Tuesday, 17 July 2018

How I’m making the most of my summer

Now that the academic year has ended for many of us, we have a long summer ahead. I for one have been looking forward to this particularly long summer break between Sixth Form and uni for a LONG  time. The last thing I want to do is waste it, knowing that if I do, I’ll no doubt regret missing an opportunity for all the things I was dying to do earlier in the year when I was drowning in revision! I’m already a few weeks in, and beginning to feel myself slip into a habit of doing next to nothing with my time, so here’s how I’m planning the rest of my break:

It sounds stupid, but organising myself is the only way I can ensure that I actually achieve something before September. I’m a sucker for listing, so I’ve made a looonnnggg list of all the things I want to get done before I go to uni, some of which will no doubt help me with the whole ‘living away from home’ situation.

Some are small things, achievable in a number of hours or even less: get rid of old school things; get another ear piercing; buy impressive stationary that will make me want to work harder at uni; find a good recipe for macaroni cheese.

Others are bigger and probably need additional thought: go on holiday with friends (already ticked off!); go to a festival; have a shopping spree in a book shop; see The Incredibles 2 at least 76 times in the cinema.

Perhaps most importantly, some are free (or ‘free’): have a vlog marathon (ticked – I’m still tired); have a rom-com marathon; walk a few miles for no reason at all; draw something; read all those books I’m going to buy; bounce on the trampoline I’ve neglected for the past two years.

And suddenly, I find myself extremely busy this summer. With my beloved list (only a snippet of which I’ve shared with you here), I have tons of things to do and still plenty of time. Faith in my summer has been restored.

Enjoy your summer, everyone!

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

How to attend a festival on the cheap

Making the most of festival season is often high on the priority list once Uni ends for the summer. With so many festivals to choose from at home and abroad it can become pretty pricey to see your favourite artists. Here’s a few money saving tips to help you cut the cost of your festival fun.

Get in for free
Of course this is the dream - getting to see all your favourite bands but not having to pay a penny for the privilege. It’s possible but you’ll have to do a bit of work. Some charities attend festivals to raise awareness and money. Many advertise for volunteers to come along and help them. You’ll have to work the hours they ask and do the jobs they need doing but other than this you’ll get to enjoy the rest of the festival for free.

Be an early bird
Most festival organisers offer special prices for early bird tickets which cost less to get into the event the earlier you buy them. Early bird tickets go on offer at different times depending on the festival - some even go on sale right after the festival finishes for the following year, others will be a few months before. Keep your eyes peeled on the festival’s social media channels and make sure you budget for the price of your ticket well in advance.

Don’t buy through ticket touts
Ticket touts will sell tickets for hugely inflated prices so try to avoid them at all costs. They are also known to sell fake tickets too. If you do decide to buy a ticket from an unofficial channel check out this guide to avoid getting ripped off.

Shop around 
It’s tempting to be drawn to the large festivals everyone has heard of but these events tend to carry the largest price tag. If you do your research you’ll likely find smaller festivals more local to you which will be less crowded and some are even free to get into.

Pay smart 
It may be tempting to use your student loan to pay for your festival as a treat - I mean you’ve worked hard all year...why not? But it won’t feel like such a good idea when you’re struggling to afford to pay for food at the end of next term.

If you haven’t saved enough to pay upfront seriously consider if it’s worth getting into debt for. Fear of missing out could turn into much bigger problems if you can’t pay back the money you borrow. Whatever you do, don’t go over your overdraft limits - your bank could charge you expensive fees and suddenly your debts will feel unmanageable.

If you’re planning to work a summer job and know you’ll have enough money for the ticket in a few weeks, you could consider applying for an interest free credit card. You must be sure to pay it off before the interest kicks in though and only get one if you’re disciplined and good with money. You’ll need to pay a minimum repayment each month until you’ve cleared the balance. If used correctly a credit card can also help build a good credit score but always use with precaution and compare online for the right deal for you.

