Surviving Uni: My tips and tricks

Hey guys,

So as you might know, I haven’t long completed my Masters Degree in Forensic and Investigative Psychology and I thought that as many people are about to start their university adventure, or have just started; it would be a great time for me to have a little post about my tips for university. Now, I went to university in the UK therefore this is my only experience so unfortunately as many of my readers are from all over the world, some of these tips may not be applicable to you. However, if you have some tips that you know others may benefit from, leave where you are from (general area not like your address or any personal information) and your tip in the comment below so that it can help more and more people.

Okay, going to uni is an expensive business; I personally used student finance but I know that many people have saved and pay for the course upfront. Whichever way you do it, ensure that you have some financial backing because it gets expensive. I didn’t live in residence because my parents lived extremely close to the uni however I did help quite a few of my friends who did live in residence sort financing out because a lot of the time they had not set aside their rent.

Tip 1: Put aside all necessity money…

If you have student finance you will most likely be paid three times across the academic year (for me; October, January, and April) so first I recommend you take out your rent and either put it in a separate account or take the money out and put it in envelopes (please keep these envelopes safe!). Then do the same for any bills; phone, insurance, general bills, that way you are left with the amount of money you can spend on food and other things across the few months.

I usually went a little further than this and broke it down into weeks; so say I had £700 left after removing everything between Jan 5th and April 4th, I would count how many full weeks were between each date and divide £700. If it didn’t divide perfectly I added the extra to the first week so I could buy some bulk items to last longer (like an extra large bag of rice or pasta).

Remember, this is the money for everything else, so if you decide to blow three weeks worth of money in one night then you have some serious thinking to do for the last three weeks of the time slot (because lets face it, you wont realise until you don’t quite have enough…).

Tip 2: Textbooks

Guys, don’t buy your textbooks straight from the list. I made this mistake during first year and I wasted close to £500 and that was only on the textbooks for two modules and not even all of the ‘essential’ textbooks. If they are core, the university will stock them in the library; look at your syllabus, find the corresponding chapters and photocopy them (at my uni you get £10 free printing credit then for photocopying, it cost 3p per side) and it works out a tonne cheaper.

I ended up with piles of textbooks I referred to once, because of the nature of my course I spent more time reading research/ journal articles than actual textbooks.

Tip 3: The Lecturers…

Okay, not all lecturers are nice; but usually if you go around the office with some cake (or chocolate) they all warm up to you and will start knowing your name, will recognise you in class, and say hi outside too. Basically, you want them to know who you are because then they will look for your face in the crowd and if you look stuck (at one point you will be) they will know to go back.

Make friends with these people, go see them during the day or take interesting articles you have read to them and find out how it can be applied to your course. Listen to what they discuss because trust me you learn a lot, you learn how they give the extra marks, what they hate to see in papers, and the topics they always look for. But at the same time talk to them, let them know what areas you are passionate about! This is how I got invited to ‘secret’ events, lecturers would drop me an email saying ‘Helen this sounds just up your alley, go check it out’ and suddenly I’m going to a research seminar the other side of the country that I didn’t even know about.

I got to know the lecturer who ran drop in seminars with big names in different psychology areas; we talked at least once a week and by the second semester she was asking me how the upcoming list of seminars sounded because she wanted to know if the students would attend them. From there I went to start organising my own and became a leading member in the student committee for my course society; something that has helped me get several jobs because of the experience I gained.

On a similar note, the more time you spend with these people the better the references they will be able to write because they actually know who you are. Most students receive generic reference but when they know your passions and you talk to them about the jobs you are applying for, they write more detailed, more specific references noting the skills that will make you stand out in that area.

Tip 4: Partying

Okay, I was never a party animal; during my four years at uni I went to maybe four nights out and one of those was an initiation night for my sports team. Either way, they can become expensive; try and stick to student nights because they are cheaper. Never go for the really cheap spirits, they leave one major hangover because they are rougher on your system and can lead to more serious health implications, if your buying from a shop get a decent brand that you know the quality of.

Get your partying done in first year; this year is about getting everyone up to the same level of understanding, also your grades from the first year don’t count towards your final classification. However, you must remember that you need to pass everything to get through to the second year, so you still need to put the work in. So get the partying out of your system (when you move out from home and suddenly have the freedom to come and go when you choose, you get a rush of independence partying that comes) and then by the end of the year you will probably be saying no to drink for a while.

On this note, go to your classes! If you know you have a 9am lecture the next day, don’t go partying till 3/4am and expect to get to class and understand what is going on. If you turn up to class obviously still drunk or that hungover that you are sick, you jeopardise your position within the uni because you can be removed for it. This is extremely important for specific courses; my brother did a nursing degree and if you were to arrive even slightly intoxicated or hungover you were removed from the course, no questions.

Tip 5: Extras

A lot of courses offer additional training in certain areas if you are willing to put in the extra work; for me I gained additional qualification in personality testing, in data handling, and in dementia care. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of all of these additional elements, after all you are paying for the course so you want to get the most out of it.

Now extras are not always more courses, extras can come in forms of seminars with experienced people, you learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ during the seminar and if you make yourself known you can even gain experience. Through seminars I was added to several research teams to help gather data, design experiments, and present at different events, all really valuable experience for my areas. Being present at seminars also our professional CV, your ‘proof’ that you are dedicated to developing your understanding and application in the area you want to work in.

