5 Dreadful Pieces Of Student Advice (And Why You Need To Stop Following Them)


Not all advice is equal. Even the best intentions don’t make for the best suggestions.

What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve been given at university?

You may have heard some of the following before. Don’t get sucked in!

1. “1st Year Doesn’t Count.”

When all you need to do is pass, you may think there’s no difference between getting 40% and 70% or higher. Just do what you need to get through and spend most of your time enjoying everything else.

Bad move.

Putting in the effort helps you to progress. Without it, you won’t be so prepared for the next year, when your marks do count. There is no easy way to catch up either, as a lot of the process is about technique and practice and abstract links. You can’t bring yourself up to speed with a bit of cramming and rote learning.

Dismissing the importance of your first year is one of the most misguided and dangerous pieces of advice around.

2. “Sign Up For Everything.”

No matter how tempting it is to do ALL THE THINGS, it won’t help your CV (or your schedule) by signing up to every society, every cause, and every extra-curricular activity you can.

Commit to just a few things and throw all your enthusiastic weight and interest into them. Make it count. Aim to come out the other side with great stories to tell and a sense of achievement.

By challenging yourself to be awesome in a small number of areas, you’ll likely have better experiences and you’re sure to look better on paper. Nobody cares that you were in seventeen different clubs; they care that you did amazing things in one or two of them.

Pro tip: Among the things you already have an interest in conquering, find at least one society or group that you think will push you in a new direction. The worst that can happen is that you’ll discover you have absolutely no interest. In which case, find another new path and see what happens. Rinse and repeat until something clicks. With an open attitude, it shouldn’t take long to find something that delivers.

3. “Only Concentrate On The Study.” / “Push Toward A First.”

Some students don’t sign up for everything. In fact, they sign up for nothing. Their degree journey is all about the magical First Class Honours.

Whoa there! Firsts are on the up (more on that later…) and a top grade is no guarantee of success and fame and wealth and [insert amazing thing you want here].

Yes, getting the top mark is fantastic. I wouldn’t want you to aim lower for no reason. But neither should you ignore everything else around you in your pursuit of that grade. In short, do your sensible best, not your perfectionist best.

I’ve spoken to students (and parents) who worry that they’re heading toward a 2:1 because they have been concentrating on other activities to the detriment of their study. But in many cases I hear, students are not so much ignoring their study, but rather improving skills and employability achievements.

One person, developing his own business, was worried that his academic work would drop in quality, risking a 2:1 over a First. Putting aside the risks associated with starting any new business, the potential gains on paper are bigger than the difference between a First and a 2:1.

I recently spoke to a mother who was worried that her son had gone from an almost certain First to a much more likely 2:1. Apparently he was spending a lot of time building up a writing portfolio, which had been getting in the way of his study.

But with his sights set on journalism and having managed to be published in various places, including one or two big names, the difference between a top mark and a good mark isn’t so important. The new achievements should more than make up for it.

4. Anything Too Specific – “Never do this…” / “Always do that…”

The diversity of university ensures that there are loads of things you can do and loads you’ll never manage to do, even in the three or so years you’re there.

All those lists on the stuff you should NEVER do as a student, or the things you MUST do before you graduate, are just a way to get you clicking on a link.

It’s like when a mate tells you the best club in the area. You may agree with their opinion and you may not. But that’s all it is. An opinion.

Be cautious of anyone advising you of a dead cert. Their advice may prove right for you in the end, but you shouldn’t assume it will. Blindly following risks stepping into disaster.

Next time someone says you HAVE to do it, by all means go ahead, but only after you’ve considered it for yourself and you’re happy to do it on your own terms and for your own reasons.

5. “Don’t Panic…Degrees Are Getting Easier.”

The preliminary results of the latest Times Higher Education Best University Workplace Survey contain many comments from academics that say increasing numbers of students end up graduating with a First or 2:1.

These comments, no matter how true, fuel advice to chill-out and not put too much effort into your work.

