Your first instalment of student loan: what to do and what not to do

There are numerous exciting moments when starting university: moving in day, first classes, and meeting new people. But perhaps receiving that first instalment of your student loan (and arguably every subsequent instalment) is THE most exciting moment there is.

However with the great first instalment comes great responsibilities, so here are the essential do’s and don’ts that you should know:

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(c) thebackbencher.co.uk

DO budget: as boring as it sounds you need to make your money last for the entire term and if you don’t have a part-time job then this is probably the source of funds to pay for those important things. Remember this money is going towards your accommodation, food, books, stationery and socialising- so take that into account.

DON’T spend it all in the first week: Rule number one! Never, ever, ever spend the entire instalment in the first week, not matter how tempting it may be.

DO consider part-time work if you think you need more money: Sometimes the student loan just isn’t going to reach the entire term, so consider supplementing it with part-time work- you’ll find tons of opportunities both on campus and in nearby Colchester.

DON’T worry about tuition fees: The whole tuition fee thing can seem daunting, but don’t worry your first instalment of your student loan does not go towards it- this is handled separately between the university and the student loans company.

DO learn about food: Gone are the days of eating nothing but baked beans and pot noodle as a student. You can now buy good food quick cheaply, so you can eat and live well on a budget. Try shopping around and don’t rely too must on takeaways.

DON’T give into temptation: With the prospect of thousands of pounds at your disposal it is easy to get tempted by pricey clothes, jewellery, technology and the rest- but don’t do it at the risk of leaving yourself short at the end of term.

 

Good luck and happy spending (or saving!)

A Level results day: how to handle it, what to do with your results and celebrating!

One of the most exciting yet nerve-wracking things in life has to be A-level results day. You’ve made that wonderful step towards wanting to study those subjects that you love in more detail. Two years later and it is time to see how your hard work has paid off.

So here is what happens:

A-Level-results-day-collection-time-for-2015-pic-1The Build Up.

This year (2017) results are released on the 17th August. All universities, schools, colleges and sixth form centres will receive the results before the release date but annoyingly they are under a legal requirement not to announce until the specified date.

You’ll then go into your school, college or sixth form centre on the day to collect your results (check to see if there is a certain time in which you must collect them).

Remember your grades will NOT be displayed on UCAS Track which will only show if you have been accepted for your university application. UCAS Track will however update at around 8am on the day of result releases- so there is no point in staying up to look at midnight as nothing will change.

Didn’t go the way you’d hope?

Don’t be disappointed if you didn’t get the results you wanted or needed. Find out if there is the chance to retake you exam as this could easily rectify any issues you have.

If you don’t meet the grade criteria for your university it may be worth checking on UCAS track to see if they have still accepted your application, as is sometimes the case. If they haven’t accepted you then take a look at UCAS clearing to see if other universities will offer you place. Last year 33,000 students found a place at a university through clearing.

Better than expected?

Perhaps you didn’t consider university but are so chuffed with your results you now feel like it could be the place for you. In that case you can find a place through the UCAS adjustment system.

How to handle it

Whether you’ve applied for university or not, A-Level results day can feel terrifying. Remember to stay calm and that results are not always the beginning or end of everything. Most people find comfort in collecting their results with friends or family- in most cases they know what you are going through and are able to support you.

Your results can now be used towards your current or future university application and also for applying for jobs or apprenticeships/ internships. In some cases you will be handed a piece of paper with your grades on and will receive your certificates at a later date- either way keep anything with your grades on safe as you never know when you might need to refer to it.

Celebrate

There is no harm in celebrating a job well done. Be thankful that this is now the end of your a-levels- you’re free!

Grab a camera and take a picture of your chuffed self- if the local newspaper hasn’t got there before you.

Perhaps order a takeaway to celebrate but most importantly make sure that you tell your family and friends your results as they will be just as eager to hear them.

Books, reading lists and everything in-between

Books shelf

I “ummed” and “ahhed” for ages whilst deciding what I should write about this week, then a friend sent me a Snapchat picture (yeah thats right, I have Snapchat- I don’t really know how to use it but I have it!)

My friend had just been to Wivenhoe and discovered not one but two bookshops. To be fair, it is our own ignorance that we never ventured far into Wivenhoe to have a good look around- which is highly recommended by the way. As a result, for the past three years knowledge of these bookshops had completely escaped me and looking back I wish I had know about them. It would have saved me a considerable amount of time and money in getting books for my course.

And these are the questions that I have been asked on numerous occasions: What books do I need? Where can I find them?

Whilst I only really know about this from a literature student perspective, most of the information I provide about reading lists and book hunting is still relevant to most subjects.

