How to Crowdfund Your Degree If You Don’t Have Money To Study:
If you don’t have the cash needed to study your dream degree, why not try crowdfunding? It might sound pretty daunting, but plenty of students have done it before. Here’s how…
If you’re struggling to pull together the funds you need to get yourself to university, crowdfunding probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind.
It’s certainly not the easiest way to make money, and it won’t suit everyone. But, if you’re good at marketing yourself online, and you’ve got a great story to tell, crowdfunding for your studies could be the ideal route for you.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about crowdfunding your degree, and whether it could be the answer to your financial woes.
What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is basically relying on the generosity of others (family, friends, academics and strangers alike) to donate towards a cause – in this case, the costs of your degree.
You set up an online crowdfunding page (these are the best sites to use) and promote it to the public, the press and the internet at large in the hope that generous people will help you out, and be nice enough to contribute in some way towards your financial goal.
Use your fundraising page to tell the world your story and explain why you’re asking for donations. You’ll also have to set a financial target that matches the cost of your degree, and be honest!
Don’t set your target at £20,000 if you’re applying for a master’s course that costs £10,000 unless you make clear why you need the extra cash. Otherwise, anyone can just Google your course and see how much it costs.
What to do if you don’t reach your crowdfunding target
Different crowdfunding sites have different policies on this, so you’ll have to check the small print to be sure. Some sites will refund all your donors if you don’t meet your target, whereas others will allow you to keep however much you make.
Watch out for this, because if you set your target too high, you could end up with nothing.
Can anyone set up a crowdfunding campaign?
Technically, yes! Anyone can try their hand at crowdfunding their degree, but whether you’ll be successful with it is another story.
Crowdfunding is clearly a better option for some students than others.
For example, there’s no point in crowdfunding the costs of your tuition fees if you could easily get the money through a Tuition Fee Loan from Student Finance.
And if you’re trying to crowdfund a bit of extra money to help you cover living costs, people might wonder why you don’t just get a part-time job to help you through.
On the other hand, crowdfunding for a postgraduate degree is a bit easier, and a lot more common. Although the government have now introduced financial support for master’s degrees and PhD courses, the money doesn’t go as far and can be more difficult to access.
International students often use crowdfunding too, as they face much higher tuition fees than home students and get very little government financial support.
In a nutshell, if you can show that without the generosity of the public, you genuinely would not be able to afford university, then crowdfunding could be a good option.
Are you an ideal crowdfunding candidate?
If you’re wondering whether you should start a crowdfunding campaign, here’s an idea of some of the situations that would make you an ideal candidate for crowdfunding your university costs.
Have a read through them and think if any of these (or something similar) would apply to you.
Master’s students who are ineligible for the Postgraduate Loan
Postgraduate Loans (PGLs) have been rolled out across the UK since August 2016, but many prospective students are ineligible because they don’t fit the criteria.
Not only this, but the PGL isn’t the best option for everyone, whether you meet all the criteria or not.
Loan repayments will be steep if you already have an undergrad loan you’re paying off (they need to be paid off at the same time) and the maximum loan of just over £11k won’t stretch that far – this will barely cover tuition fees for a master’s course at many UK universities, never mind additional costs.
Postgraduate courses often have a very specialised focus and candidates will normally have a clear idea of what they want to research.
This is an advantage when it comes to crowdfunding, as you can be more specific about exactly what you plan to study and how much it means to you – strangers (particularly academics in your field) are far more likely to donate if they’re convinced you’re passionate and focussed.
Art students able to offer artworks in return for donations
If you’re an art student, you are at an advantage when it comes to crowdfunding as it’s easy to show off your talent to the world and attract attention from potential donors (and the media!).
A great crowdfunding idea is to offer something in return to those who make donations – for example, a limited edition print or a small painting to anyone who donates £100 or more.
In fact, with some crowdfunding sites, giving something back is now an official requirement. Make sure you provide lots of photos and examples of your work on your fundraising page to really impress your audience.
You could take inspiration from the art student who funded some of their degree by making a necklace for Lil Wayne…
International students with a great story to tell
Whether you’re a UK student looking to raise money to study somewhere abroad, or you’re an international student hoping to study in the UK, crowdfunding can be a good option provided you know how to market yourself properly.
Is there a reason you’re desperate to study this particular course at this particular uni in this particular country, rather than the one you’re currently living in? If so, share your story – potential crowdfund donors will want to know.
Lower-income candidates without a grant
Are you in a position that has meant you’re particularly impacted by all the changes to university funding over recent years?
