Incentives. It’s important to incentivise yourself at every step of the way in your time at university. Deferring gratification when trying to develop self-discipline and consistent study habits, reminding yourself of how worth it all the effort will be when you throw your graduation cap in the air. Forcing yourself to study for X number of hours before you read that chapter of that book you just can’t put down, or watch that next episode on Netflix. These short-term and long-term incentives are helpful, but it’s good to have mid-term incentives too. After exams, this year, I hope to be enjoying some exotic food and culture, as well as getting a vitamin D boost, somewhere in the Mediterranean. I also look forward to chipping madly away at my nearly 2000 book-long to-read list, although I already sneak a chapter of fiction in on my study breaks. Most of all, I can’t wait to catch up with family and friends back at home in London. As I did lots during my year out from university, I didn’t apply for any internships this time around as I want to focus on catching up on my studies and preparing myself for Final Year, but I will continue working as an enquiry management assistant at the university to earn some money over the summer. I will also have to spend some time thinking about what I want to write about in my dissertation, as well as what I want to do immediately after I graduate, so I already have plenty on my hands for the summer.
As important as it is to enjoy the extensive time off while you still have it as a student, it is important also to not waste it. So, watch some Netflix, but not too much of it. I have friends who will be doing industrial placements and internships, while others will be volunteering or studying abroad. Some people choose to work the whole of summer, others travel, and some – like me – do both. Whatever you do, think through it and plan well, so that you ensure that you are using your time wisely. You don’t want to develop habits that will hinder you in your next phase of life, whether it be full-time work or the next stage in your education. Hence, for me, I want to be as prepared as possible to put my best foot forward in 3rd Year. So, I hope to fill in as many gaps in my knowledge as possible. In saying that, however, it is also not wise to burn myself out before September.
As with all things, it’s about moderation and balance. Work proportionately to your commitments, and rest proportionately to your work. Above all, enjoy the journey! Learn from every experience and savour every moment. After all, you’re only ever going to be an undergraduate student (for the first time) once!]]>
For me, preparation takes the form of identifying four topics that I am going to revise thoroughly, which gives me some flexibility when I get into the exam and see the questions. For instance, if I only revised two topics and the questions for those were much more difficult that I was expecting, I wouldn’t be able to do much about it. However, having two extra questions as a safety net allows me to feel much more confident as I walk in to the exam. Once I have identified the topics I am going to revise, I then work through the relevant material assigned for those topics. This includes going over lecture notes, the required readings and the further readings. Once I have got more familiar with the topic, I’ll move on to creating mind maps for past paper questions. Instead of memorising answers to past papers and then attempting to regurgitate them in the actual exam, I find I perform much better if I try to develop a real understanding of the issues at hand in the topic during my revision. Having a good grasp of the topic better prepares you for any question that might turn up in the exam.
The University of Manchester puts a lot of extra support in place for students during exam time to not only cater for the increase in numbers wanting to study, but also to help make sure students are staying healthy and mindful during this more stressful period. Exam Extra allows students to track where available PCs are across the University’s multiple study spaces, as well as the libraries operating longer opening times. Exam support workshops are put in place to help students practice mindfulness techniques so they can approach a full day of revision in a much more clam and productive manner. During the two exam periods of January and May/June, a two week timetable of sport classes are made available for free to ensure that students can keep healthy and de-stressed. Classes on offer include yoga, swimming, as well as various fitness classes such as interval training and body conditioning.
Indeed, exam periods are more high pressure than elsewhere in the semester, however the support is there for you to make sure you can do your best when that exam dates come. It is also vital that you practice some self-care too during this period. Making sure your sleeping and eating well, as well as taking regular breaks really do help to avoid you burning out.
Starting university may be the first time you have been financially independent. The thought of having to juggle rent, bills and food costs can be a daunting prospect. But have no fear, there are a number of things you can do to keep yourself a float whilst studying, ensuring there is still enough to spend on enjoying yourself too! Choosing to live at home whilst at university is an attractive option to many, often meaning you get to avoid paying the market rent and buying your own food shopping. The compromise may come however from having to endure a lengthy commute to campus, so it’s worth working out what suits you best. For those that choose to move further afield and go it alone, it’s worth researching rent prices in the area where your preferred universities are. Rents can vary vastly across the UK, with the more expensive rates being located in the South East of England and often cheaper rates in the North. University halls tend to be more expensive than the local market rents, however keep in mind that the price often includes utility and internet bills.
