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I saw the pitfalls before they happened and did nothing about it. Putting that out there now. I was lazy and unmotivated, and all it's caused me is debt. But, I did take mental notes along the way of what I did wrong, so when I start again this year, I might do something right.
This is my blessing to you, dear reader, of how not to screw up as bad as I did. Half of it is probably logic, but sticking to logic when you're living off noodles and haven't slept in five days is difficult. Hopefully, if you listen to what I'm about to say, you won't ever get to that point.
1) Sort your student finances early.
I cannot stress this enough. Get your parents to fill out their part. Make sure you get all your evidence in on time. This year, I was eagerly waiting for the day I could apply.
Last year was a nightmare. I didn't hand in my evidence until July, my Dad didn't fill his part in until September. I didn't get my Student Finance until mid-November and had to use my overdraft to help me survive those months. It was absolute hell.
Other things I recommend is looking into a bank that does a good student finance account (HSBC gave me Amazon Prime free for a year [Great for buying textbooks!] and a £60 Amazon gift voucher [Printer ink!]). It's entirely worth finding somewhere reliable. Get an interest free overdraft, do NOT get a credit card. You will regret it. Also, if you have anything that would allow you disability funding, do it! They pay for equipment and new laptops if you need them for your course. They'll even rearrange your room to make it easier to access.
2) Student Accommodation
Depending on where you are in the country, sometimes a shared house is cheaper than Halls. Make sure you look at both. Think about how many people you want to live with, whether you want an en-suite room, etc. Bear in mind, if you sign a contract and then pull out early, some places charge a leaving fee. You WILL be charged for lost keys.
A lot of people like living in Halls for a year so they can make friends and live with them the year after. I have witnessed the carnage of this going wrong, however. People who thought they were ride-or-die realised they couldn't stand being around each other all day every day. They would argue about food and mess and it gets messy. My take away from that was to live with people that you get on with, but aren't necessarily close to. Then it won't affect your friendship groups.
I, however, did none of this, and slept on a friend's floor to save on rent. I saved money, but I personally don't recommend that either, and the same thing for living at home. You WILL miss out on social events. You will get sick of missing out. You will miss the experiences and friends other people seem to pick up on the way, and it will make you feel out of place.
3) Don't live too far away.
I decided to stay in my hometown and travel in. It was too expensive to get the train in the morning, so I was getting the bus. To go in for a three-hour lesson, I was travelling for four hours in total. The travel wasn't worth it, so I stopped going in. Don't be me. Don't be that one kid who just stops showing up because it's too much effort. Find somewhere close that you can brave in any weather, and preferably, somewhere so close by that if the buses fail you, you can walk it. Buses are unreliable, especially around Christmas exam season. Don't trust them.
4) Do not do the pot noodle diet.
Okay, it may save you money in the long run, and I know people who have done this and survived it, but the smell of instant noodles makes me want to throw up, and I only did it for three months. You will get ill, you will get depressed. My tip for this is party finger food. It's cold and instant. Scotch eggs, chicken bits, cocktail sausages. Meat. You can usually get them in deals, like two boxes for £3 in Tesco. Even better, if you live in a house share, throw in a tenner each a week and eat meals together. It saves a whole lot of money.
5) Access mental health support.
You WILL need it. It doesn't matter if you haven't had a history of problems. For most students, you'll be living alone for the first time with the looming pressure of assignments and exams hanging over your shoulders. Bear in mind that they can signpost you too, so for things like money troubles, Universities have schemes to get you back on track. If you do have a condition already, get it covered by disability, and get mentoring. Most Universities offer it, and it's basically just someone who checks up on you once a week and helps with any issues. Mine was fully prepared to drive the hour to drop my coursework off at my house when my anxiety got too bad to go in one day. They want to help, and they do listen to you.
6) Drinking Too Much
I was notorious for falling asleep during a Thursday afternoon lecture. Why? Student nights were a Wednesday. That's what Freshers Week is for. Go nuts then. Try and keep it to weekends after that point, or days off. As much as student nights are cheap, your education is not.
7) Do a write up for EVERY lecture or lesson.
As it's happening, if you can. And then do the coursework THAT night. If you stick to that advice, you will feel next to no pressure or stress. If you do a me, and say, "I'll do it all on this day", no. No, you won't. You'll miss that day once, and suddenly, you're five weeks behind on coursework. Best to keep in a routine and leave your free days free.
8) Get a part time job.
The full amount of Maintenance Loans still will not save you. Dipping into your overdraft on the off is okay, but you need to top it up from time to time. You'll want to travel, or want to get driving lessons, or buy that bit of tech to help with your course. That's where a part-time job comes in handy. You can work in a student union shop or a local bar or cafe two to three days a week, and be able to save.
And that's all I can think of right now. Follow my advice, and you can't go far wrong. If you can still get it wrong after this, I'll tell you next year. I'll be trialing my own advice too.