to talk to someone about your financial and study options? Please don’t hesitate to contact our support team. You can also access a variety of previously asked questions and general information on studying.

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