The ‘Don’t Panic’ bit is fine, but the reason not to panic doesn’t sit right. I’ve even seen online conversations that say you’d have to be an idiot not to get a 2:1 or better. That’s insulting to everyone; those who don’t manage the grade as well as those who do.

You may be tempted to try getting away with the smallest amount of work possible. The tactic doesn’t save time in the long run and does more harm than good. If you’ve not found enjoyment in your studies to the extent that you’re trying to minimise your workload like this, what do you really want from this?

So yes, try not to panic. But no, don’t expect your degree to be easy. If you do, the reality will likely emerge at precisely the wrong time.

Explore ways to make your effort effortless and your challenges enjoyable. You’ll be better placed to find an enjoyable flow in your work. Your degree will feel easier, but by no means will it be easy. The relaxed flow will, instead, be testament to your attitude.


Questioning Your Circumstances and Wanting To Belong

When I first went to uni, it was wonderful and horrible.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I was ready to meet new people as I’ve long been open to change and embracing new experiences.

That bit was easy. The same day that I arrived, I just went out and got to know who was around so far. Although arrival was staggered over several days and I was in one of the first cohorts, I was happy to go looking for others before waiting for housemates to move in.

That may sound great. But I soon found that the first people I met were interested in things that weren’t really for me. In some cases it was just discussion about subjects I didn’t follow. In other cases there were less savoury issues involved.

I remember sitting in my room at night and wondering if I’d made a huge mistake. Was I destined to not fit in? How could I make friends if nobody shared my interests? Had I chosen the wrong university? Was university of any kind a bad decision?

dog alone (photo by 27147)

Uncertainty & homesickness: a fresher frustration. (photo by 27147)

Yet all this is standard stuff. Heightened awareness of novel experiences makes us question everything.

It wasn’t like I was having a bad time or that these were horrible people. Far from it. But I was projecting my first moments in a new place onto the next three years of my life, as if it couldn’t get any better than this.

You may recognise this yourself. And when you start questioning things like this, it brings on homesickness.

The doubt may last no longer than a few hours or it can stretch on for ages. Most issues tend to fade away within the first month, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of if it takes longer to settle in. It’s also fine to get the occasional pang throughout your time at uni. Wobbles happen from time to time.

The great thing about university is how you’re not restricted to people in your accommodation, you’re not limited to those in your class, you’re not stopped from socialising outside any particular group. Arrangements are open and flexible.

That’s why so much advice to freshers targets your ability to get a taste of as much as you can as a student.

Sample what’s going on around you and you’ll find a wealth of different people, including those you wish you’d met sooner and those you didn’t even know would be such awesome mates.

It didn’t take me long to realise that there were plenty fantastic people around. When all my housemates had moved in, they were lovely people too. I felt at home with them and I found other houses where I was made to feel welcomed.

Every now and then I’d recall how lost I felt, sat in my room at night, wondering how I was going to cope. I’d soon smile in thankfulness and ask myself why I was ever worried about it.

Over the years, I’ve heard countless students explain how out of their depth and homesick they felt. Luckily, most go on to find so much love in their new surroundings that they start to call it home.

From homesick to new home. It just takes time.

Unless you’re ludicrously lucky, you won’t find your best uni friends in the very first week. Maybe not even in the first year.

No matter. There’s so much more to your new student life. And that doesn’t mean you won’t make loads of awesome friends along the way.

Perhaps this all boils down to change. And perhaps we’re more comfortable with change than we think.

Instead of feeling unhappy when change knocks on our door, I wonder if the bigger issue is our worry that the change we find is a change that we’re lumbered with forever more. The change itself isn’t a problem, but sticking with a rubbish change is a disaster.

Fortunately, life isn’t like that. Change happens all the time.

What you start out with at uni isn’t what you end up with. If you start university aged 18 and you do a three year degree, those three years make up one sixth of the life you’ve already lived. A sixth! Just think how different you were at 15 years old, at 12, at 9…You’re always changing.