Get cheaper travel
If there are a few of you going, driving to a festival can be the cheapest way of getting there because you can share the cost of petrol and parking.

If you’re taking the train look at ticket splitting sites which find you the cheapest journey to take. If this isn't an option at least try to get an off peak ticket, if you have a rail card use this too.
If you’ve got the time coaches are generally a cheap way to get you to the festival with all your luggage.

Get protected 
It’s easy to lose your phone and other valuables while you’re at a festival so it’s important you get insurance just incase. If you’ve already got contents insurance double check your things are covered away from your home and if not hop on a comparison site to compare different insurance options.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Thinking of starting uni as a mature student?

My name is Kirsty Hall and I have just completed my second year at the University of Hull, where I am studying for an Undergraduate Degree in Education Studies.

I had always planned to go to university after college, but life threw me a curveball and I became a mum instead. After my partner completed his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and postgraduate diploma, and after we had another baby, the time finally felt right for me to return to studying! I had some good life experience, and my previous jobs helped me to develop and confirm I wanted to pursue a career in education. I think this is the biggest benefit to being a mature student – you really know what you what to do.

During the application process I was extremely nervous at how I would manage running a home, looking after my children, and studying. The university helped to calm my nerves by putting on two mature student days over the summer, where we could go in and meet other mature students and have small talks about important things that happen at university, such as grammar and spelling, computers, the library, and a really helpful talk about how to cope, prioritise, and give yourself credit for what you are embarking on.

In my first few weeks I got to know people on my course – yes, they were all younger than me, and some of them I did not click with right away, but I made friends and found I did have things in common with them.

The hardest part to adjust to was not the different style of learning, but the independent study outside of lectures, especially in the build up to deadlines. I wanted to get into a routine of little and often by working in the evenings, as well as weekends. This was not as successful as I had anticipated, but I made time where I could in the evenings. My main time for working was on the weekends, and this meant being away from my children. I was worried how they would feel as I missed out on their weekend adventures. They were, and still are, sad when they realise I am not coming, and that makes me feel incredibly guilty. However, the summer is long! Although I continue to work during the summer, it is not constant, and there is less pressure, as the only deadlines are the ones I set myself. I have realised the weekend sacrifices are more than made up for over this period, and I am hoping that by watching their mum go through this process, they will appreciate the hard work and self discipline, and this will instil a good work ethic in them both for their future!
My tips for other mature students are to be organised – with other family and job commitments, you cannot afford to be disorganised – getting little bits of work done often has really helped me.

Be confident – you deserve your place at university as much as the people coming straight from college.

Make relationships with your peers and with staff – this makes it so much easier to go and ask for help when needed. I became course rep too, so I can find the help I need, but also signpost my peers who are sometimes less confident to go and ask for help.

Give yourself a break! This one I really struggle with – one piece of advice I got from the mature student open days is that sometimes you have to let the house get messy, and around deadline time my house certainly does. Sometimes you cannot do it all, but after the deadline passes, you can tidy up again! 

Five things I wish I knew before starting uni

1. What a great help older students can be
Make friends with older students! When it comes to university, you are left in the dark with a lot of things and aren’t given an awful lot of direction as you’re left to discover a lot of things for yourself. 

The greatest help to get through first year is definitely second year students. Just think, they’ve been through everything that you’re about to: they’ve had to figure out how to adjust, what to learn, they’ve already sat and passed that exam you’ll have to do at the end of the year. 

2. Understanding a little is better than learning everything
One of the things that took me a while to adjust to is how different the learning is from A-Levels. You don’t have a specification, so you have to decide what you think is important to know, and what not so much. 

You have to quickly get used to filtering out the bits of information you will learn and others that you’ll just have to leave. You can’t just simply memorise a bunch of things and hope it’ll be okay, you have to actually understand it and be able to apply your knowledge.

We always get told how breadth of knowledge is much better than depth – it’s better to know a little bit about a lot than a lot about a little bit.

