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14 skills to help you survive university

Worried about hitting your deadlines while still having time to party at uni? With these ultimate uni life skills, you'll be flourishing in no time. 

Bear Grylls university graduate

Credit: (foreground) nosepuedevlc – Flickr, (background): Holly Hayes – Flickr

They say your uni years are the best years of 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 is it possible to go on nights out every week when you can barely afford to feed yourself?

We've put together the ultimate list of skills you need to make it through university in one piece!

There are a lot of myths out there about university – we separate the fact from the fiction!

14 student survival tips

These are our top tips for surviving your time at university:

  1. Learn how to budget

    piggy bank with graduate hat

    Let’s be realistic here: you’re going to be skint quite a lot 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 or join an app-based bank (in addition to your student bank account). 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). You can also 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 leftover at the end of the month to reward yourself 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.

Starting a budget is just one of the many things we advise you to do when you first arrive at university.
  1. Know when to go home on a night out

    drunk kermit the frog surrounded by bottles

    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. Try going to the cash machine and only taking out as much money as you’re happy to spend. When that runs dry, head home.

    Do your best 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.

    And while we’re on the topic, remember we’ve got a whole guide devoted to mastering the art of nights out on a budget.

  2. Start a meal plan

    man vs food giant burger

    Credit: Sharp Entertainment

    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.

    Try 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!

    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.

    Make sure you check out our guide to saving money at the supermarket, our student recipes and our tricks to (legally) score free food!

  3. Avoid tricky seminar questions

    hiding in car seat recline

    Credit: NBC

    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?

  4. Control your bladder in lectures

    Joey Friends desperate for the toilet

    Credit: Warner Bros

    We all know what it's like when you're desperate, but you just can't bear the thought of running to the loo in front of a packed lecture hall.

    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 five 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?

  5. Learn how to speed read

    Joey reading Emma book on Friends

    Credit: Warner Bros

    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).

    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.

  6. Ask for help when you need it

    pile of books girl stress

    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 students 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 supplement your loan. Read more on how much money your parents should give you at university.

    If you need advice, take a look at the various money-saving guides we have online, or even drop us a line directly and we'll try to help where we can. Don't forget that looking after your mental health at university should always be a priority. 

  7. 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 load of 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!).

    We've got a whole load of student-budget-friendly recipes for you to try out, as well as a list of cupboard essentials to get you going.

  8. Figure out how to use a washing machine

    person falling into 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.

    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.

  9. Know your limits on a night out

    How to be Single drunk party scene

    Credit: Warner Bros.

    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.

    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.

  10. Clean before it gets out of hand

    Mrs Doubtfire hoovering house

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Unfortunately cleaning does have 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.

  11. Deal with difficult housemates

    Ross from Friends annoying flatmate

    Credit: Warner Bros

    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.

  12. Learn how to spot student discounts

    Taken student discount meme

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    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 Telegram 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 for a Subcard that will get you frequent freebies thrown in.

  13. Beware of people trying to rip off students

    How do you do fellow kids Steve Buscemi meme

    Credit: NBC

    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.

    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!

    For a few wise words of guidance on how to hold your own at uni, make sure you know your rights as a tenant, learn how to haggle on your bills and check out our guide on how and when to complain.

About to start university? Check out our tips for surviving freshers' week while making friends and not blowing your budget!


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