University

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Good Afternoon Readers,

The title of this article is plain and simple: ‘University’. I am surprised, if I am being honest, that I have never written an article titled ‘university’. Sure, a lot of my articles have featured the word university but, I have never titled one ‘university’. Here we are!

University, what a journey it has been.

Before I started my university career, all I knew of this type of education was that it could be the next step in my educational career if I wanted it to be and if I worked hard enough for it. I did not really understand what it was, what it entailed or what it meant. I just knew it was something that I would be working towards. When I was finally in the sixth form, I had to make the choice. MORAL DILEMMA. Do I go onto an apprenticeship? Do I get a job? Do I go to university? Obviously, in the end, I went with university. However, I originally intended to do Computer Science as I had studied hard and come out with good grades during my ICT course but, Drama was my passion and calling and this is what I ended up doing – as we all know!

From there, we all know the story of my first, second and third year! I bet you are now wondering, “well, what are you going to write about tonight?”. That is a good question! To be honest with you, I have no bloody clue myself! I tell a lie, I do have a rough idea. Therefore, I’ll carry on and we shall see where we end up.

University for me has been an experience and a half. It has had it’s highs and lows. It’s positive and negatives. It’s happy times and sad times and so on and so fourth. It’s been a rollercoaster. It has been a juggling act! That is most definitely the most accurate term to use. University has definitely changed me in many ways, then again, other parts of me are stubborn and have not changed. Friends have come and gone, so have relationships – though, those that matter are still here at the end of the journey. My eyes have been opened to study I did not previously know and opportunities have been given to me to do some amazing things. University has not only gave me academic experience but also life experience. Sure, sometimes university was absolutely terrible but there were times when nothing could be better than it. I have had times where I drank all the time and then others were I was sober for weeks on end. I’ve had moments where I did all my work weeks before it was due and then other times when I handed it in the day before. I’ve had times when I’ve been completely in the dark about a subject and then others where I knew the most on a subject. I’ve had moments where I have been proud of my work and others were I’m disappointed in myself because I could have done better. I’ve made some memories for life that I will cherish forever and then there is times that I am trying to forget and would prefer never to think about again. There has been times when I’ve been completely motivated by university and eager to go to a lecture and then others where I’ve taken days off just to stay in bed. There has also been times when I’ve wanted to help everybody and anybody on my course with their work and then times when I just wanted to focus on my own. I’ve had moments where I thrived being independent and being away from home and being able to do what I want, where as there has also been times when I would have given anything to be back at home in comfort with my family. There has most certainly been occassions where I am financially stable (as much as you can be as student) and other times where I am having a complete breakdown about money. I’ve had jobs come and go when I’ve needed extra money and times when I haven’t had to work. I’ve gone through times when I’ve wanted to volunteer to go everything and taken too much on and times when I’ve turned away amazing opportunities. There has been the classic situations where I have worked myself to the bone in 24 hours and times when I’ve spread it out. I’ve experienced eating like a king for a good few weeks and moments when I’ve struggled to find a decent meal at all. I’ve had moments where I’ve been on top of the world and confident and then I’ve had the opposite where I am scared and terrified to do anything. I’ve had moments where all I’ve wanted to do is be at university and those when I’ve wanted to drop out altogether. I’ve experienced feelings of being utterly social and saying yes to everything and other times where I am a complete introvert and just wanted my own company. I’ve had times where I’ve chased my dreams and future and others where I’ve completely gave up on them. I have been happy and sad simultaneously. I’ve been angry and calm together. I’ve been positive and negative. I’ve been everything and anything all at once. I’d argue I’ve been at the highest point in student life and at the lowest – arguably at the same time sometimes. I’ve been inexperienced as a student and I’ve become a hardened (nearly veteran) of a student. I came into student life with misconceptions that I tried to live by only to discover I needed to discover it for myself.

I’ve come to realise ‘student life’ is a unique experience that you can not really experience anywhere else. It’s like a teenagers life smashed together with a working life. You are working 24/7 towards a degree but still manage to go out and achieve the mother of all hangovers. It’s having to take full responsibility for your life but at the same time, having no responsibility at all. It’s still enjoying life as a ‘teen’ but having to make pretty serious decisions as an adult. It’s everything you never imaged it could be whilst being nothing like you ever thought it would be.

‘Student Life’ and ‘University’ are unique to everyone, personally. Sure, there are the same generalised situations and feelings that we all experience but they are still unique to everybody. Every student experiences student life differently and they will all only ever be summed up as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’. Society often views student life has a drugged up, alochol fuelled time of study but that’s the stereotype. Student life is in a bubble from the rest of society and unless you are living it, you will never understand the hardships of being a student. Volunterarily going into debt, volunterarily moving out and being independent, accepting that at this point you are not guaranteed a job no matter what you do but desperate to stay in education because it is the next logical step. For 18 years we are told to sit down, shut up and listen and learn and then expected to make one of the most important decisions of our life. Continue in school or go to work. Then, it’s all go from there. University and student life is a transitional period that anybody on the outside does not understand. It’s a struggle. It’s mentally and physically testing in every aspect of those meanings. Some soon find out that they aren’t ready for it or can’t handle it where as others just keep trudging through the challenges of this life, then there are those that seem to sail through it. No matter how it appears on the outside, everybody struggles with student life at some point.

As a student you will always face a judgement at some point. Whether that’s being judged for the course you study, the way you study that course, the way in which you live or act – whatever it is, you’ll face it because no matter what you did, someone isn’t going to approve of this life you have chosen. You’ll change mentally and physically – you’ll lose weight, you’ll gain weight. You’ll get into debt with various banks, friends or even family. You’ll experiene a ‘student breakdown’ of questioning everything. No matter what though, whatever you experience, you will keep fighting and living this ‘student life’.

