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A guide to starting university

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Heading off to university for the first time can be daunting. For many students, it’s the start of adulthood and it’s likely to be the first time you’ve lived by yourself.

As well as getting ready for your studies, you have to sort out finding accommodation, dealing with insurance, and deciding what to take with you.

You might have to learn to cook and draw up a budget too, and then there’s living with strangers.

Two students unpacking their boxes and eating takeaway

Virtually everyone else going to uni is in the same situation, and there are plenty of tips you can follow to make the transition go smoothly.

You can use our student hub to answer your university questions or use your university’s website or the student union. There’s also freshers’ week that can give you an opportunity to meet other students.

How much you can take depends on how you’re getting there, but the less that you have to find when you get there, the better.

Your phone and your laptop are crucial, but don’t forget things such as chargers, extension leads, games consoles and headphones.

Depending where you’re staying and what’s already provided, you might need appliances including a TV, a vacuum cleaner, a kettle and an iron.

You might want to consider crockery, cutlery, mugs and glasses, pans and storage containers. Don’t forget bedding and a hairdryer.

And remember to take any paperwork and documentation you need, including bank account details and cards, student loan documents, insurance details and any student discount cards.

The options for student accommodation vary from university to university. You can find out what’s available on your uni’s website. But universities’ generally offer:

Halls of residence

These are usually based on a campus or nearby. You have your own room but you share the facilities with other students.

They are often popular for first-year students. And your landlord is usually the uni itself, which means you won’t have to worry about finding private digs before you arrive.

Utilities such as your electricity and heating are included, which will help with your budgeting. And because the facilities are communal, they can help you meet new friends.

Private halls of residence

These are similar in terms of set-up to university halls of residence but they’re run by third parties.

Your university or the students’ union should be able to provide you with details of any approved privately-run halls.

Shared properties

If you want to live off-campus in a house or a flat, you should have plenty of choices of shared properties in most university towns.

This option is usually for students who’ve already done at least a year at uni and want to leave with friends they’ve made. But if you want to go down this route from the start, speak to the university or read the advice from other students on sites such as UCAS.

It’s vital that you know what your income and expenditure are going to be at university.

Many students can’t get through their time at uni without taking on debt, so this makes it even more important to keep track of your finances.

Think about how much money you’re going to need for your weekly food and shopping, as well as any transport costs. Don’t forget to include the cost for getting home at the end of term.

You need to cover rent and bills too, including any monthly insurance, energy, broadband and mobile bills.

You might need to buy books, and make sure you have a buffer for clothes and other things you might have to update or replace.

If you have a car at uni, you need to pay for petrol. And make sure you budget for socialising.

Once you've worked out how much you’re spending each week, compare that with your income and existing money.

You might start a part-time job, use your student loan or get help from your parents or guardians. If you think you’re going to fall short, speak to your bank and see what they can do for you. Banks are often keen to help you while you’re at university in the hope that they gain a customer for life.

Taking out contents insurance whilst at university can help ensure that your belongings are covered if anything were to happen, especially when moving in with people you don’t know.

Communal living – whether you’re in halls of residence or a shared house – brings with it some security risks. Even if you always remember to keep your doors and windows locked, you can never be 100% safe from break-ins or fire.

Student content insurance is designed to pay out to replace your belongings if they’re damaged, lost or stolen.

It’s possible that your possessions are covered under the terms of your existing contents insurance policy back at home, so it’s worth checking that first. But if they aren’t already covered, it’s worth considering whether you should take out your own policy at uni.

It’s important that you take care when buying insurance. You don’t want to pay more than you have to for insurance. But you need to make sure that all your possessions – computers, phones, gadgets, clothes and anything else of value – are covered.

Some halls of residence come with contents insurance as part of the package, and that can save you money. If that’s the case, make sure you know what's covered under the terms of the university’s policy. It might limit the number of gadgets that are insured, for example, and don’t automatically expect it to cover expensive jewellery.

Keep your valuables safe

If you’re in shared accommodation, the door to your room should have a lock on it. Make sure you keep your doors and windows locked when you’re not there.

And keep documentation – such as serial numbers of your gadgets, your bank details and your passport – somewhere safe. If you want to keep these doubly-secure, you could consider buying a small safe that can be kept in your room.

If you’re in halls of residence, you might find that your energy bills are covered as part of your rent.

But if you’re in shared accommodation, it’s almost certain that you’re paying the bills.

Gas and electricity prices have fluctuated recently, but they are still historically high. If the property is already connected to a supplier, check with your landlord to make sure they’re happy for you to switch to a more competitive deal.

There are pros and cons about taking your car to university.

With a car you gain a sense of freedom and you don’t have to rely on public transport. It also helps you get to and from home.

But you need to bear in mind the costs of running it and where you’re going to park it – some universities charge you for parking it on campus. Plus you might end up being the regular driver for your mates.

And car insurance for students at university is usually quite expensive. You do have options though. Temporary insurance or pay-as-you-go insurance offer a bit more flexibility and can sometimes work out cheaper. Learn more about student car insurance.

Which universities are best for cars?

Some universities are more suitable than others for taking a car with you.

Factors such as parking spaces and what you pay to park play a part in this.

Do students pay council tax?

Full-time students don’t pay council tax.

If you’re staying in halls of residence, you shouldn’t get a bill.

Off-campus shared houses or flats are exempt from council tax if all the residents are full-time students.

The property has a council tax bill if there are non-students staying there, but students don’t have to pay it. If there’s only one non-student there, they qualify for the single-person discount.

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