Organising rented accommodation for second year

If you’re looking at accommodation for the next academic year right now, student Taz has some advice to consider!

Having only just settled into your first-year student accommodation, the thought of organising a house for second year might seem a little strange. However, when it comes to finding student housing beyond first year, there are many housing preferences shared by students that make the task a competitive one. For example, houses with the following qualities are often most popular and taken off the market the quickest:

  • Multiple bedrooms (5+ tenant houses)
  • Large bedrooms (especially rooms with double bed )
  • Convenient location (Houses based in ‘student areas’ or close to shops/uni)
  • Large communal rooms
  • Clean!


Know where to look

The most important thing to know when organising your rented accommodation is who you can go to for advice at University. The University’s Essentials webpages offer a large scope of advice on all things about university life, including accommodation. Here you’ll find tips on things including estate agents, to bills and council tax.


Look around

Whilst it may feel like you’re in competition with other large groups of students when looking for 5+ bedroom houses, you need to ensure that you look at a couple of houses before making your decision. There’s a range of houses on the market, all with different positive and negative aspects to them. It’s also advised to consider the most important accommodation features for all tenants before opting to go with a house. Do you want to be near to campus? Town? The Gym? How many of you will bring cars?


Check the contract

The contract is often considered the scariest part of the accommodation process. Yes, it’s a pretty long document that you’ll want to sign and get off your chest as quick as possible, but it’s something that you need to go through with a highlighter or notepad to ensure that you don’t miss out on anything that needs attention or may cost you money. It’s also good idea to ask a couple of parents to read through the contract, before you sign it, to check for anything unusual. Equally, always be sure to keep a copy of these documents in the possession of your lead tenant.


Be prepared for charges

Typically, landlords and estate agents will ask for a payment to secure the house as soon as you’ve made your decision. You’ll usually be asked for a charge of around £100 pp. to take the house off of the market, and then given a period of up to a month before you will need to pay a deposit for the house which is often the first month’s rent.

These are some of the key things to know when searching and securing your student house, nonetheless not the only things. Other aspects such as utility bills, deposit fees and furniture are things that can be looked at nearer the time. You can find advice for all these things on the University’s webpages.  

Happy house hunting!

Eating Well on a Student Budget

Student writer Elliot shares advice on eating well and spending less…

I had a housemate who cooked once, found it bothersome, then got pizza five days a week for almost two terms. He was surprised when he started developing health issues. Still don’t know how he was affording it.

Not everyone goes this far (with unfortunate exceptions), but it’s practically a cliché that students eat poorly, and studies bear this out.


I want to talk about why and (more importantly) how, you might want to address this.

 Is this a big deal?

Fair question.

Changing diet is no small task, so – what are the benefits of a healthy one, right now, at uni?

  1. More energy and better health. Your food affects everything from appearance and mood, to mental energy[i]. Give your body good fuel, and you’ll push harder, and find strength when needed. Don’t, and you’ll be sluggish, or too mentally tired to cope. Moreover – poor diet is a leading factor to lethal conditions as you age[ii]. Dealing with this now reduces future time and money spent on ill-health (the last things you need at university).
  2. You develop self – discipline. The daily habits you get at uni will last decades, if not a lifetime[iii]. Nailing good diet now rather than later is simpler[iv]. And more generally, if you can pull it off, you’ll be learning how to develop useful habits – a critical skill in many other parts of your life.
  3. It saves money. Counterintuitive? Well, good, regular meals will leave you full, saving you money on overpriced snacks. Meaning that overall, you’ll be spending less often.

To recap – the benefits of a better diet are: improved day-to-day function, protection against ill-health, mastering a huge piece of self-discipline, and more money to spend elsewhere. All big things.

So: if you’re self-improvement focused (and if you’re reading this blog, I assume you are) – the answer is yes. This is a big deal, and something you want handled.

Why is it so hard?

If so many students WANT to eat healthy, why are so few succeeding?

There are two big answers:

  1. Time and money. Our full-time job is to master a chosen discipline for 3-4 years. It’s considered such an endeavor that we’re given the money in advance to do it, leaving us with limited extra time and money to buy, and cook 3 meals a day, 7 days a week – particularly when balancing hobbies and a social life. But, these DO have workarounds (more on that in a minute) – the bigger issue, I think, is…
  2. Emotional/psychological barriers. Not as in bulimia or anorexia – those are well beyond the scope of this article and require specialised support. ‘Getting healthy’ is misunderstood as an extreme act – working out twice a day, or fad diets involving nothing but herbal tea for a month. We all know people who try to ‘get healthy’ like this, get discouraged, then return to old habits in less than a week.

‘Getting healthy’ happens when you create small lifestyle improvements, keep them, and keep building on them. In other words – to get healthy, eating well just has to become how you eat most of the time.

THAT must be your goal, if you want lasting change.