From what I’ve learned, I could write a million and one articles providing hints and tips, advice and my own experiences but at the end of the day, they are just words on a screen. Nothing more. They are just words of one student. At the end of the day, student life needs to be lived to be learned. There is no other way and being honest, despite whatever I’ve written in the past, there is no way you can be prepared for it. As I’ve said, every experience is different and unique.

Though, one thing is for certain. No matter what happens during student life, what you study, who you make friends with (or don’t), whatever you decide to do… students always stick together and to be honest, we need too. It’s becoming more of a challenge to be a student. It’s becoming more expensive, more challenge and all at the same time, under appreciated. I truly believe when you pass your degree you should get your degree in the subject you’ve studied and one for surviving student life because, it’s an experience in itself and does train you to survive the world in ways you never thought you could.

So… here we are again, one students words on a screen.

This is university.

 

Lee Carnihan – How to Create the Perfect Home Studio on a Budget

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The rise of social media as a shop window has been a blessing for countless numbers of student performers across the country. Finding a new band member by watching their YouTube videos is much easier than putting flyers out across campus. Building an online audience is great for demonstrating your popularity which will help with getting gigs and who knows, if the right person sees your video, fame and fortune could be waiting for you.

But let’s not get carried away. If you are keen to start recording music rather than just playing a few requests at parties, you are going to need a home studio. It might sound like a challenge to set up a studio in the bedroom of your student house, but don’t let limited space and budget stop you.

While the development of home recording technology has been remarkable, the cost of assembling a professional standard studio can still be prohibitive. Using this simple guide, you can join in with the fun, defy your budget and make a slick, professional sounding track at a fraction of the cost of renting a studio.

Of course, your style of music will have a huge effect on what equipment you will need. Recording a full band as live would demand a plethora of microphones as well as space and sound proofing, meaning it isn’t suited to a budget environment.

However, if your passion is electronic music or you play solo, you will be sure to get a great sound from this type of setup. Likewise, if you are prepared to spend the time, this studio is ideal for multitracking and experimentation.

Vocal microphones

If there is one area of your home studio that you will need to spend money on, it is the microphones. If you have the best equipment in the world and a cheap microphone, your final mix will only ever be as good as that weakest link. Senior theatre sound technician Robert Hearn explains, “Great results are about investment ultimately. Buy cheap and it won’t last. It is far better to invest at the signal end with a better mic and high-quality cables. Not only will your recordings benefit, but the equipment will last for years to come.”

To find a balance between quality and keeping costs low, a USB microphone is the obvious choice for vocals. Most offer good quality and, as it can connect directly to a computer, it doesn’t require an elaborate audio interface, saving you a huge amount of money. 

Recording instruments

With the vocals dealt with, a simple USB interface will allow you to record your guitar or piano with ease. A basic device can connect a guitar and a microphone to your laptop, cost less than £100 and still offer incredible results.

Electric instruments can be plugged in directly and you might think it is as simple as that, but when you listen back to your blistering solo, it might sound rather flat. Adding a microphone to capture the sound in the room will restore the vibrancy and character that you heard while you were playing.

You could pay thousands for an elaborate room microphone, but as home recording grows in popularity, there are now plenty of high-quality microphones that are designed for smaller budgets. They might still be expensive, but as long as you do your research, you should be able to get something perfect for your setup.

Soundproofing

Let’s be honest, without a dedicated studio to record in, most of your time will be spent in a part of the house that is probably not designed for creating musical masterpieces.

It might seem like an elaborate step, but soundproofing can be as simple of fitting foam panels to the walls, or having them stand free. They can make a huge difference as Duncan Geddes, Joint Managing Director of Technical Foam Services, explains, “By using a range of high performance polyurethane foam and melamine foam tiles, sound waves are absorbed, reducing reverberations and echo on recordings, making a real difference to the quality of the sounds you can achieve from a home studio setup. The tiles can be cut to a variety of surface profiles, such as pyramid, egg-box etc., which further improves the absorbance of the sound and also makes the acoustic tiles more aesthetically pleasing.”

MIDI

I know I said that you wouldn’t be able to record drums but that doesn’t mean they can’t be on your track. Toontrack’s EZ drummer series offers hundreds of virtual kits that you can edit on your laptop. All of the individual drum hits have been professionally recorded so, while the drummer might be virtual, the sounds are all real.

Putting together a drum track can be a laborious task, but with a little determination, the result will be as good as having someone playing in the room, with the added bonus of not having to spend time with a drummer or annoy your house mates or neighbours!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a secret lurking behind slick productions people have made in their rooms: a lot of the instruments aren’t real. MIDI instruments are entirely software and offer everyone the chance to add sweeping strings, mournful horns, or even choirs to their acoustic guitar strumming. Like the drums, this can be mapped onscreen but if you control it with a simple MIDI keyboard, you can “play” the strings with a few basic chords.

DAW

Using a computer to record, mix and produce requires some serious software. The range of digital audio workstations (DAW) available is vast and, frankly confusing with lots of technical terms that can baffle anyone. Depending on how much budget is left, there are really two options.

Avid Pro Tools is the industry standard for recording and editing. It is an intimidating piece of software and requires a fairly powerful computer setup, but if you aren’t intimidated it can do almost anything you will need – if you are prepared to put the time in to learn. While the basic package is expensive, there are often student discounts or monthly plans available, making top end software much more attainable than it might have seemed at first.

By this point you might be running low on budget. A more stripped back option for digital editing is Audacity, a free alternative which has most of the key features you might need including multitrack recording. It’s not as flashy but, it makes it easier to get your home studio up and running. After all, you can always upgrade later.

