How to look after yourself and live independently at uni

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Here's how to get ready for uni

How do you feel about starting university? If you’re thinking ‘I’m really not sure yet’ - well, you’re not the only one.

By the time you’ve reached sixth form or college, the independence of university starts to get more and more appealing.

But, for many people, the prospect of moving away to somewhere new is a huge life change that can bring mixed feelings.

Feeling confident about university life is easier when you feel prepared. We spoke to current students, uni staff and members from the forums to get their advice on the things you can be doing right now to be ready when university rolls around. Read on to find out what they have to say.

Learning to cook

Lots of new students have never had to do much cooking before, and it can seem like one of those things that are just ridiculously hard.

So, now’s the time to get your head around the basics. A good place to start is by learning a few super cheap and easy recipes

You’ll inevitably receive about a thousand student cookbooks between now and starting uni (thanks, Auntie Carol), and of course the internet is your friend when it comes to finding easy stuff to cook. Try some out, find some favourites and nail them before you head off to halls. 

UEA student George has three must-learn recipes: “Learn how to cook a chilli, learn how to cook a curry and learn how to cook a pasta dish, and then you’re sorted for life!”

Ask for help at home, if you can. UEA student Sam got her mum to teach her a few dishes, then took advantage of a classic student life hack once she got to uni. “One thing I found really helpful was teaming up with my housemates. 

“We’d buy our food together and take it in turns to cook each other dinner, which made it cheaper and meant I didn’t have to cook every single day.”

And if you need even more reassurance, TSR member Tillytots will set your mind at ease: “In my first year I survived off pasta and stir fry... now in third year I make tagines, curries, bakes and quiches from scratch. It gets easier once you know how to do basic things and it becomes quite fun!”

Keeping a budget

Managing your own money is another thing that needs practice. While you’re at home, you might be getting by on a few quid from a part-time job. Then you get to uni, you’ve got a big chunk of cash from your student loan and the temptation’s there to spend, spend, spend.

Getting your head around spending habits and budget making can help prevent you from going broke within the first week. 

Try thinking about how you spend money in your current lifestyle. As doodle_333 puts it: “You need to sort out what you personally will want to spend - for instance if you've got hobbies/sports or if you like buying clothes, you need to think what you want to budget for them.”

Finance apps such as Mint or PocketGuard are good for tracking your spending, while banking apps such as Monzo will divvy up your money into different spending pots so you can ringfence the cash that needs to be saved (like next month’s bill payments).

Practice with apps like these and you’ll get your head around budgeting before you even start uni.

As well as learning to budget, try to save where you can. Even if you’re putting away no more than a few quid a week, having a savings pot when you start uni will be a huge help.

When you're thinking about the money you need for uni, make sure you consider all the things you'll be spending on. "The biggest risk is that you plan for only the essentials, when in reality you need to think about the different activities you are likely to want to get involved in," says Dr Jon Sharp, director of student services at UEA. 

"Plan your budget with your typical lifestyle in mind. That way you will know in advance whether you will need a part-time job to allow you to do all the things you’d like to do.

"Most importantly, however much you might want to spend a little extra make sure you avoid building up credit card debt as this is hugely expensive."

Preparing your kit list

You may think the uni experience starts when you get the keys to your student digs, but the truth is that you’ll need to start thinking about it long before that point. 

It’s never too early to start making a list of everything you’ll need to bring to uni, with everything from plates and cutlery to the crucial fairy lights and posters for your room in halls. 

Before you know it, you’ll be making the all-important trip to Ikea, so suss out what you’ll bring to uni from home and what you still need to buy…

TSR member LizzieTwoShoes got started on her list super early. “I bought my kitchen stuff from Wilko, they are really cheap for kitchen supplies. I got my quilt covers, quilt and pillows on Amazon and bathroom stuff from Asda. Poundland also has some good stuff. It's never too early to start!”