With tuition fees tripling in 2012 and Maintenance Loans struggling to keep up with increasing rent and living costs for students, many people from lower-income households are finding that university has become more financially difficult.
The media is always interested in tangible examples that show the negative impact that bad political decisions can have on young people.
When approaching the media about your crowdfunding campaign, bear in mind that journalists will likely be interested in hearing how the Student Finance system has affected you.
Pros of starting a crowdfunding campaign
- Publicity – You could potentially receive great coverage for your crowdfunding campaign. Getting your name out there is incredibly important to increase your chances of reaching your target.
- Debt-free money – If your crowdfunding is successful, you have the chance to leave uni free of debt.
- A rewarding experience – Working hard on your campaign and seeing your efforts (hopefully!) pay off will likely encourage you to work harder at uni knowing that people have put so much belief in you.
- Impressive CV content – Successful crowdfunding efforts demonstrate that you’re great at marketing, you’re committed, and you can apply yourself to get results.
Cons of crowdfunding
- Public criticism – You might get some stick from the general public after sharing your campaign on social media and in the press, particularly from those who have funded themselves (but you’ll find plenty of supporters too!).
- Donations could be refunded – If you don’t meet your target, your money might be sent back to donors (depending on which site you use). You also need to think of a back-up plan if you don’t generate enough money.
- Potential pressure – You might feel expectations to perform well in your degree if you know your fees have been covered by kind donations from others.
Here’s how to maximise your chances of reaching your crowdfund target:
- Don’t make it all about you – Focus on how your research will benefit others as well as yourself.
- Start a blog – Writing a blog and using it as a platform to tell your story in more detail will give potential donors a better picture of who you are and why you’re asking for their help. You can also use this to keep track of your target, and remember to link to it from your fundraising page.
- Use your connections – Get in touch with anyone you know who might be able to help to fund your crowdfund campaign, and ask them to share the word as well. The more people who hear about your goal, the better your chances of success.
- Be controversial – Controversy is always a good way of getting attention online, but if you’re worried about ruffling feathers, at least try to approach your campaign creatively and stand out from the crowd in some way.
- Promote, promote, promote – In order to reach your target, you’ll need to get stuck in and spend time reaching out on social media and other platforms. This includes contacting journalists online as well as individual potential donors.
- Be realistic with your crowdfunding target – If you set your target too high, you may risk losing it.
- Keep your donors updated – They’ll want to see how you get on with your studies and how you’ve put their money to good use!
The best crowdfunding websites for students
Planning to set up a crowdfunding campaign? These are the most commonly used sites for students crowdfunding their degrees:
Loads of students opt for GoFundMe as their crowdfunding platform as it’s more focused on individuals and their personal stories than projects.
This site would be a good choice if you have an interesting story to tell, such as about overcoming a particular struggle to get to university.
Just be aware that there is a transaction fee that will reduce your donations slightly. Check GoFundMe’s website to find out about their current fees.
Crowdfunder is a more creative and community-focused platform, so a good option for those interested in socially conscious studies, environmental arts, and similar subjects.
They place an emphasis on fundraising campaigns for charities and personal causes, so make sure you focus your crowdfunding page on how you can help others, not just yourself.
Like GoFundMe, Crowdfunder charges fees so we recommend checking their website to find out how much these currently are.
Students who have crowdfunded their degree
If you’re unsure how to start a successful crowdfunding campaign, here are some stories of students who have fundraised for their degrees.
Ebun Azeez got a place on a prestigious Law course at the University of Oxford, but as an international student she wasn’t entitled to any Student Finance and set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise the whopping £31,000 needed.
She successfully raised £8,000 before her campaign was noticed by an Oxford alumnus who offered substantial support, which was matched by the Oxford Law Faculty. Together with her crowdfunding money, she had enough to take her place a few months later.
Similarly, Lindsey-Anne Bridges spent months raising money to help fund her English MSt at Oxford, only to be offered a scholarship shortly after reaching her target! In response, Lindsey refunded all her donors and invited them out for a pint.
Sometimes it’s just about being noticed by the right people. Fiona Asiedu, an Oxford University student, set out to raise £12,000 so she could study at Harvard in America. She raised it in less than 24 hours after Stormzy generously donated £9,000.
Joanne Garner funded her Master’s in Jewellery and Metal at the Royal College of Art by offering donors free pieces of her jewellery in exchange for their generosity.
Crowdfunding a Masters
Covering the cost of postgraduate study can be a challenge, but could the solution be as simple as just asking people for help?
It may sound strange, but crowdfunding involves doing exactly that. And it’s becoming an increasingly popular approach to Masters funding.
