One of my high school friends recently contacted me, desperate for help with how to approach university life. The biggest issue was, of course, money. Transitioning from high school to university where money is concerned is no joke, and when universities demand payments on anything, they mean to get their cash.
The major thing you’ll realize as a new student is that money dictates everything, even when you didn’t expect it to. This will slap you in the face even harder if you’re not really financially stable. So here are some things I learned to incorporate into university life that all in some way (there’s no escape, trust me) are related to how you handle your dough:
#1. You’re accepted, you’re in. YAY! The dream just seemed like it came alive and now you can hype about being apart of the most prestigious (in your eyes) university in Jamaica. But wait, can you AFFORD to actually GET THERE?
For me, I didn’t have to travel to ANY of my schools. Believe it or not, they were all like 5-10 mins walking distance, so trust me when I say I had culture shock having to take a bus EVERY DAY for at least an hour and a half, depending on traffic. And for those who live in Portmore, you know the struggle. I didn’t have a problem with the change though, I knew it was coming, but it’s the unexpected fatigue that follows every trip that caught me off guard. Of course this wasn’t a good thing. Persons who have gone to universities can tell you that a fresh, alert mind is ideal when sitting through (sometimes BORING AS HELL) lectures. So looking like a zombie was a no-no. But the major problem is the bus fare, especially with the sudden bombshells of fare increases that are sometimes implemented in quick succession. Trust me, those who love them belly, but actually care to be able to take their own notes had to learn to prioritize and budget wisely. (*cough cough* Not saying I’m one of them *cough cough*)
Thankfully, there is a student bus system for those who go to UWI and UTECH that offers services from Half Way Tree to each university for $40 less than public transportation. In addition, the UWI’s Guild of Students provides a bus service that carries students directly to and fro communities like Greater Portmore, Monza and even Spanish Town at reduced rates, as much as $70 less than the public transport. Cool right?
Again the struggle might be too much even though you’d get to save money, but factoring in the cost of food and maybe even changing your diet could help. Which brings me to,
#2. I thought tertiary level also meant a higher level of food options across the board. I was right! But again, couldn’t afford everything, not all the time, and this is why:
Universities like UTECH and UWI allow fast food restaurants, vendors and even supermarkets to take up residence on their grounds, which is great. For students living on hall at UWI for eg, they can be lazy about shopping and actually just stroll next door for food. But the reality of having this privilege is that, say for retailers, prices may be higher than if you actually went outside the university to shop. And you might be thinking, “So why is it more expensive if it’s the same supermarket everywhere else?” Well, the fact that they might have to be paying for their residence on campus too, plus the fact that this perception weirdly exists – that being able to attend a university automatically means you’re rich – means that retailers are just gonna do whatever they please.
So what do you do? Well I suggested to my friend that the cheapest thing to do is go wholesale. Yup, I said it. If you’re simple and not really into having fast food on a regular basis, then you can buy the basics wholesale, and carry them to school. It sounds kindergarten but lots of people do it. Plus, there are places around the UWI campus for eg, that have microwaves available if you need them. AGAIN, you’ll come to realize that the little snacks you may sneer at while you’re in a wholesale or supermarket may be the same ones you buy on campus. So why not stock up on them at a wholesale price and walk with one or two in case you need something to munch on later?
#3. Finding a place to stay.
This ties in with transportation problems as well. And money. The thing about universities is that they also subscribe to early worm classes, and even though lectures may/may not be mandatory, and even though you’ll be so tempted to skip them and enjoy a little 10 mins extra bed rock and pillow jam, when you get a big fat FAIL and have to pays THOUSANDS to retake classes, you might find living closer to campus coming in handy. The importance of passing your courses, if even just to get the lowest possible passing grade, is to actually be able to graduate, and what’s the point of doing 3/more years of school if you’ve got nothing to show for it?
Being closer to campus reduces the fatigue you’d experience after travelling on two or more buses, and on the plus side, you could even be better able to attend late events that would otherwise put you at risk when going home. At UWI, (I use this as eg because that’s where I attend) the main library actually allows overnight studies, so you could literally sleep there, and if you have access to a hall, you could shower in the night or the next morning. This allows you to catch those dreadful early classes.
But what about renting? If you’re strapped for cash, I wouldn’t recommend renting anywhere. If you consider it, that rent money could go towards more demanding things like food, cost of academic materials, food, travel, trips you might have to take, food, etc… 🙂 My advice is, find a friend who’s willing to accommodate you to stay with occasionally, or (if you’re accepted into UWI) go the overnight library route. The bonus is that while you’re surrounded by books, you’re bound to be motivated to read more/finish up homework. Your acceptance letter did say you’re invited to READ FOR YOUR DEGREE, right? Still, if you’re very willing to pay the rent, make sure to scout around for the most affordable available places, and maybe even invite a friend who could split the rent with you.
These are just a few tips based on my 2 year experience. There’s lots more to be said like where self esteem, whether/not to get into a relationship and a whole lot more is concerned. But, as I’m always telling people, the best thing is to know what you’re about, why you’re even at university and where you wanna go afterwards. There’s power in knowing like you wouldn’t believe. If you have any more suggestions, go ahead and give them.
That said, all the best in your studies!
Shanese Whyte studies Literatures in English at UWI, Mona and is the 2015-2016 Department Representative for the Department of Literatures in English in the Faculty of Humanities and Ed.