So, that’s the recording done. You’ve got all of your track in the DAW and it just needs some spit and polish for the final mix. This can be done in Pro Tools, but for a more economical alternative Goldwave is an outstanding piece of software. From clearing hiss and pops, to adding noise gates and effects, you can make sure that your final track is gleaming.

Blood, sweat and sound

Congratulations, you’ve done it! Hours of sweating about that slightly off-beat cymbal and countless takes to fix that duff note nobody else will ever notice, you’ve got your studio up and running and you’ve made your first track. Now go forth and conquer YouTube with your own brand of techno-funk, orchestral metal or Ed Sheeran covers.

 

 

Lee Carnihan – A Few Good Tips for Students Buying a Motorbike

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As a uni student, you’re probably on a budget (definitely on a budget) and if you can’t afford a car but still want the freedom and independence from owning some form of transportation, a motorbike might be your best option.

The benefits

Firstly, motorbikes are usually cheaper to buy and run than cars. Take for example, the Suzuki GS500. Known as a fantastic bike for beginners, the Suzuki GS500 is small but powerful and “gets great gas mileage”.

If you’re interested in buying one, you’ll be looking at anything between £1000-£2000 depending on whether you’re buying used or new. Not only are these reliable rides fairly cheap, they’re also good looking and nippy, so they’ll get you where you need to go in style.

By law, you have to wear a helmet. A basic helmet should cost you around £30-£40 and will give you the protection you need. Even though a full set of riding leathers isn’t a legal requirement, it will protect you from injury, especially if it includes body armour. Falling off a motorbike at 30mph “will rip through normal clothing” and you could end up seriously injuring yourself or worse, which is why it’s best to invest in some kind of protective clothing.

A set of leathers offers excellent protection, but this would to set you back £700+. Instead, you could invest in textile protective clothing – made from Kevlar and ballistic nylon for example – because it’ll be a lot cheaper and still provide a very good level of protection. You can also upgrade textile protective clothing and wear body armour, so you’ll receive even more protection.

Motorbikes are usually cheaper to insure than a car, and they’re also extremely fuel efficient, whereas filling up a car costs a lot more.

Other than being one of the most affordable vehicles to buy and run, motorbikes are nothing if they are not fun. Nothing can beat the freedom and exhilaration you gain from riding through the open air.

Motorbikes are great if you’re on a budget and you want the freedom that comes with owning your own transport. But there are also times, where you’ll wish you had a car…

The drawbacks

Two words – helmet hair. It’s unavoidable. Just make sure you carry a comb with you at all times!

Storage is also a major problem with motorbikes. Unlike a car, which has a boot, a motorbike is very limited. But there are ways around this. You can attach objects onto your motorbike with “straps, bungees or other retention methods”. As long as the object doesn’t “impinge on your ability to comfortably control a motorcycle” you should be able to carry almost anything.

Safety first

Fashion faux pas and storage issues aside, whether it’s rain, snow, or sweltering heat, you can’t avoid the elements on a bike.

There are some very real dangers to be aware of when riding in extreme weather, especially the heat. Even if there’s cloud cover, you should always take regular breaks on long rides and carry a bottle of water with you to rehydrate yourself.

Dehydration can creep up on you and seriously affect your awareness and ability to control the bike safely. And of course, riding in the cold brings the risk of black ice.

The best advice is to always check the weather and check your bike before you head out.

Persuading your parents

One of the major problems you’ll have to tackle before even thinking about buying a motorbike is persuading your parents. They’ll undoubtedly share their concern that the ‘roads aren’t as safe as they used to be’.

However, there’s a lot more awareness around motorbike safety than there ever was. For instance, the number of motorcyclists killed and seriously injured in the UK has fallen since 2008, “when 493 motorcyclists were killed and 5,556 were seriously injured on Britain’s roads”.

This statistic has lowered immensely due to increased awareness, but the number is still high which is why there are further precautions that you can take to ensure your safety (and to keep your parents’ minds at rest): further skills training, wearing the right gear, and choosing the right helmet.

Choosing a bike

Mopeds are not very powerful, but they are ideal for travelling short distances. With an engine capacity of 50cc, a moped’s “top speed will be restricted to 30mph so it’s no good for faster A-roads”. But if you’re wanting to travel long distances, then you’re going to need a more powerful engine.

In this case, a motorbike would be perfect for the job. But there is another option: the scooter. Scooters are so named due to their vintage design, and can have an engine capacity up to 700cc.

Dealer or no dealer – used or new

Buying from new can be expensive if you buy the bike outright, but there are ways around this. For example, leasing a motorbike is more affordable because the monthly payments can be low and usually, no down-payments are required. Plus, major repairs are often covered by a warranty, however, maintenance costs are not covered. Besides, if you buy or lease from new, you’ll get the peace of mind knowing that this shiny, beautiful, brand new bike has had no previous faults and no previous owner.

Buying from new outright can be expensive, so if you’re on a budget, it’s usually better to lease a motorbike or buy used. Buying used will be a lot cheaper and you could end up with a great deal. As long as you know what you’re looking for, you won’t end up with a piece of worthless junk.

Key things to look out for

You’ll be needing a bike with low mileage, preferably below 20,000m (this may seem like nothing for a car, but for a motorbike that’s quite a lot). You’ll also need to check for signs of an accident or a drop by looking “at the condition of the brake and clutch levers, bar-end weights, straightness of the bars and instrument cluster”. Make sure you check the fuel tank for corrosion or rust. And don’t forget to check the visible frame: there should be no visible damage including any dents or kinks.

