Studying at the RCA means living in London – one of the most exciting and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Renowned for its creativity, diversity and cultural offer – and ranked as the world’s best student city for three years in a row by QS Rankings – there’s no better city to develop your practice in. Whether you are moving to London from another part of the UK or another country, it’s likely the cost of living will differ from what you are used to at home. Living costs are personal and will depend on your lifestyle choices but as a student there are many ways to manage and you can take advantage of a range of discounts, including on travel and cultural activities. This guide provides practical information on costs like housing, utilities and travel as well as how to make the most of London life on a budget. You can also find out more about how RCA scholarships are available to support you during your time at the RCA.
Many students choose to house share in London as this is more affordable than renting on your own and can help you meet new people outside of the RCA community.
If you are looking for a short-term place to stay while you settle in, you can expect to pay around the below:
Hostel: £15–30 per night.
Hall of Residence: £145–400 per week (bills included).
Hotel: At least £60 per night (more at peak times).
AirBnB: From £40 per night (book early to get the best price and availability).
For long-term options, average rent costs by type of accommodation are listed below:
Room in a shared house: £500–1,000 per month (dependent on location).
Studio flat: From £190 per week or more.
1-bedroom flat £250 per week or more.
2-bedroom flat: £300 per week or more.
As with any other city, prices will vary depending on your location and the quality of the accommodation and the further out of central London you live, the cheaper your rent is likely to become. For more information on finding somewhere to live while at the RCA, visit our guide to Accommodation in London.
London’s underground network is world famous – but there’s more to travel in London than just the tube. The RCA is well-served by buses which are one of the most affordable ways to get around. For everything you need to know about getting to our campuses, head to our Visiting the RCA page. Keep reading below to find out more about how to get around London and ways to save on travel.
How Transport for London (TfL) works
Most people in London pay by contactless debit or credit card. You can also use an Oyster card, which can help you take advantage of specific discounts. Find out more ordering or collecting an Oyster card on the Transport for London website.
The city is divided into six zones and journey prices on London Underground depend on how many zones you travel through. The Royal College of Art is located in Zone 1, in the centre of London. To see a map of the underground showing different zones and for information regarding all methods of transport in London, visit the Transport for London (TfL) website.
Ways to save
Walking offers a good way to save money and to see the city at the same time. Many places are closer than you think and apps like Citymapper can help you find walking routes that stick to main roads – which are helpful for navigating an unfamiliar route or if it’s dark and you’d prefer to stick to well-lit streets.
Travelling during off-peak times can help you save money as tube fares are cheaper. Off-peak times are generally 9.30am–4pm and from 7pm onwards. Check the TfL website for more information.
Travel by bus in London is cheaper than the tube at just £1.65 per journey. In fact, a day of travelling only by bus will never cost you more than £4.95. You can also transfer to other buses or trams for free within one hour of tapping in for your first journey. Hopping on the bus lets you see more of the city which can help you get your bearings when you first arrive in London – and find more areas to explore!
Travelcard fares allow you unlimited travel on the tube and bus for a set price over a set period of time – for example seven day travelcards give you seven days' travel for the price of five days. The cost differs depending on how many zones you would like to travel through. As a student, you are entitled to receive a further 30% off travelcard fares if you purchase a Student Oyster card. Make sure to check if you really need a travelcard based on how much you intend to use it – you may find it’s cheaper to use a regular pay as you go Oyster card or a contactless debit or credit card.
Pay as you go and railcards
If you have a 16–25 Railcard or a 26–30 Railcard, you can add the discount to your Student Oyster card or to a standard adult Oyster card to get a 34% discount on off-peak pay as you go fares on Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and most National Rail services in London. Find out more about pay as you go fares and how to connect a railcard to your Oyster card on the TfL website. Railcards are also a great option for visiting the rest of the UK.
Many of our students also choose to cycle to College and there is plenty of bike storage available across our three campuses. If you do not have your own bike, there is also the Santander Cycle scheme which lets you rent bikes across the city with prices starting at £2 for 30 minutes. Find out more about the scheme on the Santander Cycles website.
How much you spend on living costs will depend on your personal preferences and circumstances – whatever your choices, there are lots of resources available to help you plan your budget and make the most out of the money you spend.
Websites like Money Saving Expert offer templates for students that can help you set up a budget and apps like Monzo, an online bank connected to an app which sorts what you spend into categories like ‘travel’ and ‘groceries’, can help you keep track of your outgoings and establish healthy habits.
The below list gives an indication of living costs for the average student during an academic year at the RCA – please note that your costs will differ depending on your situation.
Per year (52 weeks)/per week:
Rent: £10,920/£210 (average)
Household goods: £500/£10
Household bills: £1,040/£20 (energy costs are not included in costs please see below)
Personal items* : £1,500/£28.85
Leisure items** : £1,300/ £25
Course materials: £2,800/£52
* Personal items include clothing, mobile phone bills, medical expenses, toiletries and other small personal items.
** Leisure items include hobbies, sport, entertainment subscriptions and social and cultural activities.
*** Travel costs will vary according to where your accommodation is located.
Ways to save
Students in the UK are eligible for a wide range of discounts to help ease living expenses, while a number of apps can also help you save on day to day costs. Below you can find some suggestions on ways to save and discounts to take advantage of – but remember you can also shop around and do your own research.