The worst thing you can do is resign yourself to a bad experience. Don’t let a negative mindset put you off from looking for brilliant things.

That negative mindset is what can turn a wobble into a collapse if you’re not careful. It gnaws away at you, convincing you that everyone else is having a great time while you’re left in the corner on your own.

Don’t fall into the negativity trap. All but the most confident individuals have times when they question what they’re doing.

When you find yourself questioning your circumstances, be assured that you can make changes again. You’re not stuck with the same problems for the rest of time.

Your heightened awareness doesn’t want to explain that, but your calm patience can.

Embrace the change.

Savvy Shoppers Save – 15 Ways to Keep Your Food Bill Down

Freshers rejoice! We’re coming to that time of year when universities across the land welcome new students through their proverbial gates.

And what’s one of the first things a new student needs to do? Food shopping.

Research by found that meals are frequently skipped at uni. More than half the students polled had no more than £2.50 to spend on food each day. Best be prepared to make your cash go as far as possible. There are ways to save money without resorting to missed meals.

Before I started uni, I didn’t do much food shopping. As a newbie, armed with a limited budget and self-catered accommodation, I had to learn fast. In just a few weeks, I had a crash course in savvy shopping.

shopping trolley (photo by Funky64)

Shopping can be grim, but it’s got to be done. (photo by Funky64) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’d like to offer what I learned in my quest to save money. Here are 15 tips to keep your bill as low as possible. You’ll be shopping like a pro in no time.

1. Don’t go in hungry

Physical and mental fatigue serve you poorly. You’ll end up buying everything in the shop if you’re not careful. Go when you’re thinking logically about grub, not when you’re primed to pick stuff up as if you’ve been starved for days.

2. Spice things up

Change flavours easily and enhance regular meals so they always have an element of surprise to them. All you need are a few herbs and spices at the ready. Pickle, chutney and sauces also enhance your cheap eats.

3. Learn a few meals to use over and over again

I recently decided–on a whim–to start baking cakes. After just a few dedicated hours*, I had a standard loaf cake recipe that I can now change to suit my mood. I can return to the same technique every time, replacing sultanas for blueberries, date syrup for sugar, and so on.

You can do this for any meal. Get a basic stir fry, salad, curry, or whatever you fancy. When you know what you like, you can do it all the time. With a few tried and tested dishes, you don’t need to think about what you’re doing any more. No more fussing and no more reliance on ready meals.

*Several hours spent over a number of sessions. Not all at once. I didn’t bake a dozen cakes back-to-back, you know!


4. Shop when the offers come out

Most supermarkets reduce short-dated stock at particular times in the day. Each place is different and some shops slash the prices while others are stingy. If you find a place with good discounts, find out when the big reductions happen and, if possible, shop at those times for cheap grub.

If you don’t know when the big reductions happen, you could be cheeky and ask. I’ve asked in the past and most staff told me straight away.

5. Shop on a strict list

List approaches didn’t work for me at uni, but it may for you. Loads of shopping advice suggests you should stick to what you need, make a list, and stick to it so you don’t pick up all sorts of other items as you browse.

Special offers get overlooked this way, but at least you won’t be tempted to go off track and spend more than you had planned.

6. Plan meals in advance

At the start of each week, spend a few minutes working out what food you want.

Setting the menu in advance is useful for several reasons:

  • you won’t have to waste time thinking about what’s for dinner every day;
  • buying will be strategic and not a mish-mash of stuff you may or may not get round to eating;
  • it will limit the temptations because you’ll better know where you stand;
  • you can plan batch cooking efficiently (see Point 7, below).

7. Batch cooking

I didn’t do this enough. Don’t make my mistake!

Cook a large dish that’ll keep you going for several meals. One cooking session, three or four meals, one happy student.

Put the portions in containers either for the fridge (if you’re going to eat it over the next few days) or freezer (if you’d prefer to space it out).