Getting qualified

If you’ve got a full driving license, then you’re legally allowed to ride a moped (50cc) without needing to take the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) test. The CBT is a mandatory test that you’ll need to pass if you want to ride a motorbike up to 125cc on the road.

If you don’t have a full licence, you’ll need at least a provisional to take the CBT test. All riders have to pass the theory test before taking the motorcycle test. Once you’ve passed the theory test, the practical test, and gained the CBT certificate, you’re good to go.

 

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

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Happy New Year readers!

Here we are, in a New Year! We’ve left the horrors and hardships of 2016 behind us and now have a brand new start ahead of us – who knows what it will hold. For myself it holds my last ever semester at Bishop Grosseteste University – my last term of Third Year. It’s a surreal experience if I’m being honest – three years has flown by and I feel like I’ve got whiplash from it.

However, this is something I repeat over and over – in all of my articles.

So! In a lot of my articles over the past year I’ve talked about a lot of topics and a lot has happened, I’ve also achieved a fair amount… it’s been a good year for this blog.

As I go into my final term at university, I’m going to attempt to document the final few weeks of my experience and draw this blog to a close BUT I can announce now that the end of this blog will NOT be the end of JustGeorgeJ. As of two days ago I applied to do an MA Drama specialising in Playwriting at University of Lincoln – therefore, when my ‘undergraduate’ blog ‘closes’ (even though it will always still exist and I’ll still do advice articles) a new ‘masters’ blog will open up that will document my experience through that and so on and so fourth – therefore, there will be content from me still being produced for a while.

ALSO; as of a couple of days ago I took on a job on a website called ‘Tutora’ – basically meaning I’m now a tutor and I have control over how much I charge, subjects I teach and hours I can do; SO, if you are in the local area of Lincoln and need tutoring – have a look at my profile page here.

Obviously, if you’ve been reading this over the past two years, you’ll understand that I have a lot of side projects which I undertake – one of which being ‘The Student Room’ and helping out on there which I should be getting back too over this weekend, so, if you’re a potential student and need help, head over to that website! I’ll be there! Even if you’re a current first, second or third year student – head over and create an account and offer your wisdom!

I have got a few articles in the pipelines that should be released over the next few weeks so keep your eye out for them, ALSO, remember that you can be a Guest Writer on my blog – if you’ve got articles you want to share, just get in touch with me at: justgeorgej@outlook.com – I’ve had a lot of interest this past year and a lot of articles that have been posted, get involved!

I look forward to posting new content soon,

Again, Happy New Year guys!

Is Work Experience During Uni Actually Essential? | Beth Pembrook – Guest Writer

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If we’re all honest, work experience is often viewed as a bit of a waste of time by a lot of students. A simple tick of the CV rather than an actually life developing experience or gaining career insights. A week or two spent making cups of tea and sorting out filing cabinets that make young people dread working life rather than look forward to it!

A big question that hangs over the whole ‘work experience’ notion is, is it actually worth it? A tick on the CV and potentially improved job prospects aside, many students don’t actually think that they will gain much from in terms on knowledge while they are on placements.

Many of us heading into work experience placements tend to assume that we won’t be given particularly important jobs to do, or worry that we might be over-loaded with boring, mundane tasks.

However, work experience is definitely worthwhile in the current climate. Gone are the days of being sat for 8 hours a day sealing envelopes or fetching someone’s lunch for them! In recent years companies have started to use work experience placements to their advantage, meaning they now allow work experience candidates to do some real worthwhile tasks. This means that most placements will actually throw you in at the deep end and get you fully involved.

If you are not completely sure about what career path you want to take, then work experience is something that should definitely be considered. For a start, if nothing else, a work experience placement will give you a taste of what a standard working day is like. You’re likely to be treated like a temporarily employee in a professional environment and be given assignments just as if you were a fully-fledged employee there.

Also work experience gives you the opportunity to meet people in the field your studying in. You can ask them any burning questions you may have about your potential future job, and they can give you some top tips about how to get into a competitive job.

Placements aren’t just there to encourage you to do a job, but also to learn if a job isn’t for you. One of my friends at uni went on a hospital work experience placement in South East Asia and realised that her life-long dream on being a Doctor actually wasn’t for her when she started feeling increasingly nauseous around any blood! While she was gutted, and did enjoy here placement abroad, it saved her 8 years of training and studying for the wrong job. By the same token, another friend of mine undertook a work placement at a PR firm because it was the only one that accepted her. Despite being in an IT course at uni, she loved the work experience so much she decided to pursue a career in it!

You should be open to all opportunities that come your way at Uni. Sadly, having a degree doesn’t just been that you’ll get a job – you need to stand out from the crowd. If you do end up having a placement somewhere that is pointless – aka: glorified tea make – then so be it. It will still look good on your CV and you can just take another placement somewhere else!

Lee Carnihan – 5 Ways To Make Your Student House A Home…

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… without breaking the bank.

Your hard work has paid off and you’re on your way to university. While your social life is going to improve and you are sure to get an excellent education, living away from your parents for the first time could easily see a dip in other areas.

Up until now you have enjoyed creature comforts, cooking and laundry service that come with living in the family home. Suddenly you are on your own and you may well feel like you are out of your depth. When you arrive at your new digs, chances are the walls will be magnolia, the worn carpets will be showing the spills and scuffs of years of use.

The landlord is not there to make this an attractive place to live, that’s your job. Brand new carpets and curtains might be out of your budget and you may well be lacking the flair and inspiration of an interior designer, but don’t panic! Help is at hand.

Here are five ways to create a home from home on a small budget:

  1. A burst of colour

It is amazing what a transformative effect a splash of colour can have on a room. Simply repainting a single bedroom wall can create a fresh feeling that makes an otherwise cold space feel warm and homely. It is also quick, easy and much cheaper than redecorating the whole house.

