Government policy towards financial support for students means that students increasingly have to bear the costs of their education, often through acquiring significant student debt. This policy is largely justified with reference to the private benefits (through enhanced life-time earnings) that university graduates can expect to enjoy. Using evidence from a qualitative study of 49 students, this paper analyses the extent to which students are engaged in a process of rational weighing-up of the costs and benefits of higher education as implied by the policy stance. It also explores their interpretation of their financial position and Government policy towards them. It argues that students are very poorly informed about both the costs and benefits of higher education, and that financial outcomes are not created in an essentially private and individual fashion, but instead are strongly mediated by cultural and familial resources.