Extras also come in the form of helping the lecturers, lecturers don’t just teach they have to earn money for the university they are part of (when you talk to lecturers you realise just how much they have to do to even keep their jobs!), don’t be afraid to ask if anyone needs help with projects. Usually during the first year you wont have that many opportunities, but during your final years opportunities will be thrown at you and I urge you to take as many as you physically can. They will mostly be volunteering positions, but if you have shown yourself to be willing to work for free, they will more likely think of you when a paid position becomes available (this is actually how I got the research position with the FBI!).

Tip 6: Know your university!

So there is a lot to take in about going to uni, one of the first things you have to learn is where and when your classes are but that is an obvious place to start. Something that is equally important is learning what you are signing when you do your code of conduct, but also what the university has pledged to do for you. You will know your rights when it comes to late marking or any additional things they have promised (I know I found that we had the right to employability award that was never mentioned until I emailed about it in my final year). This knowledge will help you get out of trouble but also get what you are actually paying for.

There is a student union is almost every UK university that I know, they are there to help and are full of experienced people who will help you. It usually costs a little bit per year but I highly recommend being part of the union as it protects you, it also gives you access to tonnes of discounts, societies, and clubs that aren’t available (or you have to pay a huge amount for) if you aren’t part of the union.

Tip 7: Finding part-time work

Most universities have a finding work are, they are generally in touch with local businesses and when positions become available they make them known to the students. For my university this was through an opt-in email service as the university was trying to reduce paper usage and wastage. If you can, and I stress that you must be able to handle the work load of uni and still have time for work; I highly recommend getting one or even two small jobs that bring both money and experience.

When I had part time work during my studies, I would try and save the money I earned in a separate account to ‘save’. This was the money I used if I had unforeseen costs, birthdays that I had forgotten about, or an event I wanted to attend.

Another bonus of work is that some come with some handy bonuses (hehe), for example working for a coffee house or barista means that you likely get a great discount on coffee, and even those who start uni hating coffee tends to see its benefits by the end of the year. And if fresh food is sold (most of the time) you may be able to take the free food with you when the shop closes on an evening. Or if you work in a fast food restaurant or café, you have discounts, free meals during work hours. These bonuses can knock out some of the other expenses you may have.

Tip 8: General money saving tips

These are just a few money saving tips that I found when I started uni:

  • Forget about getting a contract for a new fancy phone, its cheaper in the long run to buy a cheaper phone and have a pay-as-you-go sim.
  • Buy in bulk (rice, potatoes, veg…)
  • Learn to cook, bulk cook, and how to use the most of your leftovers! Food waste is the number one waste of money in the UK!
  • Don’t rely on takeaway- seriously, that pizza may seem like a great idea after a day at uni but it costs a tonne compared to making your own (which you can probably do in the same time it takes for them to deliver it!).
  • If you cant afford a bulk order, get a few friends together, pay together and split it! (Although I detest meat, this is a great way to order from places like musclefood)
  • Veggie meals generally cost a lot less! You may think I am biased but meat costs a lot and veggies can be really cheap. Grab a bag of red lentils and try replacing the mince in a lasagne with lentils and you can hardly tell the difference!
  • Don’t just rely on the main supermarkets! I swapped to Aldi and Lidl during my own shopping; the quality is still great and the price is a lot cheaper (Lidl pasta and lasagne sauces are amazing! and Aldi is great for fresh produce!).
  • Don’t get a bus pass/ train pass if the only time you need it is to go a few times during the semester (I bought a bus pass because it was quicker for me to get to my campus!), if your uni like mine has several campus’, there is generally shuttle buses that run between them so you can travel for free.
  • Don’t get suckered into of the sales! Sale items are rarely what you went shopping for and can result in you wasting your money on things you would never buy. Go with a shopping list and only get that. If you see a deal on something that you use regularly then by all means get a few, but if you’ve never used the product then really you don’t need to buy it.
  • January sale is a great time to pick up birthday gifts for the year. It sounds terrible but write a list of all the people you have to buy for during the year (or 6 months) and have a good look around the sales and pick out some items for them. It will be at a fraction of the cost and you wont be worrying the week before that you haven’t bought them anything and end up spending a lot more on panic buys.
  • Avoid stupid fines by getting organised! A calendar showing when all your bills are due, a white board to note when books are due back at the library. Small charges mount up and eat into the money you have earned/ put aside for the week.
  • Get the right bank account. Many banks and building societies offer student bank accounts that give you an overdraft of up to £3000. Avoid this overdraft! The moment you get paid the money will be gone and you will be forever living in the overdraft. If you have started this already, don’t worry; holidays are great times to earn some money (a lot of places offer extra hours/ seasonal hours) so you can start filling the void.

Tip 9: Graduation

If this is your first year at uni you wont even think you’ll ever reach graduation; but I would highly recommend putting aside £50-£100 from each student finance instalment to pay towards your graduation straight from the start of your course. I am currently paying for my graduation and the costs really mount up. You have tickets, you have to decide if you want to hire or buy cap and gown (either way they are a few hundred each) and then there are the photos and after-party. It the last expense. Until you start paying back your loan.

So my friends, those are my tips, tricks, and handy-dandy bits, on how I survived uni. Good luck to everyone starting out, continuing, or preparing for that dreaded final year. If you have any more tips, don’t forget to leave them in the comments below because you never know, you might stop someone from quitting!

Helen x


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