3. Learning with others helps so much
If I haven’t emphasised it enough already, it is a LOT of work! With the masses of work that needs to be completed it’s easy to put yourself into exam-mode right at the beginning of the year and get really stressed about the piles of unfinished work that are accumulating with every day. 

One thing I wish I had accepted a bit more over that first year is the fact that everyone else is in exactly the same boat – we’re all trying to adjust and get used to this new totally independently way of learning.

Over the year, students tend to naturally form groups that they work in – it not only helps all parties to understand all the content better, but best of all, it helps for you to actually get the work finished! 

4. You don’t have to use textbooks
For school and college, I had a textbook for each subject which was written by the exam board – that was literally everything I had to learn and I would have never dreamed of consulting sources outside of what the examining body had written. For life at uni, it’s completely different! 

There’s so many different textbooks you can use and quite a lot of them are too detailed and too complex. The first few weeks I’d spend about two hours trying to answer a single question for my week’s learning agenda, I’d spend ages leafing through various different textbooks and try to make sense of it all. But soon I realised…you don’t have to use textbooks! It’s not like school where there’s one that’ll have the answer to all anyway.

I quickly became a fan of YouTube. There’s actually so many brilliant online resources that are available to us, so don’t think you have to go down the tradition textbook route. In fact, a lot of the time a video will be a million times more understandable and so much simpler than any textbook you’ll find. 

5. You don’t need to buy textbooks in advance
This one doesn’t apply to me because I didn’t buy any textbooks (and I still haven’t), but I thought I’d add it here because a handful of students do and I can imagine they’d come to regret it once starting first year. 

Your school will provide you with a list of recommended textbooks, so if you go and buy a certain textbook beforehand you might feel slightly cheated when you don’t see it on the list. 

Also, the library is able to provide you with a lot of online versions of the textbooks, so even if you want to use them you won’t have to purchase the expensive hard copy.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

'What have you got to lose?'

I began my BA (Hons) Photography at University Centre St Helens (UCSH) in September last year. 
I am the only mature student in my class, and at 57 years old, had been out of education for
almost 40 years. My only qualifications prior to this were Scottish O Grades in arithmetic and
woodwork from 1977 and a GCSE in English from 2013. 

I have been taking pictures since about 1980, but never really took it seriously until about 
four years ago. When I turned 55 I decided I didn't want to continue working in my current job.
It was taking a massive toll on my physical and mental health, so I took advantage of recent
changes in pension laws and took some time off to travel, rest, and think. I decided to get educated.
I chose UCSH because it was close to where I live in Liverpool and promised lower class sizes than
some of the bigger unis.

Being in full-time education is a strange thing, most of the learning is self-directed, the teachers
are there to influence and direct, not to teach. Much of the time in class is about discussion and

There is an unwritten license to experiment in photography. Whichever photographer or artist
you are influenced by can inform your work – this was my favourite part. I dug out my old film camera and started taking pictures of anything that moved, and lots that didn't. I tried to get some things that didn’t move to look like they were, and vice versa.

Being as old as I am, I had some problems, especially with technology. It is expected
we use modern tech, and using it across the different platforms can be frustrating, and I lost marks
through this. It is on my agenda for this summer to upskill myself on various methods of editing,
and the distribution of my pictures. 

I've always just taken pictures, and never felt the need to document my methods, so having to do
sketchbooks and journals highlighting my aims, methods, and intended goals has been a challenge.
I'm getting better at this, I think.

St Helens is not a full university, and is moderated through Chester University, so none of us live on
campus. We all go home to family, jobs, and outside interests after class, so there is no after-school 
socialising, which is fine, but sometimes I would like to be immersed in discussions and projects
that spring up in the pub after a couple of drinks.

All in all, it has been a good experience, and I have got through it relatively well.
I think the academic year is too short (the summer term was one week!), but I now have plenty of
time to try new things and/or get a part-time job. I need to keep my mind active so I'm ready to
start again in September. 

My advice to anyone thinking about trying it is, go for it – what have you got to lose?