Keeping fit

Don’t worry if you hated PE at school: at uni you’ll find stacks of fitness activities that are actually enjoyable. 

Freshers get inundated with invitations to taster sessions and tryouts for sports teams, so whether you’re into football or dance or fancy trying something totally new, like rowing, cheerleading or snowsports, you’ll find something good. 

The double-win with this is that joining these sports societies is a brilliant way to meet new people.

Most unis also offer cut-price gym membership, and gym chains often give student discounts, so it’ll be super cheap to stay in shape. For free organised fitness, you’ll be able to find a free Parkrun event nearby.

You can find all this stuff online now. Have a look for your uni’s society pages and the student offers available in your uni city. It’s a nice way to get your head around what life is like at your uni, and it will help you feel more prepared once you get there.

Looking after your mental health

One of the great things about university is the amount of support that’s available. Starting uni is a huge life change, and settling in can take time.

UEA student Toyin knows that going to uni can take some getting used to, saying: “Give yourself time to adjust! You’re not going to be perfect straight away, but you will get there eventually.” 

You can expect your uni to have mental health support services, which may include counselling, talking therapies and signposting to specialist support. 

You will also be assigned a personal tutor in your first few days at uni, who can help you find the support you need for any mental health issues you’re experiencing.

TSR user Pathway had a great experience with their uni’s mental health support services: “I struggled with my mental health in my final year but I worked through it with the help of my department, disability support worker and specialist mental health mentor. They took me very seriously and without their help I wouldn't have graduated with a first or at all.”

Before you get to university, you can get prepped by researching the mental health support that’s available at your uni. Get into good habits around your work/life balance too. Your university workload will get heavy at times, but it’s important that you still make time for socialising and connecting with friends and family.

Keeping your workload in check

One of the changes you’ll experience when moving from sixth form to uni is how much independent studying you’re expected to do. 

You won’t be assigned ‘homework’ as such, but you will need to do lots of reading between lectures and may need to prepare presentations or exercises for seminars, so you need to stay on top of your workload.

Before you go to uni, grab yourself a study planner, where you can make a note of all your deadlines, revision sessions and reading lists. 

Third-year UEA student Saj  is totally on board with this: “Keep a journal or diary,” he said, “or even just make a note of what you need to do the next day. Waking up to something you can follow helps you stay on track with what you need to accomplish.” 

This is a great habit to get into, so why not make a start now while you’re studying for your A-levels? 

You can also work with your coursemates to hold each other accountable and arrange study sessions for particularly tricky topics. This could be a regular arrangement or just a few hours ahead of an exam - but whatever it is, know that you’re all in the same boat, and don’t be afraid to ask for help! Again, this is something you can prepare for now by trying it out with your college mates.

Combatting homesickness

For most people, moving away to uni will be their first time living away from home, and many, many people feel a bit homesick at some point.

There's a lot happening at uni in those early days. If you can manage it, try to avoid going home at the first possible opportunity as this is when lots of the socialising will happen.

Video calling using Skype and FaceTime will help see you keep in touch with friends and family back hoeme.

If you’re really struggling, you can always book a trip home a few weeks in advance to give you something to look forward to. But the best thing to do is speak to someone, whether that’s your new flatmates, your coursemates or even your personal tutor.

It’s perfectly normal to feel homesick sometimes, but if it starts to feel overwhelming, you might want to seek some extra help so you can make the most of your time at uni.

"Lots of students get homesick and so the first thing I would advise is to talk to other students about how youre feeling," says Dr Sharp. "You might be surprised at how many of your fellow students are feeling the same!

"I would also recommend staying in touch by phone/video call and so on with friends and family at home, but also make sure that you join at least one group or society so that you get to meet new people."

xoxAngel_Kxox knows exactly how it feels to be homesick at uni: “I was ridiculously homesick for the first few days. It took all of my inner strength not to phone home and beg my parents to come and pick me up and take me home. But I'm so glad I stuck it through because I loved it in the end.”

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