Open letter to my 18 year old sister: what I wish I knew before starting university (part 1)

One of the things I looked forward to the most about attending university was freedom, absolute freedom. The ability to live on my own in a new part of the uk and make decisions on how to spend my money and time. I believe that I still worked harder than my peers and received mostly 2:1’s and firsts in most of my modules whilst still completing relevant work experience.

However, often with great power comes great irresponsibility. There are so many things I wish I knew or thought about seriously whilst I was at university and some of these things I want to share with you…

  1. Save your money — student loan will probably be the only time in your life where you will receive large chunks of money with little responsibility. Once you have paid for your accommodation and budgeted for food and going out, you should have some money left over. If you put that in an ISA (usually free from tax if you are a student) after 3–4 years in university that money will increase. And trust me after you graduate that will really help for things like a flat deposit, a car, a business idea etc.
  2. Get a part time job — This kind of ties in with number one. There are so many part time retail jobs available, tutoring or even working on campus at your university. Again with this money make sure that after you have budgeted for the basics you put the rest in a savings account. For example, working 2 days a week (16 hours) for £6.20 = £396.80, if you save £200 of that each month over three years = £7,200 (not including interest). And that money is your from your pay check alone and not including any extra saved from your student loan.
  3. Cook in bulk — The more you prep your meals and cook in bulk (and freeze) the better. This saves so much money in the long run (and avoids spending money on takeaway) and is also much healthier.
  4. Get work relevant work experience in the field you want to work in — and by this I do not mean for 2 weeks in a random company. There are roughly 1,727,895 students attending university every year. Which means there will be a high level of competition for jobs, therefore you need more than a degree to stand out from other applicants. This involves being pro-active! Contact different companies, use the job shop at your university, offer to work for free and whilst you’re in the job ask for as many opportunities as possible. If you find a good company that gives you decent experience, ask them if you can come back every summer or every university holiday. This will give you three years+ of work experience, a good reference, contacts and will hopefully make finding a paid job after graduating much easier. The company may even hire you!
  5. Get good grades (even in first year) — university is expensive to attend and the whole purpose is to get the knowledge and the grades needed to get the job you want. Everyone has different academic abilities but there are things you can do to ensure you get the best grade possible. A few of these things are; starting your work early (even if you are writing in note form as you are reading), get someone outside your course (or in a higher year) to proof read your work, surround yourself with good students, try and see an example of an A grade/first class essay, if you do not understand the assignment question ask/email/book a meeting with the lecturer (you are paying £9,000 a year, you have the right to do this), reference academic journals and make sure they are saying what you say they are saying and make sure you are answering the question! Lastly, if you get a bad grade read the feedback and find out why so you can improve.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”

As this post is getting quite long I will include a part 2 about friendships/relationships, publications and housing.

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