Heading off to university is a landmark moment in anyone’s life. While the idea of living independently and pursuing a passion can be liberating, students also find that they have to manage their finances for the first time.

Of course, the cost of living differs across the UK – so what are the cheapest and most expensive student cities in the country?

The NatWest Student Living Index aims to answer that question. The index takes the average monthly cost of living for students, adds accommodation costs, and divides that by their average monthly income to give each city an affordability rating.

So, whether you’re looking for a cheap city for your son or daughter to study in, or you’re simply interested in how prices have changed for students, here are some of the cheapest, and most expensive, towns and cities for students across the UK.

The cheapest cities in the UK for students

1. Cardiff

According to NatWest, Cardiff is the cheapest city in the UK for students. Students’ expenditure in Cardiff – an average of £1,041.02 – was far lower than the average monthly income of £2,241.65.

The average price of a pint of lager is £3.43 in Cardiff, according to the Herald Wales, which is low in comparison to other locations.

With four different universities across the city, including Cardiff University, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, students have an excellent selection of locations to study at.

And, to go along with the cheap prices, there’s a myriad of different activities for students in Cardiff, including the Cardiff National Museum, or the gorgeous Sherman Theatre, which is handily located right next to the student union and puts on lots of affordable shows. 

2. Cambridge

This may come as a surprise, but Cambridge was ranked the UK’s second cheapest city to live for students.

The city was given a student living index rating of 0.49, which has been helped by the low monthly average expenditure of £877.71 – the lowest of all NatWest’s ranked university cities.

Even though students in Cambridge had a relatively low average monthly expenditure, the price of a pint of lager is still relatively high according to MoverDB, at between £3.30 and £4.

Meanwhile, the average monthly income of students living in the historic city is slightly lower than others, resting at £1,787.31, making it the fourth lowest of all the ranked university cities.

Of course, Cambridge is known for its prestigious university, which attracts students from around the world.

And, since Cambridge is renowned for its student life, there is plenty to do. For example, the stunning Fitzwilliam Museum is full to the brim with art and antiquities. Or, you could catch one of Cambridge’s famous rowing races. 

3. Southampton

Rated 0.52 on NatWest’s student living index, Southampton was ranked the third cheapest city in the UK for students.

Even though the average monthly expenditure for students in Southampton was slightly higher at £1,218.74, the high average income of £2,362.17 is what resulted in the city having such a high ranking on the student living index.

Southampton has three different universities for students to choose from – the University of Southampton, Southampton Solent University and City College Southampton. The University of Southampton even has a campus in Malaysia, which could give students the chance to study abroad. 

For those that wish to stay in Southampton though, there’s an abundance of activities suited for students. Indeed, as well as an array of fun bars and restaurants, the city has the fascinating SeaCity Museum, and even an Alpine Snowsports Centre, so keen skiers won’t have to travel far. 

The most expensive cities in the UK for students

1. Edinburgh

With a student living index rating of 1.02, Edinburgh was ranked as the most expensive city in the UK for students.

According to NatWest, students in Edinburgh spend an average of £949.44 a month on rent and living costs. Also, Edinburgh students had the lowest reported average income at £934.44 a month, making it the only city in the UK where students’ expenditure outweighed their income.

It’s a well-known fact that Edinburgh can be expensive, especially during August when the Fringe Festival is taking place. In fact, Edinburgh News reports that Edinburgh is the most expensive place in Scotland for a pint of lager, at an average of £4.50, which is the second most expensive in the entire UK. 

So, it may come as no surprise that students across Edinburgh’s four universities – Napier, Edinburgh University, Heriot-Watt, and Queen Margaret University – have high outgoings each month.

While it may be less affordable, Edinburgh is a beautiful city with lots of different activities for students, such as a plethora of bars and clubs, free museums, plenty of green spaces and some great shopping. 

2. Glasgow

When it comes to living in Scotland, Glasgow is usually considered to be a much cheaper city. So, it may come as a surprise that the post-industrial city was ranked the second most expensive for students in the UK.

Indeed, NatWest reported that Glasgow has a student living index rating of 0.82, with students’ average monthly income at £1,602.29, and their monthly expenditure at £1,313.41.

Even though the average monthly outgoings in Glasgow are higher than Edinburgh for students, Glasgow Live found that the average price for a pint of lager was slightly cheaper, at around £3.78. 

The city has always been a favourite for students, with its six universities – University of Glasgow, University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University to name just three – offering a wide range of subjects for potential students. 

Also, Glasgow has a famed nightlife scene for students and non-students alike, but there is plenty to do besides going out on the town, such as the lovely Kelvingrove Art Gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art or even the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

3. Leeds

With a student living index rating of 0.81, Leeds came in at a close third as one of the most expensive cities in the UK for students.

NatWest states that students in Leeds had quite a high average monthly expenditure at £1,533.09, while their average monthly income was £1,889.93.  

Leeds does have several universities, including the University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University and Leeds Trinity University. 

Mirroring the high monthly expenditure, the average price for a pint in Leeds is around £4.07 according to The Hoot, which is relatively high when compared to some of the other cities on this list.

This higher expenditure in Leeds may be attributed to its activities rather than its nightlife. Indeed, Leeds is bustling with things to do, such as the Belgrave Music Hall, Hyde Park Picture House and, believe it or not, a Quidditch society. 

Get in touch

While you don’t have to relocate altogether to make the most of your money while you’re a student, there are still ways you can save money amid this cost of living crisis. Email enquire@london-money.co.uk or call (0207) 808 4120 to find out more.

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