Friday, October 5, 2007

Student life - The pressure of financial commitments

This is my latest piece in the University Observer, for any Americans reading this, I apologise that we complain about fees of €900, when college fees in the US are so astronomical, but for the purposes of the article...shhhhhhh

Each year sees a new batch of bright eyed and bushy tailed students arrive ready to commence an exciting life at college here at UCD, and getting used to the student lifestyle can take some time, but once all the excitement of the first few weeks is over and all the dust has settled, a quick consultation of the bank balance at the local ATM usually causes a sense of financial reality to set in.
Students are subject to a barrage of expenses and fees that range from the academically related to living expenses and costs associated with the ever important socialising duties, quite soon into a semester at UCD students can start to realise that a year in college is more financially trying than they would have imagined.
Perhaps the first indicator of imminent bankruptcy for a new student arises during the registration process, despite the fact third level education has been “free” since 1996 this does not include freedom from registration and examination expenses as determined by the University. This years “free” fees for students without a local authority grant left little change from one thousand Euro, and even those with a grant still found themselves subject to a registration charge in excess of the €100 mark.

For many students attending college means leaving the comforts of home behind, moving out into the big bad world and finding your own accommodation, and apart from the obvious cost of renting an apartment, this brings with it all sorts of other costs that you wouldn’t even think existed while you lived at home. Things like food, laundry and electricity are all things that we take for granted at home, but for those that move out it becomes apparent that these costs need to be factored into the overall budget.

Living in Dublin is not cheap at the best of times, and in March of this year a report on the cost of living by the Economist magazine confirmed this, the report placed Dublin as the twentieth most expensive city to live in out of the 132 included in the report, finishing eight positions above the notoriously expensive New York City. advises that students living outside the home should expect to spend in the region of €7,500 and €12,000 over the course of an academic year, with the bulk of this spend going on rent at €3000-5000 and food/household costs in the region of €2000-3500

Financial problems are very common among the student body with the SU Education Office reporting that “only 11% of undergraduates report never having a problem with their cashflow” which leaves 89% of students looking for a way to make ends meet while juggling academic work simultaneously. SU Finance Officer, Natalie Dunne explains that “There are a lot in people in UCD that are struggling financially. The reasons seem to be reoccurring like students not having time to take on part time jobs and their parents not supporting them financially and delayed County Council maintenance grants”

Most students turn to part time work at evenings and weekends in order to maintain a steady source of income, however students who work long hours after college often have to sacrifice time needed to attend to academic commitments such as study and project work, which can have a disastrous impact on grades when exam time comes around. Achieving this balance is often much harder than first thought, as one commerce student admitted “At first I thought it would have been easy, but juggling work and academia is a bit of a nightmare” with another student admitting that “Working as many hours as I did certainly affected my grades quite significantly”

In the Student handbook distributed to all incoming students at the start of term the Students Union Education Office advises that “Working for more than 10 hours a week during term will have a bad effect on your university life and your studies.”, with most part time jobs paying in and around the minimum wage, which today stands at €8.65, working the advised hours over the course of an academic year would leave you with a mere €86.50 a week, a figure which is laughable considering all the costs that need to be taken into account.

So what can students do in order to meet their financial obligations and maintain an adequate balance between work and their college life? Dunne suggests that considering working during the summer may ease financial pressure “I think working full time for the summer is the best option open to students, as you can save for the year ahead and maybe not have to worry about getting a part time job for the academic year”, adding that “In the long run summer jobs will stand to anyone especially when you are applying for jobs after your finished in college.”

Education Officer Ronan Shanahan pleads that students consider applying for an education grant “every year hundreds of students never even consider applying for a grant, even if their circumstances mean that they are entitled to one”. He also advises those who consider this option to consult with the Student Union Education office as “Although the application process can sometimes be lengthy and confusing the education office of your Students Union is here to assist you with your application”

Students are also advised to consider careful planning of their finances at the very start of the academic year with the Finance Officer stating that “I think it is really important that students start the year by making out a budget”., The Education office has much the same advice stating that at the start of term students should “Sit down and write a list of your income on one side of a sheet and your expenditure on the other. Use worst-case scenario figures and allow for unexpected expenses. Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to make a plan and stick to it.”

Being a student is expensive business and financial commitments can become quite overbearing and start affecting your academic performance if they are not addressed and planned for well in advance. If you find yourself struggling with financial problems you shouldn’t hesitate in contacting the Students Union Finance Office as they are there to help you through the inevitable difficulties that will arise at one stage or another in your academic career.

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