Leisure and lifestyle
UNiDAYs is a free scheme which offers discounts on brands from clothing and tech retailers to travel and gym memberships. RCA students are also eligible to buy a TOTUM card for £12 a year from the National Union of Students which offers discounts worth up to £500. Websites like Save the Student and Student Beans regularly post about the latest discounts and offers from different retailers across the UK, so it’s worth bookmarking their websites too or following them on social media for tips on where you can save money.
London hosts a huge range of free cultural events throughout the year, from the iconic Notting Hill Carnival to poetry readings – listings websites like TimeOut can help you discover what’s on for free. For galleries and museums, National Art Fund’s Student Art Pass will get you 50% off entry to major exhibitions across London and the UK for just £5 and there’s no age limit as long as you can prove your student status. If cinema is your thing and you are under 25, you can get free tickets to preview screenings at Picturehouse cinemas through E4 Big Screen Previews. London is also one of the greenest cities in the world for its size – offering a number of great outdoor spaces you can enjoy for free. For more about the city’s galleries, live events and green spaces, visit our Living in London guide.
Food and eating out
Shopping at cheaper supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi can help your grocery budget go further. More generally, grocery shopping in the evening can help you save money and waste too – as a lot of supermarkets begin to reduce their prices on fresh products. Apps like TooGoodToGo and Olio connect you to restaurants, businesses, shops and people in your local area that have unsold surplus food that you can pick up for a cheaper price, or sometimes even for free, to stop it from going to waste. If you’re happy to be flexible about your menu, Oddbox delivers cheaper surplus and ‘wonky’ seasonal fruit and vegetables weekly or fortnightly, which can help you get creative when it comes to cooking.
Books and equipment
The RCA Library offers access to over 70,000 books on art and design reflecting the full range of activity at the College – if you’re looking for a specific book, always make sure to check the library first to see if you can borrow a copy rather than have to buy one. The Library also has a dedicated space for magazines and journals, with subscriptions to a huge range of art, design, fashion and film periodicals – reading these in the library can save you having to buy magazines or take out your own subscriptions. More information about accessing the Library can be found on the Intranet once you’re registered at the RCA. We also have two College Shops across our campuses – one in Kensington and one in Battersea – where you can buy supplies and materials at affordable prices.
As an RCA student you’re able to buy computers, laptops and accessories at educational prices. For example, through UNiDAYS, you can get discounts on a range of brands such as Apple, Samsung, HP, Dell and Lenovo. Key creative software like Adobe Creative Cloud is available free through the RCA and a number of other programmes are available for students at a discounted rate – you’ll be able to find a full list on the Intranet once you register as an RCA student.
In most instances in the UK, you will pay your energy bill separately from your rent. A number of providers are available and websites like Money Supermarket and U Switch can help you compare deals. Energy prices have risen in the UK over the past year and in response to these rising prices, the UK Government has announced the Energy Bills Support Scheme which will give all households in England, Wales and Scotland a discount of £400 on their energy bills spread across six months from October 2022 to March 2023, which you’ll be eligible for as an RCA student. At the time of writing, you do not have to apply for the discount as it will be given automatically. You can check the UK Government website for further information about how the discount will work.
Full-time students are exempt from paying council tax – a tax levied by local authorities in the UK to help pay for local services, such as rubbish collection and policing.
If you live in a household where every adult is a full-time student then you will receive a bill but will not have to pay council tax once you have submitted proof of your student status. To get proof of your student status, just request a council tax letter from the Registry at the RCA. For council tax purposes you are treated as being a student from the time that you start your programme, to the time when you complete it.
The situation is a little more complicated if you are a full-time student living with someone or a number of people who are not students. If you live in a household with one non-student, then there will be a 25 per cent discount on council tax upon submission of proof of student status. If there is more than one non-student then the full amount will be owed, but any students in the household will not be legally liable to pay.
The Student Support team can advise on council tax. If you have any questions you can reach them at [email protected]
Other costs to be aware of
In the UK, you need to pay for a TV licence to watch television programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service. The current fee for a colour TV licence is £159. Payment can either be made in full or you can spread the cost over a year. More information can be found on the TV licensing website.
When you are renting the owner must insure the building you are living in, but this does not cover the contents. For peace of mind, we recommend you take out insurance for your belongings, especially bicycles and personal computers or other equipment and supplies related to your course. Some companies have offers tailored for students and comparison websites like Money Supermarket and USwitch can help you find a quote based on your needs.
Help with finances
RCA Scholarships and awards
Over 180 scholarships, awards and bursaries are currently available to incoming RCA students. These are awarded predominantly on an assessment of financial hardship and social disadvantage. The RCA wants our programmes to be open to all talented students, from all backgrounds – if you are an existing offer holder or thinking of applying to the RCA but you are worried about finances, please visit our scholarships and award page to see if support is available.
Back on Track Funds
The RCA offers Back on Track Funds to help enrolled students with unforeseen financial difficulties. The Back on Track – Emergency Hardship Fund offers discretionary financial support for essential living costs and IT hardship arising as a result of an unforeseen change in circumstances. The Back on Track – Materials Fund assists students who may need financial support to cover costs for course materials or materials testing. Both funds can be applied for throughout the year, but cannot be used towards tuition fees. Information on the Back on Track funds will be available for you to view on the Intranet once you have registered as an RCA student.