14 skills to help you survive university
Over time, you’ll realise that having a particular set of skills will make your uni experience a whole lot easier. Here are our favourites to get you started!
They say your uni years are the best you’ll ever have in your life - and they certainly can be! But we'd argue that being a poor, knackered, perpetually hungover student can come with its challenges, too!
Like, how do you stay healthy when living on a diet of pot noodles? How do you juggle a part-time job to support yourself when you’ve got deadlines left, right and centre? And how does one face the challenge of partying most nights of the week when they can barely afford to feed themselves?
We’ve put together a list of skills we learned along the way for student survival. Let us know in the comments if there’s anything we’ve missed!
14 student survival tips
Learn to budget
Let’s be realistic here: you’re going to be skint quite often during your university years (if not consistently). However, being permanently penniless is something you can avoid if you take the time to work out a budget, and stick to it. Luckily, we’ve got a great guide to help you get your budget sorted.
A nice option is to get yourself a prepaid budgeting card. Put a certain amount of cash on the card every month and assign this as your disposable income (for food, nights out and other expenses) so this stays separate from your cash for rent and bills.
This way, you're much more likely to stay within the budget you’ve assigned yourself (because you have no choice, essentially). What's more, you can keep tabs of what you’ve spent by using the app on your phone that's attached to your card (and how much you have left over at the end of the month to reward yourself with for staying within budget!).
If you're looking for a bit more budgeting help, download our free money cheat sheet to wise up on how to stay in control of your pennies. You can always check out our money saving guides for additional advice too.
Know when to call it a night
It's easy to get carried away on nights out. "Just a few drinks down the union" can quickly (and usually does) become much, much more.
Knowing when to say enough is enough is actually quite a tough skill to acquire, and takes some good and solid will power. One way of attempting to control yourself is to go to the cash machine and only take out as much money as you’re happy to spend. When that runs dry, head home.
Try not to give in to peer pressure and stay out longer than you intended - you really aren’t going to miss much by going home at 1am, no matter how much it might seem like it at the time! Don't let FOMO rule you.
While we’re on the topic, we’ve got a whole guide devoted to mastering the art of nights out on a budget for your perusal.
Start a meal plan
Having at least a hint of a routine regarding what and when you eat will prevent you from demolishing a week’s shopping in a day or two, and save you a fair wad of cash.
A great tip is to get into the habit of planning your meals, meaning you do a bigger shop once a week with a few dishes in mind (including one meal that can be divvied up into portions to feed you throughout the week). Don’t forget to factor in a few snacks too, and some emergency hangover supplies!
One thing to ensure is that you never go shopping when you’re hungry, as you’ll only end up buying things you don’t need. Temptation strikes so much harder when your tummy is rumbling along the aisles, meaning you’ll end up spending a lot more than you can afford.
We’d also recommend trying the supermarket downshift - don’t waste money on overpriced food, and don’t be fooled by any of the supermarket’s sneaky tricks they use to get you to spend more.
Avoid tricky seminar questions
So you haven’t done the reading, but you can't afford to miss another seminar. This situation calls for some serious blagging and deflection tactics!
First rule: don’t make eye contact. Pretend to be completely engrossed in your notes, perhaps even adding to them as you become more involved in the riveting discussion going on around you (even if you’re writing complete nonsense and haven't a clue what's going on).
Get actively involved in group work. Listen to what others are saying and try to form something to say out of what's being discussed in these small groups (although, do NOT just copy what someone else in the group has said - unless you fancy making enemies in class!).
Then, when the class floor is open to discussion, try to speak out as early as possible (or when there's a question you can confidently answer) to get it out of the way. If you keep quiet for too long, you might get lumped with a tough question near the end of class. The trick is to get in there first!
If you’re put on the spot and have no clue, we're afraid the only option left is to get blagging. And next time... save yourself the hassle and just do the reading?
Control your bladder
We all know what it's like to have to hold it in throughout the duration of the most boring class known to man. You're desperate, but you just can't bear the thought of running to the loo in front of a packed lecture hall.
While we wish we could tell you there's a magical solution for this, there isn't. You've either got to suck it up (not literally) and take the bladder pain (it all comes down to mind over bladder), or try to wee when you have the opportunity.
Try fitting pee breaks in before every class and lecture – even if that means leaving the house 5 minutes earlier in the morning to make sure you arrive with enough time.
Bet you never thought you'd have to re-toilet train yourself when you went to uni, eh?
Learn how to speed read
If you have the balls to show up to your class without having done the reading, a quick speed read can help bring you up to date with what's going on (not to mention how it can help for revision).
We wouldn't suggest speed reading an entire novel (*cough* Wikipedia *cough*), but for articles and short chapters it's certainly better than doing no reading at all.
Use a highlighter to bring out any important sections or quotes (or at least what you think seems important in the 10 minutes you've spent swatting up on the topic). This means when you're in your seminar or exam, it won't look like you haven't done absolutely nothing.
If at any point you get put on the spot, you can divert discussion towards one of the 'interesting' passages you highlighted when you read the article 'thoroughly' the night before.