As with any big changes to the house, it’s always worth getting in touch with the landlord first. Most will not object if your colour choices are tasteful. An added bonus is that a lick of paint will hide any marks or nail holes left in the walls by previous residents.

Feeling creative? Painting a section of wall with whiteboard paint is a great use of space for leaving notes memos and messages for yourself and your more forgetful housemates.

  1. Keep it in the family

If you have a lot of pictures from home, there is a very simple way to display them without taking up precious surface spaces. By looping a stretch of hessian cord around your walls and pegging up some photos, you can display all those pictures of your pets, friends and family very quickly and easily. If it is just a few very special photos you could arrange them on your wall or, if you prefer to avoid manual labour completely, simply allocate them a space on your desk.

  1. Pristine plants

Having plants in the home is always a good option. They bring colour and energy to any room and are a simple way to add style to a busy house. However, in a busy house it is not unusual for them to become neglected. If you don’t have the time for watering, pruning and re-potting between lectures, essays and parties, it might be worth considering another option.

Pick up some affordable artificial plants and you will be amazed by the number of people who can’t tell the difference. They look great all year round and only require quick dusting now and then to maintain their no so natural beauty.

  1. Create your own style

Another great way to fill in bare walls are posters and pictures. Quicker and easier than painting, it will hide any blemishes just as effectively. Canvases, framed pictures and even postcards dotted around will instantly bring personality to any space with minimal effort.

A very cost effective way to construct an interesting display is to collect some wallpaper samples with attractive designs and frame them, giving you a quirky take on a feature wall at a fraction of the cost. Samples can also be used to bring tired furniture back to life.

Wall transfers have become increasingly popular way to decorate a student house. A quick search on Pinterest will turn up all kinds of ideas and very soon your room could be encircled by a forest or city skyline. The best thing about transfers is they are easy to remove so committing to one design is never an issue.

  1. Hide what you can’t fix

Chances are the chairs and sofa in your new student digs will be older than you are. It’s not worth worrying about what they have gone through to earn those tatty corners and worn out covers. After giving it a quick clean, all your sofa will need is a charming throw and a few cushions to restore its former glory.

Similarly, threadbare carpets merely need a colourful rug strategically placed over the worst parts and you can spare your guests the horror of what lies beneath.

You really don’t need to spend a lot of money to turn your student accommodation into a home. With a few simple purchases and some creative thinking, you can transform the whole house and hide those well-worn blemishes.

Lee Carnihan | Secret Santa for Cash-Strapped Students

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Christmas presents.jpg

By the time Christmas comes around you will have spent months away from home and settled into the strange dynamic of sharing your living space with several similarly hungover and poor house mates. There are so many great things about being a student but Christmas is right at the top. It’s a great excuse to let go, relax and throw a series of spontaneous parties with your house mates.

Sure, this group aren’t perfect but they are your new family. Working with them to decorate the house on a shoestring budget is sure to be a great laugh. Well, until you come home with a box of faulty fairy lights from the pound shop.

Once the decorations are up and lectures are coming to an end there is the difficult situation of deciding who will get presents begins. It’s too expensive to buy for everyone but it could make things difficult if you just buy for your closest friends and leave someone out, so why not instigate a house Secret Santa? This way there is a set budget, everyone gets a present and you only need to buy one! Perfect!

Of course, in any group there will be some people you like more than others. At this time of year, you can get away with practical jokes in the name of Christmas spirit, so why not take this chance to get your own back on anyone who has wronged you with a joke gift? Just don’t forget to record it so you and the rest of your house mates can laugh at their shocked expression over and over again!

Secret Santa may sound like a cheap way to buy gifts for everyone but it can add up very quickly. By keeping these simple pointers in mind, you will be able to dazzle your house mates with amazing gifts and still have some cash left for New Year’s Eve.

Try not to go crazy

Set a price limit that everyone can afford. A fiver? A tenner? Whatever it is, make sure you’re all ok with that. Yes, it might be the season of goodwill, but you don’t have Bill Gate’s fortune to plunder.

Always re-gift if you get the opportunity

At some point in your life, you’ve probably received a present that you’ve never liked or used, which is why the art of re-wrapping is so handy. As long as the present is in a really good condition (preferably unused) you’re good to go.

So the only thing you’ll have to buy is the wrapping paper, and a card if you’re feeling generous. Just make sure you don’t give the re-wrapped present to the same person who gave it to you originally! That would be awkward, especially if you gave it to the awkward person you don’t get on with.

Give everyone a chance

Get everyone in the house involved, even if it is that one housemate who never seems to leave their room. Knock on their door, introduce yourself (just in case they’ve forgotten who you are even though you’ve been living together for three months) and say; “Hi, I know we haven’t officially met – I think we may have bumped into each other at one point going to the bathroom – but did you want to play Secret Santa?”

Even if they don’t want to play, at least you’ve finally met the ‘other’ house mate. Congrats! Your housemates will be proud of your bravery. Getting everyone involved makes the game much more interesting, and you’ll avoid feeling bad if anyone were accidentally (or on purpose) left out.

Keep it simple

Some people are against buying generic gifts like a pack of scented shower gels or a mix and match makeup kit, but for a student it’s perfectly acceptable. You can never go wrong with buying gifts like these, and not only are they an easy purchase, they’re also worth the money and you can find some cracking bargains.

If you want to get something just a little bit different but still practical, grab a bar of luxury hand-made organic soap. They smell delicious and can even make a subtle point to the person in the house who doesn’t always like to wash as frequently as everyone else!

