First of all, let me just say that this is just my University experience at my particular University. It by no means covers everything and it definitely doesn’t apply to everyone. I just thought with me finishing my undergraduate degree, it might be a good idea to pass on something to the next generation of school leavers as they embark on their journey to higher education.
So here goes.
I achieved an upper second class honours (2:1) in Biomedical Science at Manchester Metropolitan University. Before that, I had obtained A-Levels in Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry. There was no interview required to obtain my place at University. I lived away from home for all three academic years ranging from University halls, shared house and eventually a private flat.
Help, although seemingly non-existent, is there. You just need to know where to find it.
Most people often undergo the A-Level qualification either at a school or college, although it is by no means the only way into University. During these years at school, students are often nurtured alongside teachers, with help almost always at hand. Teachers are there for their students and most are willing to push their students towards doing their very best. This is not the case at University. In my case, lecturers often did not know my name, and didn’t wish to know my name unless it’s for filling out the attendance sheet. For them, their work does not revolve around their students, but instead, their research. Especially lecturers who work in science, it is the research that keeps them at the University, not the teaching. It is not to say they don’t care at all. The teaching is often an additional thing they have to do in order to continue their research at the University. This means they are divided between their duties and of course, students often lose out. But that’s not to say that there isn’t help available. I’m sure the University realises this problem and often you will find what we call ‘Student Support Officers (SSOs)’. Other Universities will most likely have other names for them, but that is what we called them. These people are paid to help you. Didn’t understand something in the lecture? Don’t know how to attempt that assignment? Having difficulty with revising for exams? These are the people to ask. You will often get told about them during your induction period, where you are bombarded with so much information, it is no wonder that often times, things like SSOs are forgotten.
Your dead-set career might not be what you end up doing
Now I know you’ve all heard about the tough job market for current graduates out there, but this isn’t about that, although it is an important thing to keep in mind. When I first started my degree, I was dead-set on becoming a medicine student afterwards. Now I’m considering a job in research instead, with many mind changes in between. Granted, you might fulfil what you had set out to do, but don’t be scared of changing your mind. University can open doors. Doors, maybe, you didn’t know you wanted to open. Make a plan. Change the plan. Scrap the plan and wing it. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s what you really want and find the best way to do it.
I cannot stress how important it is to get involved. Getting involved means, trying something new, joining a club or a society, getting out of your comfort zone. Although the main reason you are at University is to study and to get a good degree, it is not the only thing out there. University is a great time for you to do all those things you wanted to do with the least amount of resistance from your wallet or your time. I know people often think that they’re not social enough, or that they’re too scared to try, or that they really don’t have the time for all of that. To those people, I’d like to tell them that during my first term of my third year, I was working in the University laboratories from 9am-4pm, Monday to Friday, whilst also taking Mandarin Chinese and French lessons, Jiu Jitsu classes, Cuban Salsa and Reggaeton lessons and running my own society, the MMU Biological Sciences Society. I may not have had much sleep, but I got a lot of work done and managed to do all the fun things I wanted to do. Doing something fun isn’t the only reward. I have met so many of my friends through doing these activities and the opportunities that stemmed from them, I would never have imagined I would do. So, work hard, but play harder.
No one ever told me this but once you pass the age of 18 years, despite being in full time education, you are no longer on the register for free health and dental care. But this doesn’t mean that you’re not entitled to it, it just means you’ll have to complete a form to be put back on to that register, and renew that form every year of your study. Filling out the NHS HC1 form will allow you to receive a HC2 certificate which grants you free healthcare, dental care and discounts at the opticians. The HC1 will be applicable to most students, but for those perhaps earn more than the average student or who have money from their parents, may be entitled to partial payments to contribute to healthcare costs.
Learn to seek out student discounts to utilise your student card to the fullest. I personally have never had the NUS card and have managed perfectly fine getting the student discounts from my student card instead. I mean, don’t go out of your way to spend money, you’ll end up spending more than you would like, but for the expenses you have to shell out on, see what stores do student discount before you purchase. Every penny counts!
Plan your money
Due to the nature of student loans, it is necessary to know when to save and scrimp for certain times of the year. For instance, the first term of the academic year is usually a few weeks longer than the other terms of the year and therefore, try and limit your spending in these first few months so as to afford the rent. And the Christmas presents.
You might also be thinking of living in private accommodation for the next academic year. If this is the case you might want to save some of your student loan to cover the rent that comes out in September before your next batch of student loan comes in. My private accommodation charged termly so I was stuck with paying £975 before student loan had made an appearance. This made my bank balance very sad indeed.
It might also be an idea (in hindsight) to ask about half-rent over the summer months or maybe no rent at all. Half-rent is sometimes not told to the prospective tenant, but most private landlords are willing to do halve the rent over the summer months if no tenants will be living in there. This is common for those students who decide to move back home between finishing their exams and starting the new academic year.
Cooking for yourself
If you’re one of the many that decide to move away from home, then you might want to brush up on some cooking skills. When I moved out, I had absolutely zero skill in the kitchen. But I took it as a chance to learn and thankfully I can now rustle up something quick for myself or friends. My advice would be to get a couple of lessons from the parents and be willing to suck a few times when you start making dinner for yourself. The hard work will pay off I assure you!
It may have taken an age for me to write this and it is by no means complete, but I hope it’ll do. I hope all the new undergraduates starting next month enjoy this new journey they’re about to embark on. If there are any current students or any graduates out there with some more advice, be sure to comment and help the new guys out!