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Freshers Survival Guide:

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It is highly unlikely that you will go through university without working (for cash!) at some point – over 90% of students do. Most work in the vacations, but an increasing numbers also have part-time jobs in term time.

Motivations vary. Most students work from financial necessity. But many also find it helps with time management, gives them contact with the real world and is an advantage when looking for a job on graduation. Some find mindless work (stacking shelves, petrol stations etc) can relieve the pressure of intensive courses. Many find work relevant to their possible careers, which will really give them the edge when they graduate.

But if you find yourself struggling to keep up with your coursework or making it to 9am lectures, then a term-time job is probably not a sensible option. And examiners will not make allowances for fatigue affecting your examination performance.

Very few universities forbid term-time work but there is often a limit (advisory or absolute), usually of 10–15 hours a week. In general, research indicates that this level of work has a minimal impact on study; longer hours have a negative effect, which may be reflected in your final class of degree. It is particularly hard to fit in a job on intensive courses eg drama, science. You should give yourself some free weeks around exam time.

Most universities, or their SUs, have their own employment offices (or jobshops) to help students find work. Indeed there are often jobs on campus – in libraries, bars, administration, catering etc. Check out job opportunities quickly − there can be a waiting list for SU bar jobs by the end of the first day of term! Use the local paper, advertisements in shop windows, network and don’t be afraid to approach potential employers on spec.

Wages vary across the country and according to what type of work you undertake. Work in bars, restaurants, shops, offices and call centres is widely available and hours are flexible but you will probably only get the minimum wage (though work in a restaurant should at least ensure you get a square meal). You can earn more if you can type, are IT literate or have some specialist expertise (lifeguard or sporting qualification, care work or programming skills). If you can do translation work or coach GCSE candidates, you could earn up to £30 an hour. You may need to pay national insurance and income tax (check the current limits on the HM Revenue & Customs website, www.hmrc.gov.uk). And make sure you are not being paid less than the minimum wage for your age group − £4.98 an hour if you are aged 18–20, or £6.08 if you are 21 or over.

In vacations, virtually all students try to find a job − to pay off the overdraft, fund some travel and, increasingly, to gain relevant work experience. If there are jobs at home, you can save on living costs; if you are paying for your university accommodation anyway, you may find your employment prospects are better in your university town. The ambitious will get onto vacation programmes for eg top London lawyers or many go further afield eg working in US summer camps. Do not underestimate the value of real training and work experience; many a new graduate has wished they had done more of it − see Work (paid or voluntary).

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