Ask for help
This goes for all areas of your life – if you're struggling to keep up with coursework (hence all the speed reading and blagging your way through tutorials), speak to your tutors. If you don't speak up about this stuff, the situation will only get worse as more deadlines pile up.
Likewise, if you're having financial stress (our National Student Money Survey this year suggests that the majority of you struggle to make ends meet at uni) it's really important for you to reach out and get some help.
Asking for some financial support from your parents can be a tough situation for some, but it's also worth remembering that the government uses your parents' income to calculate how much Maintenance Loan to give you.
Therefore, if you're in the lower student loan bracket because your parents have a decent income, it's expected that they will help to supplement your loan. Read more on how to ask your parents for money.
Where getting some advice is concerned – we're your guys! Take a look at the various money-saving guides we have online, or even drop us a line directly if you'd prefer and we'll try to help where we can.
Learn some basic cooking skills
It's not that difficult to eat properly at university. You just have to spend a short amount of time working out the basics and mastering a few really simple meals, and you'll be able to feed yourself and save a whole loada cash in the process.
Throwing some pasta and pesto together can make a meal that tides you over for dinner and lunch the next day – you don't have to rely on microwave meals (because they usually taste like crap), or takeaways (because they're expensive, although we have a few tips to get cheaper takeaways every now and again!).
Figure out the washing machine
Throwing your clothes into the washing machine probably doesn't cross your mind very often, and you'll probably be avoiding it as much as possible because:
a) The last time you did it your whites came out pink
b) It can be such a hassle finding somewhere for them to dry when you have various other housemates with the same idea.
The basic rule is: when you're pulling random items out of your drawer to wear purely to avoid doing any washing, it's time to pull your smelly socks up.
Be brave and just get on with it! If your elderly technophobe relatives can handle it, there's no reason you can't too.
You can also buy some handy colour catchers that mean you can throw colours in with whites without worrying about them turning pink.
Know your limits
We all know booze is just a part of student life, but being the drunkest person in the room is never gonna do you any favours.
Knowing what your limits are when it comes to alcohol will make your life at uni a million times easier – easier on your wallet, easier on your social life, easier on your ability to keep up with coursework and easier to actually make it to lectures.
Stick to one type of alcohol throughout the night if you can. If you're knocking back the vodka and mixers, don't decide to switch it up with several shots of whatever, before moving onto beer. It won't do you any good, and your head won't thank you for it in the morning (but just in case, these hangover cures might come in handy).
If you've had enough, don't just carry on drinking because you don't want to look boring. We can assure you that dancing without a drink in your hand is a lot less boring than feeling like you're going to be sick and as though your brain is about to vacate your skull.
Deal with chores before they get out of hand
You have to clean your own mess now - yes, life sucks. Unfortunately cleaning has to be done from time to time, otherwise your house will end up utterly vile and you'll be ashamed to ever let anyone through the front door.
We'd suggest using a cleaning rota so everyone mucks in, but sometimes this won't work and can cause arguments if you have any particularly lazy housemates. So, our advice would be to clean together.
Put some music on, have a laugh and promise each other a little pizza party once the mess is cleaned up (make sure you eat out of the box to prevent more mess, mind). This method is way more fun and gets the job done in half the time.
And if you're worried about having to be the one to splash out on expensive cleaning products, check out this guide to alternative cleaning products and methods that will cost you next to nothing.
Don't just ignore any difficult housemates
Unfortunately, it's not always hunky dory. If you find yourself living with someone who's making things tricky, talk it out with them. Ignoring the situation will never result in it 'sorting itself out', and could result in a nasty passive-aggressive atmosphere.
Understandably, it can be harder to deal with problematic housemates if they also happen to be your friends. You don't want to nag them or jeopardise your friendship, but not addressing the issue could just as likely lead to this. Check out our guide to the pros and cons of living with friends before deciding to move in!
If things get really out of hand, or you feel you can't deal with it yourself, talk to your landlord. You don't deserve to be unhappy in your own home.
Learn how to sniff out a good deal
Taking advantage of student discounts is pretty much our number one budgeting tip for uni – this is the one time in your life where you'll get discounts for being skint, so take advantage of it!
We have great discounts on our student deals page for you to browse, and if you're looking for something in particular, check out our student discount directory. If you're feeling particularly lazy, sign up to our weekly newsletter which includes a round-up of the top 20 deals for that week, or our WhatsApp group which has daily deals!
Getting yourself some loyalty cards can also help you save money. For example, Boots and Tesco regularly send out money saving vouchers to their members, and if you're a frequent Subway sandwich-eater, you can sign up to a Subcard that will get you frequent freebies thrown in.
Beware of people targeting students
When it comes to things like dealing with landlords and paying bills, the sad fact is a lot of people will see what they can get away with if they think you're an unsuspecting student.
Don't let people walk all over you though – it's painful, demoralising and you've got enough washing to do without all the extra footprints. Do your research so you know your rights and try your best to come across confident, even if you're squirming inside. Remember, you're no mug!
Basically, if you've got a feeling you're being treated unfairly, do some research – your instincts could be right!
If you think we've missed any important point out the list, give us a shout in the comments below!
About to start university? Check out our tips for surviving freshers' week!