Review: A Guide To Uni Life

There are loads of books about essay writing and studying effectively.  However, there’s not much around to help with the general, everyday, student experience.

Lucy Tobin’s book, “A Guide To Uni Life”, looks to set things straight with a book that’s easy to read and digest.

Lucy Tobin - A Guide To Uni Life

Tobin, who graduated in 2008, has written a guide that covers the following eight subjects:

  1. Freshers’ Week
  2. Money
  3. Halls and housing
  4. Health
  5. Food
  6. Work
  7. Exams
  8. Righting wrongs

The uni guide has only just been published (August 2009), so information is up to date and relevant to students now.

I’ll review it, chapter by chapter:

1. Freshers’ Week

This chapter covers much of the ground I went over in my “Fresher Success” ebook.  If you haven’t read the ebook, do it now, it’s free!

Other than Freshers’ Week and what to expect when you land on campus, the chapter covers some other important points.

Firstly, you don’t need to feel the pressure to drink more alcohol than you’re used to (especially as you won’t have close friends who you can trust to get you home safely!).  Tobin talks of a ‘sociable friend’ who didn’t drink at all and still had loads of fun.  The main word to remember here is ‘sociable’.  Once you’ve cracked that, you don’t need the drink, because you’ll probably end up acting like a loon with everyone else anyway.

Also covered is information on keeping your valuables (and yourself) safe.  When you’re having so much fun, it’s easy to forget your expensive belongings until it’s too late.  And with the alcofrolics mentioned above, you need to think about yourself too.

2. Money

I’m all for making your money stretch as far as possible.  We don’t have enough of it and it sometimes gets in the way of the pursuit of fun.  While I cover a lot of money saving tips on this blog, this book goes as far as showing where to find bursaries and how to earn money through means other than getting a job.  Mystery shopping, online surveys and campus brand managers all get a mention, among other things.

Tobin also talks in-depth about budgeting.  If you’re keen to do the maths yourself, the book gets you started very well.  But just as I’ve said in the past, Tobin agrees a lot of the working out is sorted when you feed the figures into the Student Calculator from UNIAID.

3. Halls and housing

This is a great chapter, full of helpful advice that would help prospective students when choosing what type of accommodation they want to live in on campus (if they want to live on campus at all).

Tobin mentions that choosing the type of room is a lifestyle decision.  For instance, do you want catered halls to save you the bother of cooking, or will you end up missing half the meals available and getting food elsewhere anyway?  Here’s a tip…I’d be given free food at the end of each term by mates (and even some strangers) in catered accommodation who still had to spend loads of money on their catering cards.  The catered option is less convenient than you might think, although it worked well for me!

Whether or not you want an en-suite room is a more complicated decision.  Tobin says, “I’m a total princess and I coped fine without en-suite accommodation”.  However, I have spent time on campus in both en-suite rooms and standard accommodation, and I was MUCH happier spending extra to go with en-suite.

Just to confirm, I’m NOT a total prince (or princess, for that matter) and I STILL preferred en-suite.  So this ‘lifestyle decision’ is one you’re probably on your own with. 🙂

The chapter moves on to a long piece about private accommodation.  This is detailed and informative, full of hints on what to look out for and how to find decent digs in the right area for you.

The personal advice about living with others, given near the end of the chapter, doesn’t entirely fit with the advice I would give, but that doesn’t make it bad advice.  For instance, the author found the best way to pay utility bills (gas, electric, water, etc.) was to assign one housemate to each bill, so everyone had responsibility for one thing each.  I found that it sometimes helped if the most organised housemate wanted to take responsibility for all bills, because they felt in control and made things very easy for everyone else to just stump up the cash when necessary.  That organised individual was much happier to be in control of the bills, because they hated the thought that someone else may mess up and get an essential service cut off!

Please note, if you’re that very organised housemate…be sure you trust everyone else to give you the money when you ask for it.  My housemate was lucky, but not everyone would be!

4. Health

This covers most of the aches, pains and emergencies you may encounter.  It even includes some short advice on problems such as stress and homesickness.

Not everyone chooses to register with a local doctor and dentist, but I’d definitely advise it, as the author does.  Even if you never need to see a doc, it’s much better to know you have access to one just down the road with your notes on file.