How to develop (and keep) a healthy diet

Without further ado, here are some realistic steps you can take to develop healthy and affordable eating as a university student:

  1. Understand what it means to eat healthy. Eating healthy doesn’t necessarily mean only eating veg or never eating a donut again. That would be ridiculous. I recommend reading this beginner’s guide to exercise and eating healthy as a primer (focusing on the mindset and diet sections). It approaches common misconceptions, gives a list of healthy food staples, and addresses fruits, veg, water, and vegetarian/vegan diets.
  2. Cut fast foods and soda. If absolutely nothing else, this is THE step to improving health[v]. Occasional fast foods and desserts are fine IF you’re on top of your diet the rest of your time. If these are your staples though, you’ll need to replace them.
  3. Learn to cook. Not easy – but simple. Focus on learning to follow individual recipes – I recommend a beginner’s goal of mastering 7 different recipes, using healthy staples. Youtube cooking shows like Bon Appetit, and Binging with Babish have established formats and good recipes. You might also want to check out Allrecipes, or even RUSU’s very own Diversity Digest for tried and tested student recipes.
  4. Meal prep. AKA shop and cook in bulk. Never buy or cook for one –instead, do large quantities of food, and portion out. Buying in bulk is cheaper, and you’ll save time – cooking for 6, then portioning out means that you have 6 meals ready then and there. Boom. No need to cook 3 times a day if you can just cook 3 times a week. For guides on meal-prepping, including recipes, start here.
  5. Eat regular meals, avoid snacks. This will stop you from getting too hungry and from over-indulging in fast food and sugary snacks – meal prepping is your friend. If you know you won’t have time to go home to cook, pack a container of pasta or a sandwich the night beforehand.


A healthy diet is about replacing your STAPLES with healthier foods, so that you can be stronger (physically and mentally), control money, save time, and practice self-discipline in a visceral way (it also doesn’t completely exclude donuts and kebabs). People might approach changing it the wrong way, then get discouraged – but in reality, it just requires some intelligent thought, patience, and willingness to push past mistakes.

And when you break the process down, the time investment and effort is pretty modest for something that will alter your day-to-day experiences, your future health, and last you a lifetime.

I’d say that’s worth picking up.


[i] [Last accessed 16/10/18]

[ii] Jina Tanton, Lorna J. Dodd, Lorayne Woodfield, and Mzwandile Mabhala, “Eating Behaviours of British University Students: A Cluster Analysis on a Neglected Issue,” Advances in Preventive Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 639239, 8 pages, 2015.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] [Last accessed 16/10/18]

[v]Monteiro, C. (2009). Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing. Public Health Nutrition, 12(5), 729-731. doi:10.1017/S1368980009005291

Finding a work-play balance at uni

Our student writer Taz shares her own advice for keeping that all important work-life balance…


Easing into your studies

Now that the excitement of Freshers’ Week is over, and the reality of having to attend lectures has hit, it is possible that you may be starting to feel slightly overwhelmed by the change in routine. However, whilst this is typical for first year students, there are many steps you can take to ensure that you stay on top of your studies and make the most of your degree.

  1. Attend all of your lessons (lectures and seminars). Reading the lecture slides may be practical, but only 50% of the information you need to gain a sufficient understanding of the topic will be on the slides. You need the lecturers’ input too!
  2. Keep an organised log of your work. Maintaining a consistent note-taking routine will prepare you for your Part 1 exams and provide you with valuable material which will help you throughout your degree.
  3. Don’t leave assignments until the last minute. Getting into a habit of completing assignments well in advance will serve you well for Parts 2 and 3. Starting the project in plenty of time will allow you to plan and gather the right sources to produce a high quality final product.

The Essentials pages have more advice on studying. 


Engage in extra-curricular activities

Taking up a new hobby, sport or becoming a member of a university scheme is highly recommended during your first year to not only keep you engaged in university life, but to avoid experiencing any feelings of boredom or homesickness. There are hundreds of societies, sport and non-sport related, at Reading: many of which are still welcoming new members. Details of these can be found on the RUSU website. Equally, if you’d like to get involved in something more course or career related you can also join schemes such as Students in Schools and The RED Award; both of which are huge assets to your CV. Likewise, for those of you interested in media, marketing or journalism, the university’s media streams, The Spark Newspaper and Junction 11 Radio, are ideal student-led societies to get involved in.

You can find out more about University opportunities and schemes here.


Know your limits

Whilst students like to think that they’ll stick to the organised routine they begin in their first term, habits such as cramming revision notes the couple of nights before an exam or pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment may also arise. And although these habits are often unavoidable when it comes to attending Wednesday Union, or binge-watching a favourite Netflix series with flat mates, it’s a good thing to remember that making some sacrifices earlier on in the term could help to avoid these last-minute panics.

It’s a good idea to keep a calendar or diary where you can to jot down assignment deadline and exam dates. This will help with planning your studies to ensure that you don’t overload yourself with work.