Reading Lists

Every module will have a reading list of some sort. These will be the books that you require for that particular module and are often split into primary reading lists (texts you must read) and secondary reading lists (texts which you might find helpful).

Reading lists can normally be found on the module directory pages: https://www.essex.ac.uk/modules/ or on Moodle. If you can’t find any sort of reading list contact the module director or your departmental office.

New Books

Nothing beats a new book and these are often very easy to find. Of course you have suppliers such as Waterstones (our on campus bookshop, who stock most of the stuff that can be found on the primary lists- though books can also be ordered in); Wivenhoe Bookshop is an independent shop a short distance from campus which provides a friendly service. Of course you also have other options such as online retailers like Amazon.

NOTE: Some modules for departments such as law will recommend particular editions of texts and it is important to get these editions so that your book corresponds with everyone else. So it is in your best interest to buy the edition they ask for.

Second Hand Books

This is the best way to get books on a budget and there are plenty of options available to you. As part of the weekly Thursday Market in square 3 there is a second hand book stall which often has relevant books for different courses.

In addition you have the Colne Bookshop on the High Street in Wivenhoe and numerous charity shops in Colchester- perhaps the ones of note are the row of shops opposite Wilko (the number 61 and 62 bus will take you there from campus). In these cases you’ll find it quite common that past students on different modules will off-load their old books at these second hand stores. If you are lucky you may be able to pick up the entire terms books in one shop!

Online sites such as AbeBooks are also really useful.

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Library Books

An even more thrifty way to get books is to get them from the library. The on campus Albert Sloman Library will stock the majority of books on reading lists as well as extra and supplementary reading.

HOWEVER be careful as the number of texts available can vary greatly and if demand is high you’ll find it difficult to get hold of certain texts. People can also recall books which means that you will have one week in which to return it, so it is best to avoid getting out popular books if you can. This is not a good option if you like to write in your books!

Additionally there are also the libraries in Wivenhoe, Greenstead and Colchester Town which are run by Essex County Council and are a free to sign up to.

Online and e-books

Depending on your department/ module you may be able to access what is known as a “reader”- which is an online document that has been created by module director and often contains all the reading you need.

Otherwise there is also the option to use the library catalogue to find out if there are any e-books or online journals available- and at least with an ebook you won’t have other students desperate to recall it!

Secrets of the University of Essex part 2

Another term and another year ends. If you’re joining us next year you may have done your research about our campus, or perhaps you’ve been here a while as a student, alumni, or staff member,  but how much do you really know about the secrets of Colchester campus?

So strap yourselves in for the second part on the lesser known facts about the university.

Read Part 1 of Secrets of University of Essex

Or click here for Secrets of Colchester

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Lets start with the Hex

The Hex was part of the original university design, where it served as the university restaurant. However, it was not designed by the main Architect Kenneth Capon, but by his assistant instead.

Which probably made Capon mad…

As the Hex was featured on a British postage stamp to mark the most iconic modern British university buildings.6de4482fdf81f82d10b6d0203d6a9c34

Essex: Rock and Roll

The Hex has hosted Pink Floyd on numerous occasions. Other campus performers included AC/DC, Blur and The Smiths. While Sub-Zero (when it was known as the ‘Dance Hall’) has previously hosted The Kinks and Iggy Pop.

Fingers crossed for the day that bands return to perform at Essex!

Concrete

The concrete used at the university was the most expensive that was available in the 1960’s.

Concrete details

Also, if you look in the Library (and also in the Student Centre where the design has been replicated) you’ll notice that the concrete inside has an effect that makes it look like wood.

DSC_0244Award Winning Buildings

Recent additions to the university campus have also been lovingly designed. In fact the Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall, Student Centre, Library extension and Business School are all award winning buildings.

Colchester vs Chelmsford

When deciding where the new university should be built, several sites came into consideration. The main contenders were our own Wivenhoe Park or Hylands Park in Chelmsford. Arguably the V Fest would probably have never taken place if we occupied Hylands Park.

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The squares under construction in the early 1960’s

Funding the new university

In order to get the construction underway for the new university, it was asked if donations could be put towards developing the 200 acre site. Among the donors were Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.

Royal Recognition

The Queen herself has visited the university on two occasions. Additionally,  in 2014 she appointed Professor David Sanders to be the UK’s first Regius Professor of Political Science – the youngest university to receive such an accolade. We’ve only just hit 50 after all!

Essex ghosts

We may have recently hit 50,  but there are a few stories of ghosts on campus. In the 1990’s a young boy claimed to have seen a ghostly man cycling on a penny farthing down Boundary Road. There are also reports that the Nightline flat is haunted by a running man as well!

