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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.

student with notebook, frying pan, piggy bank and washing machine

Credit: Africa Studio, UfaBizPhoto, ALDECA studio, rattiya lamrod, Eshma – Shutterstock

They say your university years are the best of your life – and they certainly can be! But we'd argue that being a poor, exhausted, constantly hungover student comes with its challenges.

Like, how do you stay healthy on a diet of instant noodles? How do you juggle a part-time job to support yourself when you have essays left, right and centre? And how is it possible to go on weekly nights out when you can barely afford to feed yourself?

To help you overcome these challenges and more, we've compiled our top tips for making it through uni in one piece.

There are a lot of myths out there about university. We separate fact from 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'll spend a lot of time skint at uni. However, you can avoid being permanently poor if you take the time to do a budget and stick to it. Luckily, we have a great guide to help you get your budget sorted.

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

    Put cash in the account each month and make this your disposable income. This keeps it separate from the money you absolutely need to have, like cash for rent and bills.

    As long as you strictly stick to this method, you have no choice but to stay within budget. You can also use the app that's attached to your card to keep tabs on your spending. Then, at the end of the month, you can see how much money you have left to treat yourself.

    If you're looking for more budgeting help, download our free money cheat sheet to learn 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 (and usually does) become many, many more. Try going to a cash machine and only taking out what you're happy to spend. When that's gone, head home.

    Do your best not to succumb to peer pressure and stay out longer than you intended either. You really aren't going to miss much by going home at 1am, despite what you feel at the time. Don't let FOMO rule you.

    And while we're on the topic, remember we have a whole guide to mastering the art of nights out on a budget.

  3. 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 by doing so, you'll save a fair chunk of cash too.

    Try to get into the habit of planning your meals. This means you can do a bigger shop once a week with a few dishes in mind, including one that can be split into portions to feed you throughout the week. Don't forget to factor in a few snacks, and some emergency hangover supplies too.

    We've put together a great student meal plan which will sort you for breakfast, lunch and dinner for four whole weeks. Give it a try!

    We'd also recommend trying the supermarket downshift. Don't waste money on overpriced food, and don't fall for any of the supermarket's sneaky tricks to get you to spend more.

    And, of course, check out our guides to saving money at the supermarket and getting free food.

  4. Avoid tricky seminar questions

    What if 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. And here's your three-point plan for surviving this dreaded scenario:

    1. Don't make eye contact – Pretend to be engrossed in your lecture notes. Perhaps even add 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 involved in group work – Listen to what others are saying and try to form an opinion from what's discussed in these small groups. But if the lecturer asks for your thoughts, do NOT 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 floor is open to discussion, speak out as early as possible (or when there's a question you can answer). 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

    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 have two options. Either suck it up (not literally) and take the bladder pain or try to wee when you have the chance.

    Try fitting pee breaks in before every class and lecture. It might mean leaving the house five minutes earlier in the morning to arrive with enough time, but it's worth it.

    Bet you never thought you'd have to re-toilet train yourself when you went to uni, eh?

  6. Learn how to read quickly

    girl carrying stack of textbooks

    Credit: Africa Studio – Shutterstock

    If you have the guts to show up to your class without doing the reading, a quick speed read can help bring you up to date (and it can help with 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 you're 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.

    For more ways to save time at uni, check out the best student life hacks.
  7. Ask for help when you need it

    If you're struggling to keep up with coursework, speak to your tutors. If you don't speak up, the situation will only get worse as more deadlines pile up.

    Likewise, if your stress concerns financial issues, it's important to reach out and get some help.

    Asking for financial support from your parents can be a tough situation. But it's also worth remembering that the government uses your parents' income to calculate how much Maintenance Loan to give you.

    If you're receiving the minimum Maintenance Loan because your parents have a decent income, they're expected to 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, contact us directly and we'll try to help where we can.

  8. Learn some basic cooking skills

    Eating properly at uni isn't as hard as you might think. Spend some time mastering basic cooking skills and learning a few 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 have a whole load of student-budget-friendly recipes for you to try, as well as a list of cupboard essentials to get you going.

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

    person falling into washing machine

    Whether it's because you once turned all your white clothes pink, or because it's such a pain finding somewhere to dry your clothes in a shared house, you'll want to get over your fear of laundry.

    The best thing to do is be brave and get on with it. You'll never survive university if you don't learn how to use a washing machine. And hey, if your elderly technophobe relatives can handle it, there's no reason you can't too.

    You can also buy some handy colour catchers which means you can wash colours with whites without them turning pink. And to save you worrying about what 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

    For many, booze is a part of student life. But being the drunkest person in the room never does 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 switch it up with several shots of something else, before moving on to the beer.

    It won't do you any good, and your head won't thank you for it in the morning. But if you are feeling rough the day after, this list of hangover cures might come in handy.

    If you've had enough, don't carry on drinking just because you're worried about looking boring. Dancing without a drink in your hand is far 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

    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 let anyone through the front door. Honestly, you don't want to end up living somewhere like this house of horrors.

    Ideally, you'd have a cleaning rota so everyone mucks in. But, if you have any especially 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. This method is way more fun and gets the job done in half the time.

    And if you're worried about having to splash out on expensive products, check out this guide to cheap cleaning alternatives.

  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 never resolves it, and could lead to a passive-aggressive atmosphere.

    Understandably, it can be harder to deal with difficult 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 cause this too. If possible, check out our guide to the pros and cons of living with friends before you decide to move in together.

    And if things get 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 you'll get discounts for being skint, so take advantage of it.

    We have loads of 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.

    Feeling super lazy? Sign up for our weekly newsletter which includes the week's best deals, 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 that a lot of people will try to take advantage of an unsuspecting student.

    Do your research so you know your rights, and try your best to come across as 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 discover how and when to complain.

Need some tips for starting uni? You'll find everything you need in our guide to surviving freshers' week.

Owen Burek


Owen is the founder of Save the Student, the leading student money website he started in 2007. He's passionate about educating young people about personal finance and ways to make extra money. Owen has appeared on BBC News and writes for major publications including The Guardian, Entrepreneur and HuffPost.
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