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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 wearing mortarboard in front of university

Credit: Gordon Bell (background) – Shutterstock, The National Churches Trust (foreground) - Flickr

They say your university 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?

To help you overcome all these challenges and more, 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.

How to survive university

These are the best university tips for students:

  1. Learn how to budget

    piggy bank wearing a 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, among all the other great university advice we offer, is a great guide to helping you get your budget sorted.

    One of the easiest ways to keep on top of your spending is to join an app-based bank (in addition to your student bank account, which is worth keeping for the 0% overdraft alone).

    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). This keeps it separate from the money you absolutely need to have, like cash for rent and bills.

    As long as you stick to this method, you basically have no choice but to stay within budget (unless you transfer some more money to the card). You can also use the app on your phone that's attached to your card to keep tabs on your spending and check out how much money you can use to treat yourself at the end of the month.

    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.
  2. Know when to go home on a night out

    It's easy to get carried away on nights out. "Just a few drinks" 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.

  3. Start a meal plan

    man vs food with a 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.

    As it happens, we've actually put together a great student meal plan which will have you sorted for breakfast, lunch and dinner for four whole weeks. Give it a go!

    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.

    And, of course, check out our guides to saving money at the supermarket and how to (legally) get free food.

  4. 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, so here's your three-point plan to surviving this dreaded scenario:

    1. Don't make eye contact – Pretend to be completely engrossed in your lecture 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).
    2. 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. But if the lecturer asks for your thoughts, do NOT just copy exactly what someone else in the group has said. This is an express route to making enemies.
    3. Speak out as early as possible – 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 all else fails and you're put on the spot with no clue what to say, we're afraid the only option left is to get blagging. And next time... well, just save yourself the hassle and do the reading.

  5. Control your bladder in lectures

    text I could go right now on picture of Joey from Friends

    Credit: Warner Bros

    We all know what it's like when you're desperate, but 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?

  6. Learn how to read quickly

    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 (honestly, at that point you're better off reading the synopsis on Wikipedia), 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).

    Then, 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.

  7. Ask for help when you need it

    pile of books in front of person

    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 your stress stems from financial issues, 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 receiving the minimum Maintenance Loan 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, or even contact us directly and we'll try to help where we can.

  8. 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 mastering the basics and learning a few really simple meals, and you'll soon be able to feed yourself and save a whole load of cash in the process.

    For example, throwing some pasta and pesto together can make a meal that tides you over for dinner one day and lunch the next.

    Develop some skills and suddenly you won'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.

    Use the summer before uni to prepare for your time as a student – including becoming comfortable in the kitchen.
  9. Learn how to use a washing machine

    person falling into washing machine at a laundrette

    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.

    Whether it's because the last time you did it your whites came out pink, or because it can be such a hassle finding somewhere to dry your clothes in a shared house when everyone's doing their washing, you'll want to get over this fear of laundry.

    The best thing you can do is to be brave and just get on with it. You'll never survive university if you don't learn how to use a washing machine, and 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. And to save you worrying about what type of detergent to buy, here's a free trial of some washing tablets.

    Fortunately, we have a guide explaining how to wash your clothes.
  10. Know your limits on a night out

    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.

    If you can, stick to one type of alcohol throughout the night. If you're knocking back the vodka and mixers, don't decide to switch it up with several shots of whatever, before moving on to beer.

    It won't do you any good, and your head won't thank you for it in the morning (although if you are struck down by a hangover, this list of cures might come in handy).

    If you've had enough, don't carry on drinking just because you're worried about looking boring. We can assure you that dancing without a drink in your hand is a lot less boring than feeling as though you're going to be sick and/or your brain is about to vacate your skull.

  11. Keep on top of cleaning your house

    Mrs Doubtfire hoovering a 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. Honestly, you don't want to end up living somewhere like this house of horrors.

    We would advise you to use a cleaning rota so everyone mucks in, but if you have any particularly lazy housemates, this may not work and could cause arguments. So, our advice for students 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 dishes). 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 cheap cleaning products and methods that will cost you next to nothing.

  12. Deal with difficult housemates

    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. If possible, check out our guide to the pros and cons of living with friends before you decide to move in together.

    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.

  13. Use your student discount whenever you can

    person holding a totum student discount card

    Taking advantage of student discounts is pretty much our best university advice – 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.

  14. Beware of people trying to rip off 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.

    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.

Need some tips for starting university? You'll find everything you need in our guide to surviving freshers' week while making friends and not blowing your budget.


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