Yes, I know fridge and freezer space is a problem in many a student household. I’ve experienced it first hand. My thoughts go out to you at this difficult time…

8. Get groceries delivered

Save time and temptation by getting a delivery service to bring your food to your door.

Be prepared to spend a few quid on delivery. If the extra charges annoy you or you can’t easily spend enough to qualify, ask housemates if they want to join in. That way, large minimum orders are easier to work with and delivery charges can be split in half (or more, if everyone wants to join in!).

Remember to factor in your own time and transport costs. For instance, if home delivery costs a pound more than your bus fare, that extra pound may be worth it for the time and bother saved in the process. Many companies offer big discounts on your first order too.

9. Cook with housemates

Talking of joining in, why not team up for cheap eats? It’s not always feasible, but some students shop together and make a lot of meals as a group. It’s usually cheaper if you can manage it, but you need to be around at the same times and enjoy a similar selection of food.

If you’re one of the few who can reliably tick those boxes, you could even get a cooking rota going so you can take turns to make meals. Everyone else you know will be jealous of you and your foodie mates.

10. Go to the market

If you’re near to a weekly market, farmers’ market, or even a local farm shop, consider going for cheap, quality fruit and veg. You may bag yourself a bargain compared to supermarket prices.

Many universities have a fruit and veg sale on campus or in the SU. This is a good place to start if you want to test out something new, or if you live on campus and don’t want to carry heavy foods all the way through town.


11. Compare prices

Never assume something is cheap. Be on the lookout and keep tabs on how much your favourite foods usually cost. That way, you know when a bargain is genuine.

And just because it’s a larger pack doesn’t mean it’s better value for money. I often see bigger so-called ‘value’ packs that cost more than a couple of the smaller packs. Don’t take anyone’s word for a deal except your own.

12. Be brand fickle

When faced with ten different makes of the same food, the default decision is usually to go with the brand you’re used to.

Challenge yourself. Go for a cheaper option if there is one. Don’t be fooled by colourful packaging and fancy marketing words. Some supermarket brand versions of a product can be made by the manufacturer with a premium price product.

It’s all to play for. The worst that can happen is you’ll go back to the original brand next time.

13. Buy loose groceries

Drop the packaging. Buying loose items is often cost effective. Less waste is also an environmental plus.

I’ve heard people say that loose food feels less hygienic and that the produce may not be as high in quality. In reality, you should wash your fruit and veg, no matter how it is presented. As for quality, buying a product that has been placed in a bag for your convenience isn’t a magical sign of better quality. Presentation can deceive.


14. Find alternatives to your faves

I love chips. For years, I would buy frozen oven chips and get through a pack way too quickly. And each time I walked past a fish and chip shop…Let’s be honest, I didn’t walk past, I walked in. The lure of chips had me in a flash.

Chips aren’t the most expensive item in the world. But it’s still cheaper to buy a big bag of spuds and make them yourself.

The only thing you need to do is chop the potatoes into whatever size you want. No peeling necessary. Just pre-heat an oven dish with a bit of oil, chop the potatoes up and chuck ’em in the oven. If you’re feeling adventurous, season with a few herbs, a bit of smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt.

Cheap chips. Yum.

When you want an alternative way to make your favourite food cheap, a quick Internet search will provide loads of quick fixes.

Look, if you can make a chocolate cake in 5 minutes, there’s no stopping you do anything. Right?

15. Shop around

My friends thought I was mad, but I went to at least four different supermarkets on a regular basis. I’d rush around the one my friends were at, then dash in to the others. Luckily, the shops were all next to each other.

My task was to find all the special deals and only buy what was on offer. I regularly came back with double the shopping to everyone else, whilst spending roughly the same amount.
I wouldn’t call that mad. I’d call that determined.

It’s also the reason why I didn’t like strict lists…

What have I missed? If something worked for you and I’ve not mentioned it, let us know. Let’s get the advice out there. The more, the merrier.

You’ve Got a Place at Uni. Now What?

It’s that time of year again. The wait is over and A-Level results are in. Screams of both joy and despair ringing out across the land.