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The confidential student run organisation now exists in over 40 universities in the UK but the whole thing started in 1970 at the University of Essex. Give them a visit between 10pm and 8am at the bottom of Keynes Tower and congratulate them for being the first of their kind!

Mapping history

When going through the maze of corridors take a second to note some of the maps of the university dotted around. In some cases these have not been updated, so show some of the original floor plans for the university. For example the space above The Extra Store used to house the physics department.

And that is just a few more of the things you may not know about the university of Essex. Do get in touch if you know anything else – who knows, there may be a part 3!

Leaving home: coping with nerves and homesickness

Leaving home is never easy. You may have spent numerous waking hours hoping to get out of the family home and live independently but that doesn’t mean that homesickness or nerves can kick in.

Homesickness is hard to define but probably affects more people than you would think. We love our homes (even when we say we don’t) and to suddenly spend time away from your comforts and the routine that you’re used to can be difficult. In fact it is estimated that nearly half of students at university will suffer from homesickness and nerves.

It is not a sign of weakness. In fact it is hugely natural and is a feeling that will pass in time.

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(c) Alamy

Firstly if you are unsure what your accommodation will be like and that makes your nervous then take a look at the website and the 360 degree room tours: http://www.essex.ac.uk/accommodation/residences/default.aspx

Next, at Essex you are able to get in contact with your future flatmates in advance of moving in day. Once you’ve got your room details you can join the accommodation’s Facebook and announce who you are and where you’re staying and let your new flatmates get in touch and introduce themselves. Follow the website, click on the accommodation then scroll down to the Facebook groups: http://www.essex.ac.uk/accommodation/residences/default.aspx

Make your new room homely. When you move in it will be a blank canvas, so consider bringing or eventually buying things that will make it feel like home to you. Of course make sure you don’t break the rules as to what you can and can’t bring to the university, but certainly try and add a touch of your personality to your room. Remember you may potentially be spending a fair amount of time in your room so make sure it feels comfortable to you.

Additionally:

  • Try talking to others about your concerns- they may be able to offer help and advice.
  • Avoid “over-contacting” home. It may be tempting to contact home but during the first few weeks when homesickness kicks in contacting home can actual make you feel worse, so try not to do it too much at first.
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Sometimes calling home is not the best option when you’re homesick (c) shmoop.com

  • Get a routine- having a new routine can help to quickly banish those nerves and feelings of homesickness.
  • Join a society- in addition to your routine, joining an on campus club or society will put you in the company of other students and is a great way to meet friends as well as taking part in the things you enjoy.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: remember it will eventually pass, so don’t let it ruin your experience. It is natural to be nervous of the new and the unknown but soon it will become familiar to you.

5 reasons why I love the University of Essex

As I prepare to wrap up my time at Essex *cries uncontrollably* a lot of things have been coming to mind. Three years have passed exceptionally quickly and now I’ve written my last essay (my 16th essay at Essex), sat my last exam, submitted my dissertation and ordered my gown for graduation it has now become all the more real that my time here is ending.

Looking back, these are the reasons that I fell in love with Essex in the first place and why it continues to get under my skin.

Diverse Community

Essex was recently declared the 15th most internationally diverse in the world with 44% of the student population coming from abroad. As a result there is a wonderful mix of cultures on campus, most of whom have their own society which is open to anyone wanting to learn more about their culture (and cuisine!).

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Architecture 

Ok, so it is not everyone’s taste- but come on, concrete was exceptionally fashionable in the 1960’s when the university was built. But brutalist architecture I find strangely interesting, and mix this with the other fantastic (and award winning) buildings on campus then you have some incredible buildings to study in.

Thursday Market

I blame this market for making a dent in my student finance loans! On Thursday the market is a must to pick up bargains and delicious food. Think books, bread, burgers, fruit and veg, sweets, fish, cakes, and CD’s and you’re generally in the right area of what is on offer and how lucky we are to have this on campus!

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Module Variety 

I’ve probably mentioned before that just because you study a particular degree doesn’t mean that it will be exactly the same as a similar degree at another university. You have the option to pick modules that suit your interests and one of the reasons that made me choose Essex was the fantastic variety of module on offer. This meant that I could select the modules that I was interested in and wanted to know more about.

Supportive Staff

There is a greater emphasis at university for independent study and performing your own research, but that doesn’t mean that you are left on your own. The staff in your department and across the wider support network are some of the most caring, supportive and friendly people that you’ll ever meet. They are people that you can moan to, laugh and converse with- and their passion for their work is contagious.

