Off to college this Autumn? Starting university marks the beginning of an entirely new stage in your life, and is an exciting but often daunting prospect. Get prepared with our basic guide to student essentials.
Preparing to leave home to go to Uni
If you’re moving away from home to go to university, as most students do, you can make life a lot easier if you pack carefully.
Apart from clothes, you need to remember study equipment such as a USB memory stick and stationery, plus all the practical things you need to live independently — including bank cards and any kitchen equipment that isn’t included in your accommodation.
Student computers – laptops or netbooks
Time spent choosing the right portable computer for a student is time well spent. If all you need is access to web applications a lightweigh netbook is a cheap option – but many students prefer laptops as they have more under the bonnet and in reality are not carried around that much. Cheap laptops and netbooks are now listed in detailed categories on the many price comparison sites
A lot of students secure a place in university-owned student accommodation for their first year, and this can be a gentle introduction to independent living as bills are often included in the rent, making it easier to budget.
Whether you’re moving into university or private accommodation, however, you’ll need to check what is provided and what isn’t, so you know what you need to take with you – even little things can make a difference so think carefully what you might need whilst at college. Once you have drawn up a list of things you need, ask around your extended family to see if anyone has any items going spare, to save you buying them new.
Students Buy Second Hand
Buying second hand books and furniture is one of the most effective ways to save money at Uni. Course books are very expensive but in many cases books from previous years are adequate for study – so check out where students from previous years sell their second hand books and visit them at the start of term.
Student accomodation has improved dramatically since the Young Ones but it is still common to find battered sofas and worn carpets in shared living rooms. Again there is a busy market for used furniture – beds and especially sofas that have barely been used by indecisive home makers challenged with matching colours and fabrics. You should be able to find a comfortable sofa in good condition for a fractionof the price of new sofas. Don’t forget you’ll have to arrange delivery – again save money by hiring a van and try to team up with other new students and spread the cost of van hire – check prices and book in advance online.
If you’ve been waited on hand and foot at home, it’s also a good idea to start picking up a few basic cooking tips before you leave for university – or even consider investing in a student cook book for some cheap and easy recipes.
Being a student and being in debt do seem to go hand in hand, but if you set yourself a budget and spend carefully you can avoid building up scary levels of debt. It’s easy to get carried away with a lifestyle you can’t afford, only to find you’ve blown a year’s worth of student loan in the first semester.
Try not to be influenced by friends who seem oblivious to their spending, or who have wealthy parents supporting their expensive lifestyles. Once you get used to living like that it can be tough to cut back.
Still, the fact is that overdrafts and student loans are almost inevitable for the majority of students in the UK — but at least these debts are flexible and manageable. You’re not forced to repay student loans until you’re earning a certain amount each year, and most banks give graduates a few years’ grace after graduation to repay their overdrafts.
Credit cards and bank loans are an entirely different ball game. These usually have high interest rates and force you to pay back far more than you borrowed. The best advice is to avoid them completely.
Keep a log of how much money you have coming in and how you are spending it. Consider using an online calculator such as UNIAID’s Student Calculator to help. As we already mentioned course books and equipment such as lab coats may be available second hand, saving you quite a bit of money, and you can also take advantage of student discounts in shops and cafés.
Working whilst at Uni
You could also consider taking a part-time job to boost your finances. There may be bar or shop work within your Students’ Union, or you could pop into local shops or pubs to ask if they have any jobs available.
Charity Work for Students
A lot of students find working for charity a good way of meeting people and building their work skills. Most leading charities emplou young enthusiastic students to go face to face fundraising. Currently Oxfam is keen to highlight the effects of climate change and global warming that is responsible for disasters such as the Bangladesh floods – working on the street you could get invloved, show you care and earn some money.
Going to Uni – Getting organised
At school your parents probably checked your homework diary and kept on your back about any outstanding work, but once you’re away at university it’s all left to you.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by timetables and coursework deadlines at university, but if you put a system in place from the start and keep it up to date you will find it much less stressful. To get organised you need to know:
- What you need to do (e.g. course work, seminar reading, and any paid work to help pay bills)
- When you need to do it by
- How to organise your time to fit everything in
Carry a diary or use an electronic organiser (such as those on mobile phones) to record dates and deadlines as you get them, and consider buying a big wall calendar so you can see visually what’s coming up.
Set up a simple filing system for lecture notes, handouts and so forth so you don’t lose anything that will come in handy for exam revision.
Enjoying yourself – Student Life
A big part of going to university is the social life. You’ll no doubt make friends with people sharing your accommodation, and on your course – but to establish an alternative group there are countless societies and clubs at university covering all sorts of interests, from kayaking to photography. These are a great way to make friends with like-minded people, and you can see what’s on offer and sign-up during Freshers’ Week.
Surrounded by Students’ Union bars and local pubs promoting student discounts, it’s tempting to go out more than you stay in. If you’re worried about blowing your budget on nights out, the best plan is to set a budget for your evening, take out the cash beforehand, and leave your bank card at home.
Getting the right balance between academic work and play can be difficult, but if you see your grades suffer you know it’s time to calm down a bit and focus more on your course. You’ll regret it later if you end up with a poor degree and a miserable job.
Using student support services
Most universities have a wide range of student support services which offer advice about all sorts, ranging from health to finances. So if you do find yourself struggling in any way, don’t be scared to use these services. They can help you solve problems and focus on getting the best out of your time at university.