Progressing to higher education often means leaving home for the first time and moving into shared halls or private accommodation, be it for university or college. For most people, this will be the first time that they are solely responsible for looking after themselves on a day-to-day basis. You are also directly in charge of using your own finances to maintain a functioning lifestyle, which can provide many an opportunity for overspending and other budgetary mishaps. While many students – myself included – believe that they have a fairly good idea how to look after themselves before leaving the family home for college or university, I have yet to meet an undergraduate that hasn’t run into issues when they move out of home for the first time. To help prepare you for any unforeseen challenges and check whether you are prepared to tackle independent living, we have compiled this list of life skills that we wish we had had before starting university.
Buy a Calendar and Learn How To Use It
One of the things that I struggled with most when I first started university was keeping up with all the deadlines, dates, and tasks that I suddenly had to juggle at the same time, without being hassled by parents and teachers. I wish I could say that there was only one occasion on which I had to pull an all-nighter to turn in work that I had forgotten was due the next day, but that would be a lie! To make sure that you are better organised than I am I recommend getting used to keeping a calendar before you start university or college. This will help you academically, letting you know when there are important lectures, seminars, or deadlines coming up, as well as financially – it’s always good to know when your maintenance loan is coming in and when any bills are due. Keeping a calendar which you check regularly will help keep you prepared, organised, and (most helpfully) prevent you lurching from one last-minute panic to the next.
Laundry Dos and Don’ts
Fortunately, I was never in a position where I ruined my clothes doing laundry badly, but many of my friends at university did. This generally happened for one of three reasons: either they had not checked the labels of their clothes, put some cherished item in on too hot a temperature, and found their favourite shirt three sizes too small; they had not been taught how to separate their clothes to prevent colour bleeding and had their whites ruined; or they did not know how to hang clothes to dry, leading to damp rooms and a spoiled wash. However, I only avoided this because my parents (knowing that I was generally useless at looking after myself) taught be all the basics and forced me to do my own laundry for a year leading up to me leaving for university. This meant that I got used to sorting clothes, checking temperatures, hanging properly, and ironing my own shirts. It was a hassle at the time, but it stopped me wasting money and effort down the line. I would recommend getting some similar experience before going to university, as well as getting someone who knows what they are talking about to teach you and check that your first few attempts aren’t going to end in disaster.
While many university halls will provide catering in your first year, it’s certainly worth getting your culinary skills up to scratch before you go. For one thing, some halls will require you to be self-catered from the start and, if I’m honest, a lot of university food is overpriced for relatively poor quality meals. Being able to cook tastily, efficiently, and economically before going to university is one of the most useful skills you can have – whether it be for impressing friends, making your money go further, or generally keeping yourself alive and well. My advice here is to learn the basics: rice and pasta are student staples precisely because they are relatively easy to make and very cost-effective. If you learn how to do both well, it is fairly easy to spice them up with any sauce, vegetable, or meat components you learn how to make. I recommend learning at least seven cheap and healthy recipes that you enjoy eating before you go to university, as this will give you enough variety to stop yourself getting bored from the outset. You can always get more creative if you would like, but at the very least this will prevent you from struggling by exclusively on post-night out chips and oven pizzas.
Money management is possibly the most important non-academic skill you can begin to develop before you go to university. I cannot count the number of people that I have met who spent all of their allowances for the term only a few weeks in and had to survive on a shoestring budget for the rest of the term or beg their family to give them more money. Neither of these is ideal, but it’s very easy to do, especially when you are keen to get out, socialise with your new friends, and generally enjoy the independent life. My advice for avoiding a situation like this is boring but necessary: get used to creating and (more importantly) sticking to budgets. Knowing in advance how much money you will have to spend on rent, bills, textbooks and so on will let you know how much extra money you have to allot for travel, eating, and socialising each week. Once you know what you can spend without sacrificing your ability to eat or asking for extra money, you can enjoy yourself without worrying about whether you are going to last until the next loan payment. It will also teach you about prioritisation – for instance, you might really want to be able to spend more money on going out, in which case you will need to find the money from somewhere else. I cut down on transportation costs by riding my bike whenever possible and eating frugally. Most importantly, this is a skill you will have to utilise for the rest of your life and it is better to learn it while you can still rely on the safety-net of university hardship funds and family, then later on in life when that support might not be as available.
A bit of extra advice is to always budget to keep some money aside each month in case of an emergency – you never know when you might need to repair a broken laptop, replace a lost coat, or fix some accidental damages in your accommodation. The times at university I came closest to being caught short financially is when I had sudden costs that I had not budgeted for, which an emergency fund would definitely have helped with.