Having been to three different universities and doing a variety of courses, there are many things that I have learned about being there. Some of the most important lessons are below.
Make sure you get good value for money
Even if you get your course fees paid for, it is really important to make sure that you are getting good value for money from your course. You have a choice of many courses across the whole country and really across a lot of the world and so you should not limit your choice. You will be investing a lot of money as well as time in this course, not only in the fees but also giving up time that you could have spent earning money and working your way up in a company. Three years is a lot of time and the money you invest is big. You will be likely to end up with a loan that you will have to pay back over a long period of time. Therefore make sure that you choose the course really carefully. Think about the amount of teaching time you get, tutor access, quality of the library and other resources as well as access to extra-curricular activities and other opportunities. It is easy to pick a place that is close by or a course that sounds fun, but you need to consider whether it is worth the money and debt you will get into and whether there is a career at the end of it that will make that investment worthwhile.
Always ask tutors for help to get the best marks
I observed that people that asked for help, got the best marks. This is not only during the taught classes, as they asked questions to clarify that they understood what was being taught, but this was also outside of classes too. Many of the best students would plan their pieces of work and then go through them with the tutors before doing a final write-up. This obviously means that they needed to be well organised as they would have to have it all planned out well enough in advance to get appointment to see the tutor and discuss it. However, that guidance from the tutor would allow them to have confidence in their ideas and know where they may need to improve or change things so that they had the best possible chance of a good mark. Most tutors were very happy to help in this way and so it is well worth taking advantage of this so that you can do the best that you possibly can as well.
Choose a university with a big and up to date library with lots of journal subscriptions
A big mistake that I made was not looking at the size of the library when choosing a university. One place that I chose had a small selection of out of date books and very few journal subscriptions. This caused a selection of problems. Firstly the degree course that I completed was not approved by the overseeing body for that subject so employers had no respect for it and whenever I needed documents for backing up research I had to order them and this cost me money. Then I completed a further course having been told that would allow my degree to be approved and a year later with a bigger debt was then told this was still not enough to get the approval I needed. So make sure that you choose a university which has accredited courses in the first place and that has really good facilities.
Get a part-time job
Money can be a huge worry while at university and having a job can really help to reduce this stress. They are very few courses that do not leave time for a part-time job even if that means working at weekends. Not only will the job provide you with much needed money but it will give you some valuable work experience. Although you are unlikely to be working in the area that you wish to go into when you graduate, it will still look good to have some work on your CV and will help you to get an idea of what it is like to work, if you never have before. It can be scary, getting your first job, but once you have done it, then you have got that experience behind you and you will not feel so concerned about getting any other job in the future.
Apply for all the grants or funding that you can
There may be opportunities to get extra bits of money while you are on your course. Try to get a grant if you can and then look out for other means of funding or bursaries. Ask in your department if there are any opportunities to apply for these and make sure that if you do find some, that you make the most of the opportunity. Write a really detailed application making sure that it is really clear why this money could help you to succeed better at your course or to have a better future as a result. It is worth taking lots of time as even the smallest amount of financial help could make a big difference. Do make sure though, that if you do manage to get financial help, that you still budget carefully and do not think that it means you can spend extra money without worrying so much. It is better to still spend as little as you can and then you will not need to borrow as much in the future.
Invite your parents to stay often
It is a good idea to see a lot of your parents if you can. You may feel that this is your time to be independent and you want to have as little to do with them as possible, but there are many advantages to seeing them. They are likely to treat you while they are visiting, perhaps taking you out for meals or taking you shopping so this will save you money. They are also a contact back with home and you may find that you get lonelier than you expected and it will be nice to have family around sometimes. It is also great to share some of your experience with them and show them what the area you live in is like and then you will also have some shared memories of the place when you are looking back over the years. It is worth remembering that your family will be missing you as well as you them and so they may really enjoy the opportunity to see you in between holidays.
Do not spend your money all at once
Although this was not something that I did, I saw other people doing it a lot. It can be difficult to suddenly have a big chunk of money. You may never have had this much money before and you will need to be really careful how you spend it. You will have to pay rent from it and then what is left will need to cover bills, food, books, travel and luxuries and you will need to budget so that it lasts long enough to pay for everything. Some students are lucky enough to be able to go to their parents and ask for financial help, should they need it. However, many do not have this luxury and even if they have a part-time job may struggle to get their money to last if they spend too much at once. Think carefully about every purchase made, even books and food, to make sure that the money lasts as long as possible. Remember that it is fine to have some left over, but running out could be a complete disaster.
Choose who you live with carefully
It is so important to choose carefully who you are living with. There are many occasions when people have made a mistake and found that they do not get on with the people that they are sharing a house with. This may be okay if you can avoid one another, but if you tend to annoy each other and argue this can create a really bad atmosphere. It is therefore wise to make sure that you know that people that you are going to live with at least a little bit so that you have an idea as to whether you are going to get on well with them. It is not just getting on that is important though. They will have to pay their share of the bills and if they do not do this, then it could end up with you having to pay for their share as well as yours. You will also want to make sure that they respect the property and its contents so that there is not damage done that you may have to pay towards the repair of. You will also want them to respect your belongings too.
Do not have high expectations with regards to accommodation
It is likely that most students will have lived with their parents up until going to university and it is likely that they will have come from nice homes. Homes which are well maintained, clean, well decorated and in a good state of repair. However, student accommodation is unlikely to be like this. It may be decorated, but the colours will be neutral and furnishings are likely to be cheap and not very comfortable. Some student houses are damp, cold and uncomfortable and so it is worth bearing this in mind. It will be great if you find somewhere that is not like this, but in a way it is best to be prepared for the worst so that you are not disappointed. As lots of people are sharing, they may have less respect for things, assuming that other people will not bother to keep things looking good. This leads to things getting dirty, messy and perhaps even broken. This is not a good attitude to have and if you can find people to share with that have respect and like things to be clean and tidy then you are likely to have a much more pleasant experience with regards to where you are living.
Plan food shopping carefully
It is so important to plan spending money really carefully and food shopping is one big area where you could end up spending more money than necessary. It can be tempting to eat out or buy ready-made meals to save time, particularly if you do not like cooking. However, these cost a lot of money, much more than if you cook things from scratch. It is therefore a wise idea to learn some basic recipes so that you can cook a bit more for yourself. It is really easy to boil some pasta in a pan with some finely chopped onion, pepper, courgette and mushrooms and then pour over some tomato sauce and this is healthier and cheaper than buying a meal that is already made for you and does not take long. Find a few recipes that you really enjoy and you can eat well without spending that much. It is also wise to plan well with regards to using up food. You do not want to waste any food but having to throw it away because you have not eaten it on time. It is likely that you may not have much freezer space so you cannot pop things in there if they are getting a bit old so you will need to shop carefully and also make sure that you carefully eat the food that needs to be eaten up quickly rather than just having what you fancy. Regular shopping can be the answer, but if you do not have a cheap supermarket nearby, you may find it more economical to travel some distance and bulk buy instead.