Put simply, crowdfunding means raising a larger amount of money through many small individual donations. It’s a bit like seeking ‘sponsorship’ for your degree.
Could your Masters degree attract this kind of support? Quite possibly.
Our guide explains how crowdfunding can work for Masters study and how you can go about raising money for your postgraduate fees. We’ve looked at some of the best crowdfunding platforms available and offered some advice on the kinds of courses (and students) most likely to receive funding.
What is postgraduate crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding turns the traditional approach to postgraduate funding on its head.
Instead of relying on a single large source of support for your Masters (such as a postgraduate student loan, bank loan or scholarship) you reach out to large numbers of supporters.
This usually involves setting a funding goal and asking for donations towards it. Individual contributions (or ‘pledges’) will tend to be quite small, but the idea is that they all add up. If successful, you’ll eventually raise enough money to help pay for your degree.
Various online platforms exist to help you set up a crowdfunding campaign and manage your progress. We’ve looked at some of the best ones below.
What isn’t crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding a Masters means raising money for your personal benefit.
People will support your campaign based on the case you make for it, but they won’t normally be doing so in the name of a wider cause. They also won’t normally expect to be repaid (though some platforms encourage rewards for donors).
This means you shouldn’t confuse postgraduate crowdfunding with:
- Charitable donations – Your Masters may have potential benefits for wider society, particularly if it focusses on certain subject areas (such as healthcare or medical research), but you’re raising money to pay for your education. Be careful not to mislead people into thinking they’re donating to a charity.
- Peer-to-peer lending – Some services allow students to borrow money from large numbers of individual lenders. This can look like crowdfunding (you’re raising money from many small contributions) but the difference is important: you’re receiving money from lenders not donators. This will need to be repaid, usually with interest.
- Direct investment – Some crowdfunding websites allow people to raise money by offering shares or equity in project outcomes. Make sure you’re clear about what you’re offering – particularly if your programme has the potential to create a marketable product or intellectual property.
Crowdfunding is also slightly different to portfolio funding. This refers to the practice of combining lots of smaller grants (from charities and other sources) into one overall support package.
Crowdfunding can be a big part of a portfolio funding approach, but we’re using the term here to refer to specific campaigns designed to raise individual donations.
Crowdfunding: advantages and disadvantages
It should be obvious by now that crowdfunding is quite different to other forms of postgraduate funding.
This has advantages and disadvantages.
For one thing, crowdfunding is highly flexible. There are no eligibility criteria and no deadlines, except those you set yourself. Provided you’re honest, any student can crowdfund for any Masters. And you can start whenever you like – before your course, or even during your Masters.
It’s also up to you to decide how much you want to raise. You don’t necessarily need to crowdfund the full cost of your degree. Instead you might look for smaller amounts of support to ‘top up’ a postgraduate loan or other funding.
The freedom to set your own goals and organise your own campaign comes with the understanding that funding is not guaranteed.
You’ll need to work hard on your crowdfunding project, just as you would with any other funding application. But the effort won’t stop there. Crowdfunding also requires ongoing work. Success means raising awareness of your campaign and updating existing supporters.
It’s also important to recognise that some Masters degrees may simply be less suitable for crowdfunding. You might see the interest (and value) in a niche academic subject area, but that doesn’t mean strangers will see the need to help pay for it.
Weighing up the pros and cons
Attempting to crowdfund Masters will be a big commitment whether or not you succeed.
If you’re going down this route, you’ll need to have the time and energy to set up and maintain a campaign. What’s more, you’ll probably need to do this whilst managing your Masters application – and perhaps also completing your undergraduate degree.
Should you make the attempt?
We’ve tried to balance the positive and negative aspects of crowdfunding as follows:
|Postgraduate crowdfunding: the pros and cons|
|No eligibility criteria – anyone can set up a campaign.||Requires you to make a case for your own project.|
|No deadlines – start crowdfunding whenever you want.||Running a campaign requires ongoing time and effort.|
|Flexible funding – set your own target, according to your needs.||Success is not guaranteed and some projects won’t attract funding.|
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide whether crowdfunding is appropriate for your Masters and worth your time. The remainder of this guide will show you where to crowdfund a Masters degree – and suggest ways to do so successfully.
Postgraduate crowdfunding platforms
Most crowdfunding campaigns are hosted on specialist websites. You don’t have to use one of these, but they’ll make the process a lot easier to manage.
These website usually offer simple ways to keep track of funding goals, set incentives for backers and provide updates about your progress. They’ll also make it easier to promote your crowdfunding campaign through popular social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.