Once you have settled on where you are going to live for university it’s a great idea to get thinking about budgeting. First it is important to make a note of your income during your studies; this can include student loans, grants and part-time jobs. Although getting a part-time job to help fund your living costs may be necessary, it is important to make sure paid work does not compromise your studies. I have worked a part-time job in a café throughout my degree but have always been clear with my manager that I could only take on 12 hours of work a week. Don’t be afraid to say which days or times are best for you when agreeing on your terms of employment. For instance, if your course has a lot of contact hours in the week, you may prefer to only work weekends. Manchester offers a huge variety of available part-time jobs, catering for the student population. If it suits, during the holidays you can always take on more hours to save for the next semester or to help fund your travel plans.
Now you have an idea of where your income will be coming from, make those funds go further by budgeting your living costs. So, make a note of your monthly outgoings, this may include rent payments, utility bills, mobile and internet bills, travel costs, and food shopping. This will help you to identify where you may be able to make cut backs. For instance, perhaps the cost of buying a bus ticket every day is really stacking up? Buying a season ticket for transport can drastically cut down travel costs, in Manchester students qualify for a Stagecoach UniRider, meaning you can make big savings on your bus travel. Cycling to campus is another great way to cut down on your expenditure as well as being a great way to keep fit! In terms of food shopping, try to avoid small ‘metro’ versions of the supermarket chains as the choice is often limited to their more luxury brands. Most supermarkets have a basics range ideal for those trying to stick to a budget. For me, the best way to keep food costs down is to cook big meals in the evenings, making sure there is enough to take for lunch the next day. You can even freeze your leftovers, saving them for times when money is tight or for when you’re feeling lazy!
Keep all these tips in mind and you should manage just fine. If times do get tough though, The University of Manchester offers student money advice, bursaries and a hardship fund for struggling students. Plus the support available from the Students’ Union: so remember, there is support there if you need it!]]>
It goes without saying that before even applying to university, you ought to have an idea of how student finance works in general. Do your research on how the funding system works, how much you will be entitled to, when you may have to begin repayment, and how much might you be expected to repay, etc. It is vital that you understand as best as you can what it is you are committing yourself to for the next couple of years, and all its costs and benefits.
Once you’re sure about university, and have got your funding sorted, you can then begin to shop around for student bank accounts. Most student accounts come with incentives ranging from discounts on travel to food and clothing. It’s entirely up to you which bank you choose, but be sure to research plenty and compare the ones that attract you most. For example, I chose to open my student account with Santander as the incentive at the time was a free 16-25 Railcard, which has helped significantly with transport costs between university and home in London. I also know of foodies who chose another bank because it offered a TasteCard, which gave them discounts in various restaurants.
So, you’re off to university, you’ve set up your account, and student finance starts pouring in. What happens next? You resist the urge to splurge. Instead, you stop, think, and budget. As previous posts suggest, planning and preparation at university is crucial and encompasses almost every part of student life. You need to reflect on how you will spend what you receive. Will your student loans cover you, or will you need to work to supplement it? If so, how much will you need to cover the shortfall and where is this money coming from? These are the questions I asked myself at the start of the first semester. Using the Fudget app, I computed all my expected income and expenses, and then used the balance to indicate how much I will need to earn to live comfortably. I immediately began applying for part-time jobs online, I went into the town shopping centre to hand out CVs. Eventually, I decided to stick with student ambassador roles and working for the university, which offers me both good pay and flexibility. So, I currently work in the University Enquiry Management Team, answering queries by email and phone, as well as doing odd jobs as a Student Ambassador. Whatever you decide, be sure to consider all of the potential implications. Remember, being a university student means that studying is your occupation and it ought to be treated like a full-time job. Your academic commitments are your priority.
Also, in addition to a student account, I think it wise to have further separate bank accounts that will help you to be disciplined with your spending. For example, if your student loans all go into your student account, it can help you remember that the money there should go towards living costs like rent, bills and sustenance, and all other university-related expenses. Anything else, whether it be funds for miscellaneous activities or general savings, should go into a separate account. Some people leave their cards in a separate wallet at home, while others choose to have everything in one place, but carry only the amount of cash they’ll need for the day or week. You can also cut costs by preparing your meals for the week ahead of time (I do this on the weekend). I like to prepare my lunch, so I am not tempted to buy anything. Then I go home for dinner, or occasionally dine out with friends. I do often, however, carry small emergency cash which I can use to buy off-the-cuff snacks, but I mostly try to bring snacks with me from home to prevent unnecessary spontaneous spending. Whatever is wisest, safest and most convenient for you to do is what you should do.
I remember when I was just starting university and I had heard some students at other universities talking about how they had already spent well into their overdraft. Don’t be that person! Do what you ought, when you ought. But if you somehow find yourself in a tricky situation financially, do not hesitate to speak to your student union representatives or your student money advisor. There are people who will help you find a solution to get you back on your feet. Better yet, avoid the stress and budget well to begin with. Get researching because there is lots out there to help you. It really is true that there’s an app for everything!
