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Starting College – Guide to Saving Money & Integrating into Third Level Education

The cost of attending college in Ireland is rising by the year. Parents contribute an average of €428 per month towards cover college expenses, and this is supplemented by 51% of students also working throughout the academic year to cover costs.  According to D.I.T.’s Student Cost of Living Guide, the annual cost of living for a student living away from home is €10,976. On average, 40% of students receive higher education grants to help with materials and living expenses.

Most colleges charge an annual student contribution, previously called the student services charge. The student contribution rose by €250 in this year to €2,750 for 2014-2015. This is only the beginning of the expenditure.

In Ireland, 44% of third level students are now living away from home. Rental prices across Ireland are rising significantly, especially in the last twelve months due to a significant shortage of affordable housing. Consequently students can potentially be charged rent at extortionate prices as landlords look to capitalise on desperation. With third level education at such a premium, it is important to make the very most of opportunities presented.

While living at home is the cheapest option, campus accommodation is the ideal scenario for students starting college where this is not suitable. Although campus accommodation can potentially be pricey there are big savings to be made on transport as the likelihood is that the student accommodation will be within walking distance of college. This is also a great way for new students to settle in and make new friends quickly. Students moving into student accommodation together will not find it hard to bond, as they will be going through similar experiences. Settling quickly will help to avoid potential homesickness and stress, although this is not a problem for many as students are glad of the freedom third level education offers them.

If you are not lucky enough to get student accommodation do not fear. Staying in digs with a family can be a much cheaper alternative, and some digs include meals. Although this can present itself as quite a lonely option it is often not the case as it encourages students to stay with friends after nights out resulting in comradery and also can provide the safety net of living with a family. Students moving into houses or apartments with friends must be wary of high rental prices. Rents nationwide have increased by an average of 9% over the past year with Dublin experiencing the highest rise with a 14% increase in price. There are potential risks if a house descends into chaos or is not properly maintained such as losing the security deposit. Independent housing does not have the same supervision or boundaries as digs or student accommodation. Therefore, it is important to move in with the right people to keep a correct balance, so if possible, try meeting potential house mates prior to agreeing to move in.

Students are most likely going to be moving into a strange environment with lots of people, so it is important that they make themselves comfortable with their surroundings. This can be as simple as unpacking for some but more difficult for others. There are some general guidelines for getting along with new housemates. You must respect other people’s possessions, try not to borrow without asking and always be conscious that you are living with other people. Do not have groups of friends or study groups over too often if it interferes with another housemate’s routine or makes them feel uncomfortable. It is also important to establish boundaries by making sure small things are nipped in the bud before they become huge problems (which they inevitably will!). This can be achieved through open communication, which in the long run helps towards a happy living situation.

Now we come to the actual beginning and registration phase of college. The importance of orientation week cannot be overstated. This is where students can do the most bonding activities and meet other students in their class and in similar situations to themselves. Students can do the simple things like register for a college email, get a student card and take a tour of the library. These things may not seem particularly important initially but will save a lot of hassle later in the semester when the pressure is on and exams are looming. Orientation week is also the time when students should join groups, sports and societies. This is a great opportunity to step outside a comfort zone to make new friends and try new experiences. To make friends in your class and do well, it is important to attend lectures. This is absolutely vital as you will have the notes you need come exam time and friends to share the stress and exam tips with. Friends in your class is also the best way to create study groups and timetables, and makes the whole experience a lot more convenient.

Remember you go to college for education. Pick subjects that appeal to your interests and make sure to engage fully in those subjects even if you are not particularly fond of one subject (often these are the ones that require more time and effort). This is a good way to pinpoint your academic strengths and weaknesses which will lead you to easily picking your major. A good idea is to shake things up with a random elective. This keeps it interesting and allows you to study outside of your perspective field. Exam time is obviously stressful for students but there are certain things you can do minimise stress. First of all make a study timetable in manageable hour blocks to make the task seem less daunting. Then have pre prepared frozen dinners at the ready so you will not have to waste time on cooking. Prepare these a few weeks in advance, simple things like lasagne or curry. Then make sure to leave adequate time for each subject to avoid stressful cramming. Having the main topics in a module summarised throughout the year can save days of note making when it gets to those crucial few weeks before exams. But be wary of people asking to copy notes that have taken you weeks to write out!