Crowdfunding websites – things to bear in mind
Websites work in different ways, but you should pay particular attention to the following conditions:
- Minimum funding amounts – All platforms will ask you to set funding goals, but some will only pay money to you if you reach a minimum target. This ensures that funders only donate to successful projects and money isn’t ‘wasted’.
- Fees – Some platforms charge for using their services. This could involve an initial fee or (more likely) a small percentage of donations.
- Backer rewards – Crowdfunders often offer rewards to donors who pledge certain amounts, encouraging more people to back their campaign. Some platforms will require you to do this, others will make it optional.
You’ll need to weigh up these factors and select the option that works best for you. The following are some of the most popular crowdfunding websites.
Hubbub specialises in digital fundraising for educational projects and has partnerships with a range of universities.
As such it’s an ideal platform for Masters students looking to fund tuition fees or other costs.
|Masters funding on Hubbub|
|Fees?||Transaction fee of 2.4% + 20p for every donation to a successful project|
Hubbub also provides platforms for universities to organise funding for their students’ projects. These won’t be suitable for crowdfunding your degree, but they could be ideal for covering extra costs during your Masters.
Gofundme offers solutions for a wide range of crowdfunding goals.
|Masters funding on Gofundme|
|Fees?||Transaction fee of 2.9% + 25p|
Gofundme also features a dedicated education section, including postgraduate funding campaigns.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Kickstarter. This platform has already funded several high-profile projects, including independent films, videogames and other media.
As these success stories suggest, Kickstarter focusses on creative projects. This means you can’t set up a Kickstarter campaign for a postgraduate degree unless your Masters will produce a clear tangible outcome.
|Masters funding on Kickstarter|
|Fees?||5% of final total and 3% + 20p for processing pledges|
Kickstarter’s restrictions mean it won’t be the first choice for most postgraduate crowdfunding, but this platform could be appropriate to creative degrees such as an MFA (Master of Fine Arts).
Justgiving is probably best-known as a platform for charitable donations, but it can also be used for postgraduate crowdfunding.
|Masters funding on Justgiving|
|Minimum targets?||Yes, but all fund released|
|Fees?||2.9% + 25p payment processing fee|
Because Justgiving has a strong association with charitable causes you should make extra sure that the purpose of your crowdfunding project is clear to backers.
Crowdfunder is a UK-focussed website, supporting a wide range of projects. Its university section includes postgraduate funding campaigns.
|Masters funding on Crowdfunder|
|Rewards?||Recommended, but not compulsory|
|Fees?||Transaction fees of 1.67% + 25p + VAT|
Despite its name, Crowdfunder doesn’t just offer a crowdfunding solution.
It also provides a means for businesses, charities and other organisations to help boost successful projects through a process known as ‘extra funding’ (Crowdfunder takes a straightforward approach to naming things).
Indiegogo helps raise support for entrepreneurial, creative and education projects with specific aims. This can include funding for postgraduate tuition fees.
|Masters funding on Indiegogo|
|Fees?||5% plus additional payment processing fees|
Setting up your own crowdfunding platform
You’re unlikely to have the time, resources or expertise to build your own crowdfunding website. However, you could set up a blog describing your project and attempt to raise interest through social media and word of mouth.
This approach makes crowdfunding a Masters even more flexible. You’ll be able to set your own targets, decide whether or not to offer rewards and potentially avoid website fees.
On the other hand, building your own blog or website will take extra time and resources that might be better spent on your crowdfunding campaign.
It’s also possible that some backers may have more faith in campaigns hosted on familiar platforms.
Tips for successful postgraduate crowdfunding
Crowdfunding has a lot to recommend it. Anyone can try it, at any point, during any Masters degree. And any money you raise can – usually – be combined with any other funding.
But you shouldn’t get the impression that postgraduate crowdfunding is an ‘easy option’. You won’t simply be applying for funding. You’ll be campaigning for it. That takes sustained effort.
After all, the best way to encourage people to invest in your Masters is to invest in your own campaign. The following advice should help you do that effectively.
Think about the kind of postgraduate degrees that are more likely to get crowdfunded
In principle, any Masters degree can attract crowdfunding. In practice, some will be more suitable than others.
It’s worth being realistic about your chances before you spend time, effort (and possibly money) setting up a campaign.
Ask yourself: do you, or your course, fit one of the following profiles? If so, you may be in with a chance.
- Good causes – You’re attracting Masters funding, not charitable donations, but your degree could still have a positive impact on the wider world. Will you be contributing to medical research? Does your work have the potential to help vulnerable groups or individuals? Are you studying to qualify for a career with social or humanitarian benefits?