5. Food

Like most Freshers, Tobin packed almost every imaginable piece of kitchen equipment in existence.  Guess what?  She used almost none of it.  And that’s normal.

We go to uni, armed with the tools of a professional chef, and then wish we’d brought the chef along to make the food too.

But you’ll get used to the essential tools and stick to them.  And with the author’s list of store cupboard items and basic foods to buy, you’ll have plenty to rustle up a quick, tasty, nutritious meal.  You’re even given a few basic recipes for starting out which, if nothing else, will get you feeling hungry.

6. Work

Here you get a basic guide to the main issues you’re going to face when it comes to coursework here.  Tobin has even got her friend Katrina to give some specifics for coursework in the sciences.  Very kind.

One of the best pieces of starting advice Tobin gives is:

“It’s a good idea to think about what kind of student you want to be early on.”

Some of us want to leave uni with nothing less than a First.  Others don’t mind so much, but do want to concentrate on particular areas on a more personal mission, or vocational pursuit.  Some students just want to get by and spend more time concentrating on specific extra-curricular opportunities.  If you know what you want out of the degree, you’re better equipped to succeeding.

On lecture notes, Tobin suggests you make some!  Even if slides and notes are made available by the tutor, she explains that you will be better focused with your own notes when it comes to revision later in the year.  I agree up to a point, but my own take was only to make a note if it was something I needed or didn’t understand.  If the information was obvious, clearly understandable in the tutor’s notes, or if I already understood the concepts, I wouldn’t bother writing anything.  I came out of some lectures with no notes at all, which did me no harm.

I have mentioned before my two rules of making effective notes in lectures.  Notes should be relevant and personal to you.  Always think how you can get the most out of your lectures and notes.

While “A Guide To Uni Life” has plenty of advice here for study, some readers may want more.  For a fully-featured study guide that packs a punch, I would recommend Stella Contrell’s “The Study Skills Handbook”, whose great guide I’ve mentioned before.

7. Exams

This chapter is fab and full of sensible advice such as “Don’t give up your normal activities” and “Find your best revision style”.  Just because exams are looming doesn’t mean you have to turn into a completely different person.  When you do what comes naturally and what works best for you, the ease and effort should flow accordingly.

Nevertheless, Tobin helps you find your way in the run up to exams and also on the day.  Your life shouldn’t just become one long revision session.

And it’s not worth worrying afterwards either.  As the author says, “Try to keep a sense of perspective – the exams might seem like the most important thing ever right now, but once upon a time, didn’t GCSEs feel like just the same thing?  And no one cares about them now!”

8. Righting wrongs

The final chapter of “A Guide To Uni Life” is all about the bad times.  If you want to leave course, or even leave uni, this chapter calmly breaks down what you need to think about and how to sort everything out.

Hopefully, you’ll never need this chapter.  But if you do, please take the author’s advice and “seek advice before doing anything drastic” such as dropping out of uni.  She gives all the info you’ll need to make the most sensible choices given your circumstances.

I’m aware of some people who left university because they couldn’t afford the fees.  But they left too late and had to pay them anyway.  So do get advice before making a big decision.


I’m happy to see a book like Lucy Tobin’s “A Guide To Uni Life” published.  While no book can answer everyone’s questions and explore every eventuality surrounding the student experience, Tobin’s guide covers a lot of ground.  And weighing in at around 180 pages, it isn’t a long read.  You can dip in and out of different chapters, so you can get to what you need to know without much fuss.

University is about exploring and discovering, learning and developing.  That’s on a social level, as well as an academic one.  Lucy Tobin loved her experience at uni and is sad that the time went by so quickly.  She wants you to make the most of your experience too:

“…as a student you can do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it.”

So don’t spend too long reading this book.  Get what you need and get out there!  🙂

One comment

  1. As a careers adviser I would encourage the daughter to find a job. It is very difficult to “sell” a graduate who has not already worked. Employers like candidates who have managed to find the right balance of work / study.
    I went to University as a mature student and financially had to work. I actually worked the equivalent of full-time (over 35hrs per week) and whilst I wouldn’t recommend it, it is workable and I got a good degree result.

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