If you have a concrete idea of what you want to do after university, all you need to do is find out what the requirements are for your desired career path. The legal, medical, and teaching professions, for example, have structured paths to qualification with specific requirements. However, some are more flexible than others which allow for people from different educational backgrounds to qualify through postgraduate courses. So, if you already know what you wish to go into, you can just research what it takes to qualify in that profession. Asking people you know who work in the fields you are interested, and getting work experience in them, will help you decide whether that career is suitable for you. If you are interested in a career that requires no specific degree, consider doing research on or contacting people who work or have worked in those roles, and ask them what they studied and how it benefited their role. That’s not to say that you must stick to the career you had in mind at the start of your studies.
If you have been following my posts, you will already know I am in my second year of a Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) degree. You will also know that I came across it quite accidentally during a conversation with a girl who was also applying to study it elsewhere. I had known it was possible to study any two out of the three, but it was not until after this conversation that I was made aware that I could study all three together. This was perfect for me because I did not know exactly what I wanted to do for a career, but I did know that I was curious about the world and the way it worked. PPE provided just that – a way of understanding society and the things we take for granted in everyday life, but from the lens of social sciences rather than hard sciences. I also knew that studying PPE would not limit my career choices. So, I chose my degree because I had an academic goal that would be nonetheless valuable whatever my eventual career choice. I also attended subject talks at open days to gain some insight into the content and structure of the course, which helped me gauge which modules I might enjoy. It is important to note that no two courses are the same, and their exact structure will usually vary by institution. So, PPE at Manchester will look different to PPE elsewhere, which is why you sure ensure you properly look at the course descriptions and the modules available to you, so you can identify your areas of interest. Speak to lecturers and other academic staff at university open days, and do not hesitate to share any concerns you have. There is no such thing as a stupid question, but even if there was, it is far better to ask it before you have made a decision.
Another way of choosing a course if you are not sure what you want to do for a career, or are not sure what it is you are interested in, is to choose based on what you are good at. This can be the riskiest of ways to choose a course because sometimes what we are good at and what we enjoy do not overlap. However, if you do find yourself good at something and you enjoy it, then it can be a good way to approach course choices. You can either choose a course based on what you do well in already or you can choose a course in an area that you would like to strengthen your skills in. The latter option can be tricky at times because it may require extra effort. For example, I chose PPE because I was curious about politics, philosophy was a pastime of mine, and I wanted to become more numerate and understand economics. My A Levels (English Literature, Religious Studies, Psychology and AS Sociology) were only marginally related to my degree. So, I was mostly taking on a new way of looking at things. Thankfully, all first year Economics courses at Manchester have compulsory maths and statistics modules to bring you up to scratch. The point is that if you are considering throwing yourself into something new, do as much research and preparation as you can to ease yourself into it all. Whatever you do, it is vital to ensure you are qualified to study what you want to study at the particular institutions that you are interested in. If you want to try something new, check the course requirements in the university prospectus or on the website to see if your post-16 qualifications are appropriate preparation for your university ambitions.
In summary, do your research and consider what’s important to you; career, curiosity or competence.
Looking beyond your weekly lectures and seminars there is so much more you can get out of your student experience on campus. Taking a break from your studies to sit in on a talk from a guest lecturer can be an excellent way to both broaden your horizons past your own course, as well as pursue other interests you may have. The Manchester Debating Union offer the opportunity to get clued up on a wide variety of different issues with their regular debates held at the University. Recent topics include debating the legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency, as well as whether the UK should support the expansion of nuclear power. The debates offer a great opportunity to learn about the concerns central to such issues, and there is no need to be worried about having no prior knowledge. There’s no pressure to join in the discussion, feel free to attend and just soak it all up!
If debating societies aren’t for you, how about getting involved in sports on campus! With a choice of gyms available, including the Armitage Centre, the Sugden Sports Centre, and the Manchester Aquatics Centre, there really is something for everyone. My favourite way to keep fit at university is to attend fitness classes offered in the well-being rooms on campus. As a student you can get subsidised classes offered in eight-week blocks throughout the year. They offer a wide variety of classes and the timetable runs weekdays from 8am until 7.30pm, ensuring everyone can find a class to fit in with their studies. I take part in regular yoga sessions and I find it a great way to de-stress when deadlines are approaching. You can also join in The University of Manchester’s Purple Wave team in the annual Manchester 10K run. Over 1000 students and staff took part last year, and the team is on track for 3000 to take part this year with a target to raise £150,000 for charity. Being part of the Purple Team is a great way to keep motivation high and be a part of something bigger!]]>