I can’t put into words every single reason why I love Essex as much as I do – there aren’t enough hours in the day! But I will say I’m incredibly proud to be an Essex finalist and will miss this place when I’m gone!

Our Diverse campus: it’s written in the prospectus, but what does it really mean?

When it comes to universities, the word “Diverse” can be seen in use a lot, but why does it ring especially true at the University of Essex?

University itself is a great place to introduce yourself to new ideas, new people and new cultures. You’re no longer at a school where everyone who attends lives in the same town as you. The people that you meet at university will be from all across the world!

Being diverse means that there will be people of different ages, different nationalities, different faiths, different sexualities and different occupations all brought together in one safe and friendly environment.

Students from over 130 countries

With so many people from different countries, it is not surprising that Essex is the 5th most internationally diverse university in the UK. In fact, a third of students at Essex are classed as international.

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Proud Essex: Students protesting about changes to international students visas

Cultural Societies

There are 36 on-campus societies based around the cultures of different countries. These societies aim to bring together people from those respective countries/cultures as well as people interested in learning more about them.

Faith

For many, faith is an important aspect of daily life. There are 11 different chaplains and faith representatives on-campus who are able to help if you have any questions or would like someone to talk to.

LGBTQ+

The University of Essex LGBT Society is one of the biggest in the UK and has won numerous awards for their work in recent years. Essex LGBT have well over one hundred members, associates, contributors and friends from a wide range of religious, racial and social backgrounds and are able to provide a supportive network for those who would like it.

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(c) NUS.org

Mature Students

This means people who are aged 21 or over when they start their course with around 37% of the Essex student population being made up of mature students. In 2011 the University was shortlisted for a Times Higher Education award for providing outstanding support to mature students.

No need to suffer: the help and support available to you at university

University is a place for you to grow. A place where you can become the person you want to be. People say that at university you can be independent but it can seem daunting at first, especially if you are living away from home for the first time. All those things that other people may have done for you in the past will now become your responsibility.

There is cooking to do, shopping, washing, studying, socialising and relaxing: in truth it does feel like you are at the deep end when it comes to being independent and looking after yourself.

But that doesn’t mean that you should face it alone. Never suffer in silence if the whole university experience or even your personal life becomes too much. There are so many services and people who can help with a wide range of issues- while this may not be representative of all universities, the information below is certainly true of Essex.

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Nightline: a confidential listening, emotional support, information and supplies service, run for students by students at the University of Essex.

It runs every night during term time from 10pm until 8am. Students can either visit in person where you can enter the Nightline flat at the back of Keynes Tower (North Towers), or you can email or give them a call.

Student Support Hub: The Silberrad Student Centre is the one-stop shop for the majority of student concerns.

Whether it is do with living in university residences; changing your course; replacement registration cards; disability support; exam extenuating circumstances; coping with stress and anxiety; counselling; immigration advice; or funding advice (phew!) the “Hub” will be able to help you.24477446640_ac9b4c7ac7_k

Personal Tutor: All students will be assigned a personal tutor within their department for the duration of their study. These are the people that you can go to with course specific questions, additionally they are also able to signpost you to other services if they feel that they cannot help you personally.

Peer Mentor: Most departments will assign first year students a peer mentor, a student normally in their second or third year. The peer mentor is able to give you honest advice and help from the student prospective. They can also direct you to the specific people or services which can help your position.

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Multi-Faith Chaplaincy: a welcoming place for staff, students and the wider community to meet, interact and engage in a positive and peaceful manner. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, the Chaplaincy and its staff are a friendly group and an oasis of calm.

Student Union: As a member of the university you are automatically a member of the student union. This is a service which runs some of the venues on campus as well as being an organisation that is centred wholly around supporting students. There are representatives who handle educational concerns, concerns with welfare and also people who help and represent groups such as BAME students, LGBT+ students, postgraduate and mature students. Their job is to listen and react to your issues.

uni-essex-student-union-ambassador-logo-400x400Health Centre: Hopefully you will never need to use it whilst you are here, but it is important to register with the on-campus health centre in case you do need it. Located behind Rayleigh Tower (North Towers) they provide NHS services from GP appointments to nurse clinics and provide help and assistance for asthma, diabetes, sexual health and contraception.

Talent Development Centre Helpdesk: Located on the ground floor of the Student Centre they offer a number of services including: 1:1 academic advising; Maths support; English language support; and advice on PhD thesis writing.

Whilst your family and friends can be the perfect shoulder to cry on if you need one, there is other help available if you need it. With so much available, never feel embarrassed to ask for more support should you ever need it.