Never leave it late

Try not to forget about actually buying a gift, otherwise you’ll find yourself in a moment of panic, frantically trying to find something last minute to give them. Giving them a packet of crisps or a pack of jam donuts might seem like a great and useful “gift” but frankly, it’s a bit rubbish and thoughtless. You might be skint and this might be Secret Santa, but there are limits to how low you can go! So don’t leave it until the last minute (you’ve probably heard that from your lecturer plenty of times).

The more the merrier

You may have had a great time with your house mates but don’t forget to include your actual family. They may have been in the background recently but they are just as important to buy for, especially if you aren’t seeing very much of them, so make sure to save some space in your budget to get them something nice. It can also work in your favour; it softens the blow if you have a gift in one hand when you return home with bag of dirty washing in the other. If you have enough money spare, buying one final Secret Santa gift for dad is a great idea. It can be silly and funny or useful from somewhere like Hawkin’s Bazaar and it doesn’t have to be especially expensive. Meanwhile, a simple box of chocolates, some flowers or a bottle of wine will keep mum very happy.

Top Tips Every Student Should Know When Buying A Car – Lee Carnihan (Guest Writer)

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Getting to uni is one thing, getting around is another entirely. Wherever uni is for you, you’ll need to get from home to uni, to the supermarket, to the pub, to the gym and all manner of other places during term time.

You might want to dart back home for a weekend of “mum’s cooking” too, or head off to the beach with your house mates on Bank Holiday Monday. Yes, you can get around by foot, bike, unicycle, pogo-stick, skateboard, tube, tram and bus – but they won’t give you the flexibility a car will.

Having a car basically makes everything much easier. Chief among the benefits is not having to ‘borrow’ trolleys to get the shopping back on a cold, wet, dark and windy night after a long day in the lecture hall. So unless you’re extremely lucky because you live right next to a supermarket, you’re going to need a car.

But money will be tight and you might have no idea about what kind of car to buy for your budget. You’ll want something affordable, but not so cheap it breaks down frequently and costs you even more to fix or leaves you stranded in the car park with six heavy bags of shopping with chilled or frozen food rapidly defrosting.

MG classic car.jpg

So here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when you’re looking to buy a car:

1 Stick with “old reliable”

The newer the car, the more expensive both the car and insurance is likely to be, so you’re better off looking at slightly older cars like an early 2000s Vauxhall Corsa, or a 2008 Fiat 500. Both cars are reliable, great for long distance driving, and fairly cheap.

If you’re a fan of the classics but you’re worried about the general up-keep of the car and insurance, you should go for a relatively newer classic like an Austin Mini. Depending on your definition of a ‘classic car’, classic Minis can range from early 60s to late 90s, so you’ve got a lot of choice.

Surprisingly, these quaint old cars are great for long distance travel, which makes things so much easier when you’re wanting to travel home from Uni for the weekend.

Minis are extremely reliable, and owning a classic car such as this, might mean that you’re eligible for classic car insurance instead of standard car insurance. The way the value of a classic is determined is different, so you might get better value.

2 Inspect the car and ask to drive it 

When you’re viewing a car, always ask if the car has had any major damage or other significant repairs, which should all be detailed in the log book. Look over the general condition of the car for rust, oil leaks, scratches, bumps, dents and differences in paintwork on different parts of the car. Anything like this will put the price down if you ever want to sell the car on.

And if you have absolutely no clue about what you’re looking for, take someone who does! Another perspective is always helpful.

Ask to take a test drive, even if they want to accompany you and your friend: listen out for splutters and chokes and feel the biting point: where the clutch engages and disengages when you change gear. Get out and look at the exhaust too. If it’s black, blue or grey, it could be a sign the engine is burning oil, too much fuel or has some other problem.

If you’re unsure, walk away. There is no shortage of second hand cars out there.

3 Where to buy and how

Choosing where to buy a car can be a bit of a challenge, so here are some pros and cons to help you:

Auctions

Pros: Cheaper than buying from a garage and you may end up with an absolute bargain.

Cons: Cars are sold as seen which means no test drives allowed. You’re not guaranteed a warranty so if you end up purchasing a classic, like a Triumph Herald for example, but it doesn’t start or there is something seriously wrong with it, then too bad. If the car has serious issues and you’re not willing to pay more money to get it fixed, then you’re only option will be to put it back into the auction and hope wholeheartedly that it’ll sell again.

Garages

Pros: One of the safest ways to go about buying a car. This is because any registered noted dealer is required by law to supply the car with a warranty, and the car must be fully road legal. When buying from a garage there is always room for negotiation.

Cons: Usually more expensive than buying from a private seller or buying from an auction.

Private

Pros: Cheaper than buying from a garage. Again, there is always room for negotiation, especially if the seller is eager to sell the car quickly.

Cons: You’re not guaranteed a warranty when dealing with a private seller. So if there is something wrong with the car, you have very little comeback.

Online

Pros: Official online dealers are covered by trading standards, so you’ll be guaranteed a warranty.

Cons: Private online sellers are not covered by trading standards, so you’re not guaranteed a warranty. With all online dealers or sellers, make sure you do some research and ask about warranties.

At the end of the day…

Choose a car with a relatively small engine because they’re cheaper to buy and insure and the running costs are usually lower. If you “do your homework” – sorry if you thought you’d heard the last of that phrase – you’re more likely to get a good car for a fair price.

Alex Cairns: Student Cooking – Guest Writer

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Please welcome Alex Cairns first article, ‘Student Cooking’ – some background, personal experience and tips into cooking when starting university.