Students will also have to cope with the simple things that might not seem so simple to them. If you have any issues or problems settling in, support services are available in most colleges. Things like laundry and cooking can seem daunting initially, and will undoubtedly result in some clothes being shrunk along with an abundance of spaghetti bolognese. This is all a learning curve as students learn about their abilities and how to manage a budget. Remember help guides, videos and recipes for cheap dishes can be found quickly online.

The cost associated with starting college apart from the obvious student contribution and rent can be scary. Students should look to pick up second-hand books wherever they can as some of the new books are very expensive. Often the professor or lecturer will offer advice on where to pick up older copies of the textbook for cheaper prices. If buying new text books, remember to cover with laminate and keep in good condition for resale at the end of the year. A trick learned throughout my college career is that a copy borrowed from the library can often be photocopied and then professionally bound for a cheaper price.

Any student budget will have to incorporate costs such electricity, phone bills, internet bills and food. Eat healthy as there is the urge to live off pasta and chicken fillet rolls five times a week. Convenience is not always the best option, especially if it affects your health in the long-term. When grocery shopping, watch out for weekly deals in all supermarkets. Savings can be made on shopping with discounts for top brands and local services such as hairdressers by using coupons or voucher codes for online shopping. The largest selection of discounts can be found on www.voucherpages.ie.

For mobile phones, make sure that you are on the right mobile plan by getting the different mobile operators to recommend a plan for you based on your calls, data and SMS text messaging patterns. Remember Wi-Fi is freely available in most student venues and on campus, so maybe you do not need any data on your plan. If you are a heavy user of your phone, maybe a pre-pay mobile plan would be the best option to limit your activity so that you do not get into trouble.

It is of course vital that students relax, enjoy and socialise throughout university life but also be aware of the potential risks. It is important to go out and socialise with others, so that you gain life experiences. Organisation and common sense is needed to know when a night out can be had and when to say no, whether it be for academic or financial reasons.

Many will encounter drink and even illegal drugs over the course of third level education years. Beware of the dangers and risks associated with binge drinking or drug taking. If you are drinking, it is important to drink in moderation.

College is a time when many young adults come into contact with the opposite or same sex and engage in sexual activity. There has been a rise in sexually transmitted diseases and many do not have any symptoms but can cause serious long-term complications. It is important to always practice safe sex. If you are sexually activity, STI testing, advice and health checks are available at a reduced rate in many universities.

Many students will use one of their summers to travel abroad with many opting to go stateside with a J1 visa. Any student in third level education is eligible for a J1 working visa to the USA. These can be very pricey so a student loan may have to be considered. Ensure that you have the means to pay this back or that you have been working steadily throughout the college year to finance yourself. These trips abroad or J1s usually have to be booked around February to avail of the cheapest rates and book embassy meetings. These experiences come highly recommended as you may not get the chance to travel again for a long time and it is a shame not to avail of the opportunity.

It is important not to pick a career on fads. Do not choose a career path because you think it will earn you a lot of money in future. What is in demand today may not be by the time you finish third level education. Look at anyone who was looking to pursue a career in architecture ten years ago. This would have been a job with huge financial reward but over the past few years, many with an architecture degree had to leave the country to find work. Pick your future career on your interests and your strengths. An internship can be a great way to get practical work experience and give you a leg up on competition. Although this may involve giving up one of your summers it can be an invaluable experience and looks great on the CV. This in turn will lead to better career opportunities. After college, the Jobbridge national internship scheme provide work placement with a €50 per week on top of existing social welfare entitlement.

Social media practices and posting is never forgotten. Make sure to post nothing incriminating to social media or anything that may jeopardise a future career. Social media is readily available to anybody. Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn it is not hard to find out a great deal about somebody, so do not put anything up that you would not wish to explain or be embarrassed about in the future. Be careful about security and privacy settings, as it may come back to haunt you in years to come or you may share personal items such as photographs. However, Facebook can be a very useful tool during college. Facebook allows people to keep in regular contact whether it is in groups for college where documents can be easily uploaded or to organise social outings.

Hopefully these guidelines and tips will help you in beginning life in third level education and remember to enjoy every minute of it as college years are often the best years of an individual’s life.

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