Revision tips depending on your personality

Revision is a bore! Long and tedious. Boring and dull. Did I mention it was boring? It is hard to get motivated for revising and essay writing but your success in an exam or essay could rest on how well you revise.

a14cab5a3f5402daa8014fe1340f3cb0So depending on who you are a person I have prepared some tips which might help you:

improve-memory-1-1The Meticulous planner

  • Create a Revision Timetable: Start revising several weeks before your exams are due to start. Exam timetables are normally released well in advance. Be realistic with the time you have and remember to factor in a fair amount of rest time.
  • Identify key topics: For each course, identify what you need to revise. Look back at past papers and the course content in order to work out what you should revise. An old teacher of mine used to say “Revise the trees, not the forest”- basically don’t try and revise everything as you won’t have time and you’ll start to panic.

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The Memory reviser 

Ok, so you have a great memory. You make people jealous with how well and quick you remember things. Or perhaps you struggle to remember things?

  • Don’t leave things until the last minute! Never a good idea, give yourself plenty of time to look over things.
  • Good notes taken in classes mean you can spend more time revising and less time researching.
  • If you’re struggling to remember words or terms try to associate it with an image or song to see if it makes it easier to remember.

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The Procrastinator 

“I’ll do it later” but later never comes. Those texts need checking every 10 minutes and that new series isn’t going to watch itself!

Procrastinators what you need is time. Time to revise and time to relax.

  • Set yourself small, achievable targets each day. This could be a minimum number of words to write or even how long you work. Perhaps work for 20 minutes and have a 10 minute break (just be strict with yourself)
  • Remove distractions- yes that series is good but perhaps wait until the evening before you binge. Whilst trying to revise turn off your phone/ TV/ music if they are a distraction. Additionally while you can’t simply remove that one distracting flatmate, you can find a space that you can work easily in.
  • Reward yourself- need encouragement to write? Try: http://writtenkitten.net which rewards you every 100 words with a picture of a cute cat!

Whatever your style, I hope this helps!

Opportunities Knock: An example of the possibilities open to you at university

Never let it be said that university is purely for studying. Yes, it does make up a significant proportion of it, but it is only part of the entire university experience. Previous blogs have commented on how it gets you to become more independent, to meet new and wonderful people and additionally for the vast number of opportunities that it opens for you.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that during my time at university I would meet authors and royalty or dress as a cow during welcome week complete with a rubber glove udder (thankfully no pictures survive of this particular choice of outfit!).

University is a place of opportunities that you should take up because you never know where they could lead you.

Last year I was pleased to hear that one of my friends had submitted a proposal to put on a play at the on-campus Lakeside Theatre through an open submission that the theatre regularly holds. Her proposal was accepted and so began the several months of planning and rehearsing.

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The play in question was Harold Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter”- not the easiest of plays especially for a student director and current drama students playing the only two characters in the show. Everything about this play had to be based around their studies, their weekly readings and essays!

The Dumb Waiter is a one act play and is certainly a difficult task as the only two characters in the show are, for the most part, constantly on stage. The fact that Finn Todd (Gus) and Lloyd Shankley (Ben) were able to hold the audience’s attention for nearly an hour is a testament to their acting abilities. The physicality of their performance along with Ellen Pascoe’s skilful directing meant that the show was engaging and visually stunning- who would have thought that the opening few minutes of Gus tying and re-tying his shoes  could prove so funny and watchable?

The story of two hitmen waiting in a basement for their next assignment has a great air of menace about it, with Gus questioning their work and their abilities while Ben follows orders from “above” obediently and without hesitation.

The smaller studio space at the Lakeside Theatre worked incredibly well for this performance. The intimate, black walled room made the audience feel closer to the action and easily replicated the basement room in which the play is set. Better still was the fact that the performance began the minute the audience started to enter room, with the audience having to walk across the stage and past the actors idling on their beds in order to take their seats.

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L-R: Finn Todd (Gus) and Lloyd Shankley (Ben) in The Dumb Waiter. [Photo courtesy of Rhianna Hughes]

The testament of this great show is demonstrated by the fact that the two initial performances sold out, with demand being so high that a third performance was added at short notice.

Like many things this opportunity was a risk both for my friend Ellen in proposing and directing it and also for the Lakeside Theatre for providing the venue, resources and time for the show. But it paid off spectacularly becoming a resounding success and one of the most popular student show of the year.

I started this blog by talking about the importance of taking risks and the different opportunities that are possible at university, therefore I hope that I have done The Dumb Waiter some justice whilst encouraging you to take hold of all those possibilities open to you.