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The real cost of graduation


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Choosing university is never a cheap option. Many potential undergraduates are terrified by the prospect of tuition fees, loans and living expenses, not to mention securing a job afterwards that will allow them to pay back the debts accrued during their degree.

Few of us consider in our list the cost of graduating from university, but recently, an increasing amount of graduates have been complaining about the money required to finish off their experience of higher education with a bang.

It could be argued that recently university has become synonymous with expense. Many UK universities will begin charging up to £9000 for their courses at the beginning of this academic year, and prospective students’ expectations will rise accordingly.

Will an increase in fees mean that more benefits are included as part of the package? A student currently paying over £3000 per year must buy all their books and equipment, sometimes at the cost of hundreds of pounds. Equally, will graduation expenses eventually become part of an all-inclusive deal?

Debate over tuition fees has called into question the value of university and forced students to demand a guaranteed return for their money. It is only natural that the cost of graduation – the inevitable conclusion (hopefully!) of university – has been next to come under scrutiny.

This year the cost of attending a graduation ball ranged considerably but most universities offered a package costing around £50. At the cheaper end, Leeds students were set back £27 while those wishing to celebrate at Warwick had to fork out £68.

This sum is not to be sniggered at. However, the cost and the value of something are rarely the same thing. The majority of graduation balls offer first-class entertainment, good quality food and all your friends in one venue. Some tickets even include drinks and use of various attractions such as funfair rides, chocolate fountains and casinos.

Funding food, entertainment, a venue (which may be decked out expensively for a theme – Nottingham’s roaring twenties extravaganza, for example) and all the little surprises on a budget is likely to be a difficult challenge for the already-stretched student union budget.

While lots of students are aware of the costs for the union, they are possibly more aware of the tug on their own purse strings.

Recent graduate of the University of Southampton, Ashleigh, said of graduation expenses: “It definitely is expensive; particularly when you start shopping for a new dress in French connection.

"So hard to find something suitable to wear!”

Fellow student Jo agreed: “ Paying for a dress, a gown, photos, travel, drinks and a meal makes the whole thing rather expensive, but some would argue it’s worth it.”

Beyond the cost of the graduation ball, which some students avoid attending in order to save funds, the graduation ceremony is an added expense which few will want to miss. At a significant proportion of UK universities, wearing a gown is mandatory. Hiring these gowns, as well as a hood and mortarboard can cost between £30 and £60 and often these are worn for as little as an hour during the day.

However, student Maja argues that these expenses are nothing compared to those faced by those needing to return to the UK just for the ceremony. “I guess for international students it is extra expensive as we have to pay for a flight and hotel on top of that,” she says. 

There is no doubt that graduation is one of the more hidden costs of a university education and, unlike that last pint, it is not something you can really pass up. On the face of it graduation may seem expensive for what it is, but for many what the ceremony and final celebrations represent – three years of independent study, unforgettable memories and lifelong friendships – is invaluable, and in some ways, no cost would be too much.

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