Most years, I offer up advice on what to do when things don’t go according to plan:

This year, I want to look at what happens when you get the results you need. Hurrah! You’re set to accept an offer and all that’s in between you and a university is a wait between now and September. Maybe even October.

If you’re lucky, the wait is over in a flash. But it can drag on too. Let’s get things going already, can’t we!?


Take Control of Your Time

You may not be able to magically transport to uni any earlier, but there are loads of things you can do to prepare. And the more prepared you are, the more time you’ll have to enjoy yourself when you do get to uni.

Now, unless you’re REALLY impatient, you won’t want to throw yourself into study preparation straight away. The good news is that it only takes a small head start to take you a long way. A little bit now could mean a lot of time and bother saved in the long run. If you’re reading this and you love to plan ahead and be in control, I’ve got some tips for you.

Trust me, you won’t be in complete control. What comes next is new. You can’t take ultimate control of something you haven’t experienced before. Luckily, that’s part of the challenge and often ends up being key to learning new things and enjoying the process.

That’s more reason why it’s great to get as much out of the way as possible. Don’t wait until you hit campus if you can do it now. There will be plenty to do by the time you’ve moved in. You’ll be thankful you dealt with what you could when you had the spare time!

Prepare For University

Read what the university send you in the post and via email.
It’s tempting to gloss over half of the gumph you’re sent, but don’t. Awareness is crucial, even if you don’t end up needing a lot of the information. Everything you do need is better handled when you’re clued up.

Read my free ebooks.
TheUniversityBlog has two free ebooks that have helped Freshers over the last few years. Fresher Success sets you up before you start uni and has more than 90 tips from previous Freshers who have been through it all before. Live Life, Study Hard helps you prepare for academic work and explains things like why first year DOES count. Download them right now.

Check out reading lists, but don’t buy all the books or go too crazy.
Core reading (if any) and one or two basic textbooks is more than enough to get you started.
My most helpful reading before the academic year started consisted of two textbooks on the first reading list I was sent. Those textbooks were cheap compared to most of the books on the reading list and I ended up making great use of them before and after I started the year.

Look online for the basics.
For many degrees, you’ll get a good grasp from some online reading. Try to work out what interests you from first impressions of the wider topics you’ll be exploring.
And don’t panic if none of it makes much sense. You’re only taking a look. You’re not expected to know it all when you arrive. Learning is about discovering new things, not showing off that you already know it!

Find other people online who are going to your uni when you are.
Getting to know new people is becoming easier and easier online. Facebook, Twitter, The Student Room…You have loads of opportunity to contact fellow Freshers long before you meet up with them.

Get to know students who are already there, including your Students’ Union peeps.
Your SU reps are there for you and are usually very happy to hear from you. Say hi and get involved.  A great way to get the lowdown before anyone else!

Make everything a head start, rather than a burden.
If it feels like too much bother, don’t bother! You should be having an enjoyable experience, not a stressful one.

Think about what you want to take AND what you don’t need to take.
Leaving stuff behind and starting fresh can be difficult. If you could move your room as it is to your new room, that would be great.
Truth is, what works now probably won’t work when you get to uni. You’re about to discover a whole new you and you need space to let you in!
After essentials and ‘no matter what’ items, what about the rest? Do you really need to take a TV? Are you sure you can’t live without your entire collection of teddies? Is it wise to bring half a gym’s worth of equipment “just in case”?
Everyone thinks about what they should take, but you should spare a moment for things you don’t actually need.

Getting Ahead

These are just some of the things you can work on before you head off.

My best time saving effort was doing the basic reading. I found out about loads of things I’d never even considered before, which was a good combination of challenging and exciting. Once I’d finished reading what I wanted, I had an idea of what to expect. I didn’t think it would give me more than a slight nudge, but it genuinely helped throw me in the right direction while I could spend time on other things. You know, like having fun and getting stuck in to all the other aspects of uni life on offer.

It’s non-stop. Oh, the places you’ll go!