This time, 3 years ago, I was getting ready to make the biggest decision of my life so far – where I’d be spending the next 3 years of my life (after a gap year) and how on earth to prepare for leaving home for the first time.
University is a very daunting prospect. Although for some it’s met with excitement at the prospect of being away from your parents and having the freedom to do whatever you want (and go completely mad with alcohol and goodness knows what else – as some do, I sound like such an old woman), for me it was frightening. I was excited but extremely anxious, not at having to be independent per say, as I already felt fairly grown up, but at the fact you didn’t have your family to fall back on if things all got a bit much.
However, my way of dealing with things is to get organised and so with a gap year to prepare (which I worked through to earn money for my time at University) I set about getting everything ready. Usually if I have a plan in place, things don’t seem quite as scary.
Seeing as it’s around the time that many are prepping for their own further education journey’s, I thought I’d put together a little list of things I found helpful in the run-up. Maybe they won’t be applicable to everyone, maybe you’d prefer to wing it and discover things as you get there but hopefully they might give you an indication of the things to consider:
- Student Finance. If you’re at a sixth form or college, then you’ll have already probably been bored to death by talks on student finance. As boring as it sounds, it’s actually pretty important (something I stupidly ignored) and it’s really a good idea to get it right the first time to forgo any aggravation. Most will opt to have their £9,000 fees paid for by student finance. Essentially, this is illusionary money. It never goes into your bank account, you’ll never see it – it’s just a sum on a piece of paper that one day, you’ll start paying back in small dividends (if you earn over the £21,000 threshold). The important part is the maintenance loan, which is means tested – depending on your parents income (something I don’t agree with, but that’s a whole other blog post) and can come in part by a ‘grant’ which you won’t need to pay back. I’d highly recommend, even if you don’t think you’ll get anything extra – to ask your parents to fill out their incomes, as often – they give you a little extra that you weren’t expecting. With accommodation fees over £5,000 a year in the South – and the basic loan standing at £3,600, every little helps!
- Managing your finances. Before you arrive at University, when Freshers week starts and things start to get VERY busy, make sure you’ve sorted yourself out with a new student bank account, as lots of them offer some great incentives for those in full-time education. It’s super easy to switch accounts (far less complicated than it sounds), for example TSB offer a 7 day easy switch service that does everything for you – and this ensures you start reaping the benefits such student accounts offer. Some incentives include a free 3-year student railcard (a third off all rail journeys), interest free overdrafts and extra interest on your payments. What I chose to do, alongside my student current account is to have a savings account for my student finance payments, which would collect interest throughout the year, which I could then spend on treats. Also, it removes the temptation of spending it – especially if it has to cover the cost of your accommodation and rent.
- Stock up. It may seem like a silly idea, but when you look into your bank account and see very little – and have no foods in the cupboards, you’ll thank yourself later. My grandmother was really kind and bought me all the food essentials before I left for uni – biscuits, beans, tins, herbs etc – and I also collected any unwanted tins and jams from family members to take with me. It might not seem like the greatest idea and perhaps it would be ten times easier to buy everything from the local supermarket when you arrive – however I really appreciated having a stockpile of things in my cupboard – so that even if I didn’t have tonnes of money, I would be able to eat.
- Back to school. Although University is very different from school, stocking up on all the ‘back to school’ essentials is still a necessary requirement where learning is involved. I perhaps went slightly overboard on the notepads and pens (although somehow, they’ve all grown legs and wandered off) initially, however it’s always worth getting stuck in as soon as you can. University might often be sold as a place to party, meet new people and get roaringly drunk, but at the end of the day (sorry to sound boring), you are there to actually obtain a degree and learn, so without the essentials, this part may be tricky.
- Social network. Going to a brand new place with brand new people is very daunting – but the reassuring thing is that everyone is in the same boat. If you’d prefer to get a head start and have a nose at the people you’ll be joining, it’s definitely worth having a stalk on Facebook to see what ‘groups’ are available to those starting your University in the autumn, or sharing the same accommodation block as you. They’ll always be surprises when you’re down there – as not everyone gets involved in FB beforehand, but it’s a nice introduction if you’re nervous.
- Take things at your own pace. A lot happened in the week I started University and it threw me off my guard a little. I felt completely lost and alone in this new place, with new surroundings, people I’d only just met around me (who I didn’t feel ready to open up to) and a whole lot of drinking/partying and music. I almost felt like I was living a very strange double life. Come freshers fair, I burst into tears on the phone to my mum and ended up coming home. I felt a bit like a failure, but reassuringly, I realised that several of my peers had done the same thing. Sometimes going home and having a cuddle from your mum is the thing you need to perk yourself back up again. It might seem a bit childish and trivial, but you should take things at your own pace and never feel like a failure because you’re missing home.
Are you starting University this Autumn? Is there anything you’re particularly nervous about? If it makes you feel any better, I actually kept an online diary throughout my first term, which you’re more than welcome to read here. I’d love to hear about your tips & experiences!