When I first started University back in 2014, one of my biggest issues was with food; I struggled knowing what to cook, how to source my groceries and the big one – how to stay healthy on a budget! I have always been a ‘foodie’. In fact, there isn’t a lot I don’t like, other than baked beans, something I have been told I am missing out on and is a stereotypically well-known staple food source for most students. But even if I did like beans, I would probably get bored of eating them constantly. I mean, there is not much variation on how they can be cooked really. Put them on toast, put them inside a toastie, eat them raw… which is maybe a silly suggestion. Don’t do that.

The point I am trying to make is that cooking at University doesn’t have to be hard or boring. There is so much more you can do than heating up a pack of instant noodles or living on toast with a bit of butter. At the end of the day, it is not healthy to eat things like that all the time. You need foods from all the different food groups, even if a meal consisting entirely of carbohydrates is often cheaper and easier. We have all been there.

In my first year of University, I put on a LOT of weight. I’m not talking about a couple of pounds either – I gained a whopping three stone. I was very overweight, bordering on obesity. For me this was very worrying, but I brought it all on myself with the amount of alcohol I was consuming and overall a very poor diet. I lived off bread, crisps, cheese, milk, pasta and very frequently, takeaway. Even when I did start trying to eat healthily again, I struggled to shed the pounds because of the dietary pattern I was so used to. It sounds silly, but being addicted to cheese on toast is a thing. The problem arises when you get yourself into a habit of eating rubbish, fattening food – it becomes very hard to stop. But if you get yourself into a routine of eating good, tasty but most importantly, healthier food, from the start, you can avoid what happened to me. I eventually did lose all of the weight I had gained and even more afterwards bringing me down to a very healthy BMI. Eating your fruit and vegetables does pay off!

There can be an issue with this sort of diet however – money. Food can be expensive and the more healthy ingredients you buy, the cost tots up. But there are a few things you can do to stay full, healthy and happy at fractions of the cost. As I now live with three of my friends, we do share food and its price and I am very proud of my house titles of ‘Head Chef’ and ‘Mummy Alex’. However, I know it may not always be possible to eat together at University, especially if there are people with special dietary requirements or dislikes of particular foods. Because I have developed a gluten intolerance over the past couple of years, I know this struggle all too well. If you were to do a food shop together however, and everyone pays what they owe, this is a very handy money saving tip especially if it is all done online. My friends and I use a special site called MySupermarket.co.uk – it is a very handy tool when saving money because it compares prices amongst all leading supermarkets, helping you to decrease the price as much as possible. It also gives you the option to view what items there are, swap things out for cheaper versions of different items, and it all gets delivered to your door. Bonus!

Cooking for the first time at University can also be very daunting especially with all your sharp and confusing equipment, but this is a time that you can pick up new methods, new ideas and share recipes. Cooking, no matter how basic, is a very important life skill to have. Without it, we would probably starve – so experiment and have fun with it. You will begin to develop your own style and I promise, it does get easier. By no means will you be able to pick up a fancy cookery book and cook a difficult dish straight away (you probably wouldn’t be able to afford it either), or become the next Jamie Oliver in the first couple of attempts, but at least you are having a go!

I personally have developed my own style and even come up with a few recipes of my own. I have picked two very simple dishes that I would like to share with you below. They all started as experimentations and it has taken a few attempts to get the recipes just right – and my house mates all love them! Below this article there is a chance to comment and share your recipes – you never know, you might be helping someone out that is reading this article right now.

So, to sum up:

  • Keep calm!
  • Be savvy with your shopping!
  • Experiment – not everything can be perfect first time!
  • And have fun!

Get cooking guys!

Recipe 1 – Spaghetti and Meatballs
Ingredients and Equipment
Beef mince
2x Tins of chopped tomatoes
2x Peppers chopped into small chunks
1 Onion
Mushrooms chopped (optional)
2tsp Mixed herbs
1 ½ tsp Chilli powder
2tsp salt
Spaghetti
2 bowls
Casserole dish
Saucepan

Method
1) Preheat your oven to 190dC
2) Place your mince, chilli powder and 1tsp of salt in a bowl and mince together with your hands until a giant patty is made.
3) Section the beef patty into small balls, mould and place them into your casserole dish. Put in the oven and keep flipping them until browned.
4) Whilst your meatballs are browning, to make the sauce, put your tinned tomatoes, chopped ingredients, mixed herbs and remaining salt into a bowl and stir.
5) When the meatballs have browned, pour over the sauce and place back in the oven for a further 30 minutes.
6) Cook your pasta and serve.

Recipe 2 – Turkey burgers, sweet potato fries and salsa
Ingredients and Equipment
Turkey mince
Lean unsmoked bacon, fat removed and chopped into chunks
Sweet potatoes (one per person)
A pack of sandwich thins or bread rolls
3x tomatoes, chopped into small chunks
4x spring onions, chopped
1 Lime, squeezed
1tsp mixed herbs
2tsp sunflower oil
1tsp salt
Roasting tray
Baking tray lined with foil
2x bowls

Method
1) Preheat your oven to 190dC.
2) Wash, peel and chop your sweet potatoes into long, slightly chunky strips and place in your roasting tray. Coat in your oil and salt and place in the oven for 60 minutes, turning occasionally.
3) For the burgers, place your turkey mince and bacon into a bowl and mould into 4 patties. Place on a lined baking tray and cook for 30 minutes, turning half way through.
4) For the salsa, combine the tomatoes, spring onion, mixed herbs, and lime juice, and stir.
5) Remove your fries and burger patties from the oven and assemble your burgers with the buns and salsa!

7 Steps to Successful House Shares : Lee Carnihan (Guest Writer)

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Please welcome Lee Carnihan, the first Guest Writer of 2016 – rebooting this small section of my website. Here, Lee writes about seven successful steps to surviving a house share at university!