- Local interest – Some postgraduate subjects may not have obvious humanitarian benefits, but could your work still be of value to specific groups or communities? Masters with a focus on regional heritage or history could fit the bill here.
- Innovation and entrepreneurship – Will your course lead to the creation (or improvement) of a new technology, creative product or enterprise? Is it likely to be interesting to the wider public, in and of itself? Is there a way you can make it interesting?
Of course, it’s not just about your Masters, it’s also about you, which means you should. . .
Find ways to stand out
There are plenty of other postgraduate students already looking for crowdfunding and this approach is only likely to become more popular in the future.
So, even though you won’t be competing directly for a scholarship or bursary, postgraduate crowdfunding is still competitive in a broader sense.
That’s why your project will benefit from a unique selling point (USP).
Why should people fund you? What makes your situation stand out? What’s the wider story behind your campaign?
The answers to these questions don’t have to be dramatic or detailed. It’s simply a case of finding something that people will find engaging:
- Are you the first person in your family to go on to postgraduate study?
- Are you travelling far for your Masters, or studying abroad?
- Are you ineligible for other funding such as postgraduate loans?
- Are you close to being able to pay for your Masters, but need a relatively small amount of support to get you ‘over the line’?
If you don’t think you have a particularly original USP, simply be honest. Explain why you want to take your studies to the next level and what it is you hope to achieve.
And don’t forget: taking on Masters study is challenging and impressive, whatever your subject area and background. Find ways to explain this to potential backers and they may well agree.
This may seem obvious, but it’s too vital to overlook. Crowdfunding takes time: time to plan, time to set up and time to run your campaign.
You may also have other commitments to manage – such as the final year of your undergraduate degree, or perhaps even the first part of your Masters.
Whatever your situation, make sure to assess the time required for your crowdfunding campaign in advance and start early enough to see it through. You should also think about setting aside time for updates and promotion once your project is underway (see below).
Remember: it doesn’t matter how fundable you or your project are if your campaign isn’t well put together.
Put thought into updates – and rewards
Momentum is crucial to crowdfunding.
You’re looking for lots of smaller donations, not a small number of big pledges. That means you’ll need a steady stream of backers to make progress towards your goal.
It’s unlikely that anyone is going to help pay your tuition fees just to get a photo of your campus or a copy of your dissertation (that would be a very different postgraduate funding model!). But they will appreciate the recognition and gratitude this demonstrates.
And, if you can think of more dramatic or exciting rewards related to your course or subject, go for it.
Masters degrees in subjects like Creative Arts and Design have a natural advantage here, but other disciplines can still benefit from thinking outside the box.
Do some research
Not sure if your degree is ‘crowdfundable’, how to go about setting up a campaign for it, or what kind of updates and rewards to offer? Learn from others.
Look for examples of previous postgraduate crowdfunding campaigns on the platforms we’ve suggested. What do the successful projects do well? What do the less successful projects do poorly?
There’s also no harm in (politely) contacting other crowdfunders and asking for advice. Would they recommend the platform they used? How much time did it take them to set up their campaign? Do they have any simple tips we haven’t covered here?
Unlike some other scholarships, crowdfunding isn’t really a competition: other students will probably be happy to share their guidance.
The world of crowdfunding is broad and varied. People seek support for a wide range of projects, from commercial start-ups and creative products to charitable causes, personal appeals and, of course, educational appeals.
Always make sure it’s obvious what you’re fundraising for. And don’t risk misleading people into thinking they’re funding something they aren’t:
- Your Masters may seek to benefit the wider world, but you (probably) aren’t a charity.
- Your Masters might have a creative outcome, but you’re still studying a degree, not creating and selling a film, artwork, videogame or other media product.
- Your Masters might lead you to set up a business, but (with some exceptions) you’re seeking donations, not investment.
You should also be sure you read the terms and conditions for crowdfunding platforms carefully. They may not be very exciting, but failing to follow them could put a successful campaign at risk further down the line.
Be honest with yourself, as well as your backers: remember the limits of crowdfunding as well as its potential.
Paying for postgraduate study isn’t as simple as setting up an internet campaign and watching the donations pour in. (If it was, we wouldn’t need to have so many other guides in our funding section).
People have successfully crowdfunded a Masters before, but this solution won’t work for everyone. Even if you follow all of the advice on this page, it still might not work for you.
That’s why it’s good to see crowdfunding as one part of a wider postgraduate funding portfolio. If it works for you, great. If not, have some other options in mind.