Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Shelf stacking? Yes, please.

Okay, so today I am struggling. The combined weight of assessments, work, bills and social arrangements are really starting to cement the creases in my forehead. The phrase "You students get it so easy" is chucked around so much, and I can believe it from looking at some of those beside me, but I'd really love it if someone could tell me the secret.

As far as I can tell being a student is the most stressful time in your life, if you make the choice to go do it. I'm going to have to speak from my own experience here and I admit I'm not the most organised person in the world, nor the best with money, but I still cannot see where the "easy" bit is.

Year One: First term for my degree was reasonably laid back, sure; introductory lectures, a few cheapy assessments, but mostly just going over everything to make certain people are on the same level. I went out a bit too much, pissed off a lot of people, made friends with others. Instantly though I found myself running out of cash and had to get a job. So, a recommended 40 hours of study per week, plus 14 hours in a shop. Obviously it's your own choice how much study you do, so let's say I was around the 30 hours combined. Christmas passes and things step up a gear - a few more assessments and now you also have to think about finding somewhere to live. The remainder of the year is spent finding this house, passing your exams and working out how you're going to afford the summer rent (with no grant money for the summer period), how you're going to move your stuff, and where you'll live for the inevitable gap between your halls contract running out and your rented private digs kicking in.

Year Two: My course set off at a blistering pace for what, technically, should be the easiest year. My house was sorted for the remainder of the degree, job to keep me ticking over, and spare time to study. This is all fine except for trying to get time off at Christmas to travel the 300 miles home to see family for said job leads to argument with boss and me being a melodramatic tosser and storming out. Sudden bloody rush to find another job three week's before the stockings are filled. Year two ends a few months later with more panicking about paying summer's rent. Any stress here was probably my own doing, admittedly.

Year Three: The real hell pit. I find myself at the top of this week with the following things on my mind: three different assessments to be completed for Friday; graduate applications to be filled in with appropriate inspirational gaff; bills to pay; hours to work at my third job in as many years; house to tidy; housemate's Mum to fob off on the phone because I have no idea when he'll ever return; seminar and lecture work; readings; xmas gifts to buy; and maybe what I'm going to eat and how I'll fund that. Top this all with the exams after the holidays right around the time the lettings agent is going to start showing other students around my house as though I'm being moved into a retirement home in a few months. Then, with my difficulty of distance, at the very end of it all I have to work out where to live in the two week gap there happens to be between the end of my tenancy and my graduation. Really what I want to think about during my finals.

Of course, I'm just moaning about nothing you might reply, only eight months to go. I'll tell you truthfully that I'd rather be managing a mortgage, three kids, and a 40 hour week at this moment, because it's easier than this. I see a lot of students going out, relaxing, doing lunch and all that ra-ra, but I truly can't see how they have the time nor the capital to do it. There seems to be a huge, almighty bank of Mum and Dad out there available to so many young adults. I've been bailed out in an emergency, I'll admit to that, but it's the monthly and sometimes weekly payments a lot of my fellow attendees receive that make me wonder what actually goes through a lot of these minds. They will agree with me that University is stressful, yet I think the stress is astoundingly relieved with a standing order to your debit card.

I eat cereal, bread, pizzas, and curries. I have not bought an item of clothing in nearly a year. I could not afford more than two pints once a week and even that would be at a sacrifice of milk and essay writing time. Those of you that think being a student in the "noughties" is easy had better think again. There is a generation of students like me that have been screwed by loans, high property prices, joblessness, expensive public transport, ridiculously priced supermarkets, falling contact hours of learning, and privatisation.

A brief look at will confirm a lot of what I'm rambling on about, to you. They marvellously provide some quick stats for all you budding social economics lovers. Average student debt on graduation: £23k; 40% have to get a job while studying; large number of students seeking therapy with 10% suicidal. This site is a fantastic resource for those feeling the sting of the ticking time bomb that your brain has become, so long as you're not like me and actually do something about the problems face. Things could be worse, I could be doing a real science degree.

Why do students go home to a 9 - 5 at Tesco? To be stress free I'll bet.

Illustration by Hannah Wallace

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