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7 steps to successful student house shares!

Moving out of halls of residence into a shared house should be full of fun. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief after swapping restrictive rules for true independence and have the chance to make the house feel more like your own. It’s no wonder that during term-time, 38% of university students choose to live in a privately rented house or flat.

However, for every brilliant outcome, there are plenty of pitfalls too. Everyone’s heard the horror stories of vile landlords screwing students over on their deposit while they freeze in mouldy, mice-ridden rooms. Or what about the best friend who suddenly turns into the housemate from hell because of their terrible hygiene and insistence on urinating directly out of their bedroom window? It’s nearly enough to make you put your name down for an extra year in halls.

When you have a degree or post-grad course to study for, and possibly a part-time job to hold-down too, then it really is vital that you have a homely place for study, rest, relaxation, romance and friendships. The last thing you need is for it to cause you undue stress.

Luckily, a little planning and thought is all it takes to avoid most major hiccups in shared rental accommodation. Here’s how to enjoy it and make it work:

1 Before you sign on the dotted line, do your homework

Firstly, consider the worst case scenarios and take a couple of steps to prevent them from happening. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau is often the place people end up when in crisis with a litigious landlord or a dispute with housemates over unpaid bills or theft or damage of personal belongings.

You can be one step ahead by reading their guide to the different rental agreements. This explains the best ways of setting up a sharing arrangement ensuring, for example, that if a housemate fails to pay the rent it doesn’t jeopardise your position or make you accountable for the unpaid share.

2 Love your landlord (well, sort of)

They aren’t all bad, honest! But the quickest way to get on the wrong side of yours is to make late payments, upset the neighbours or sublet the property without permission. The Studentastic website explains the intricacies of subletting if this is a money-saving route you want or need to consider.

You’ll also need to take reasonable care with the place – easier said than done, for sure, as you won’t always have control over who visits. As long as you have not damaged the property (beyond normal wear and tear) you are entitled to your deposit back – it is your money after all. You can increase the chances of this going smoothly by double-checking your money has been put in a Deposit Protection Scheme, taking photos of the property when you move in and agreeing an inventory of items. This will protect you in case of any disagreement.

It can work both ways too. If you are a good tenant, the landlord will look after you and fix any problems quickly, although how quickly can vary from landlord to landlord especially if they have multiple properties and dozens of tenants to attend to. Indeed, many landlords are happy to negotiate cheaper rent if you won’t be using the property over the summer months – this is ideal if you plan to enjoy home comforts and get mum to deal with that massive bag of dirty laundry.

Alternatively, you might want to stay put and enjoy your digs without your housemates under foot. Whatever your preference, make sure you know what the deal is regarding out-of-term rent before you sign the contract.  Having to pay an extra month or two’s rent isn’t a shock you want just before you leave for the holidays or if your finances are already stretched to the limit.

3 Make it your own

It actually takes very little effort to make a place feel welcoming and cosy, rather than anonymous and boring. Try shopping for household items, such as cushions, bed linen and small items of furniture in the sales and on eBay or Gumtree. Parents and grandparents are often delighted to chip in and buy practical items too. They will make the transition easier because there’s nothing worse than moving to a new house in a new town without your creature comforts in place. Plus, if you end up in unfurnished accommodation after university, you’ll have bought the basics already.

4 Travel and storing your stuff out of term

There’s no need to be put off accumulating items by the dread of dragging them all home in the holidays, either by car or even worse, public transport. Storing your possessions is the sensible option, and absolutely vital for those with lots of stuff or an international journey ahead. There are plenty of good storage providers out there.

Similarly, if you’re planning a year abroad as part of your course – or a gap year travelling – then storing your stuff will be vital. Once your parents have sent you off to uni, they won’t be too impressed if you arrive on the doorstep at the end of term with all your clobber only for you to jet off and leave them to store it.

Deciding what to do with personal possessions is particularly important if you’re an international student because you might not know whether you’ll be staying in the UK after your degree. The existing rules are still supposed to be in play but who knows what might happen in the next six months after the Brexit vote. So placing everything in secure storage will buy you time, and your things can easily be sent abroad if needed.

5 House rules rule the house

Getting on with your housemates is a big deal. It can make or break your experience of uni. We’ve all come from different backgrounds with our own idea of what “normal” is. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, so the saying goes. It’s well worth sitting down with future housemates and checking you all agree, although “house-mate meetings” themselves can be a bone of contention: these are meant to be your wild and free years after all. But if things really aren’t working out, avoid passive aggressive behaviour at all costs if you can because it just leads to resentment and misunderstandings. If you suddenly notice lots of post-it notes with a dozen angry exclamation marks appearing on stacks of dirty plates or the fridge door, it’s time to get the kettle on and have a proper chat.

6 Running riot

One of the pleasures and pains of student shares is of course the parties. Chances are you will have at least one, but make sure all housemates are informed and involved and avoid key exam or assignment deadline dates for each other. It’s no fun pulling an all-nighter at the computer when everyone else is having raucous fun through paper-thin walls. Being a student isn’t about losing respect for other people and ignoring their needs, it’s about finding yourself and enjoying the ride but not at someone else’s expense.

7 Uninvited lovers

Chat about partners too. You may all start off single but after that legendary party… The quickest way to annoy your housemates (and potentially your landlord too) is for your partner to become an unofficial, free-loading member of the household. It’s all about being upfront and deciding what is reasonable in advance of an issue.

Now you’ve got the serious stuff out of the way, you can focus on enjoying yourself… and working out how to solve the ultimate of First World problems…who keeps stealing your hummus?

Don’t forget, if you want to get involved and be a Guest Writer for my  blog – head over to this page for more information.