Following these tips will help you to establish a balanced routine as well as helping you to set yourself a strong path for the rest of your university experience. Best of luck!

My experience with the RED Award

Written by student Abi


The RED Award (Reading Experience and Development) is the University’s employability skills certificate and it encourages you to take extracurricular activities outside your degree.

I came across the RED Award during fresher’s week. I received my first email with many opportunities to take part! The RED Award pushed me to use the facilities available to me including development sessions and on-campus jobs on the MyJobsOnline (MJO) and Campus Jobs website. I completed my ‘Training and


Development’ and ‘Core Activity’ through my role as a Student Fundraiser. Initially I was stuck on completing my volunteering hours, but the regular e-mails advertised the Sustainability Services’ Blackout events which I got involved in my first two years. Here, I signed off my Award before second year finished. Now it’s on my degree transcript – evidence of my employability skills alongside my academic grades.

It’s an invaluable experience and I cannot recommend it anymore. From the

introduction to the sign off session where you are taught ways to use the skills you gained in the real world.

You might be thinking:


‘it seems like a lot of work’

Not at all! I completed mine in one year! This can be spread out across a year or over your degree. Also, you may already be doing the activities (part time job? Volunteering?) that you can use to complete your Award.


‘I don’t know what activities to do?’

  • For Training and Development hours, visit the MJO website for sessions on improving your professional skills. Lifetools sessions offer personal development sessions from ‘Getting a Good Night’s Sleep’ to managing stress.
  • For volunteering, look out for campus opportunities on MJO, RUSU events or the RVA website. RVA (Reading Voluntary Action) advertise local volunteering opportunities to assist your local community. Alternatively, have you signed up for Students in Schools? All these opportunities are flexible with your studies.
  • For core activities, you can use the above volunteering tips or any work experience/ paid work.


 ‘I’ll do it next year’

This is one I hear the most. The RED Award is often much easier to do in your first/ second year than it is third. You have a bit more leisure time than in your final year- not to say it isn’t possible to do it then.


If you have already completed your RED Award, you can take the next step with Advanced RED Award. Advanced RED Award allows you to focus on one employability skill, receive 1:1 support and mock interviews from one of The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers.


Book your introductory session today!

Good luck!

Tips on Living with Others


Student Rebecca shares her top tips on making the most of living with others


Living in halls/shared accommodation is a fantastic part of the university experience, firstly because as you move in on your first day people in the same situation instantly surround you.


My number 1 tip to a happy flat is to build friendships with your flatmates and people outside of your flat. Not relying on those friendships will be beneficial to both you and your friends. Diversifying your friendship groups will prevent loading too much pressure on your new friendships, especially as you will naturally be spending a lot of time together in the flat.

Secondly – recognise the differences between living with your parents and living with friends. Firstly you are responsible for yourself, and your mum is not there to tidy up after you! So take control of your living space, tidy up after yourself, respect others and think about the impact your actions have on those around you.

One of the most comforting things to do before moving into halls is to get to find your future flatmates on facebook. Getting to know who you will be living with – even if its just their names, will alleviate some of the pressure and awkwardness on the first day. This also helped me mentally prepare for living with other people, and also built the excitement for moving in day.

Finally – bring a doorstop and keep your bedroom door open when you are free and happy to socialise. This will invite people in and will help build friendships during welcome week. But don’t stop at welcome week – continue to keep your door open as the term starts, to maintain those friendships. If there is a flat member who hasn’t spent a lot of time with the rest of the flat – knock on their door and invite them to spend time with you, they may be feeling lonely/home sick, and it will help them feel comfortable in the flat too.

World Mental Health Day

Student Gemma experienced low mood and anxiety in her first year at Reading. On World Mental Health Day, she shares what’s she’s learnt for helping to cope with mental health issues; something so many of us experience.

University can be a daunting place with lots of open mind logo (002).jpegnew experiences as well as social and academic pressures. In my first year I struggled a lot with low mood and anxiety and I wish I had been more open at the time. At the time I was partying and seemingly having a lot of fun as a Fresher, but I knew that I was not putting my mental health first. Here are my 5 top tips for taking care of your mind at university:

  • Talk – Recognising you need help and talking to someone or asking for help can be very daunting, but there is no shame in asking for help. Everyone goes through stages where they are feeling low or stressed but when it is really starting to affect you and that down stage doesn’t seem to disappear, asking for support is probably the best thing you could do. On campus there are support services in Carrington, or you could visit your GP who will be able to advise you. Or speak to a friend; whether they are from home or a new friend from University. We have a new society at the University called Open Mind Reading where students are being open and honest in discussions surrounding mental health and trying to reduce the stigma. They also have advice on where you can go if you are struggling.


  • Alcohol awareness – Although union every Wednesday and Saturday is a lot of fun, being able to take a step back and realising that alcohol is having a big affect on your mood can be important. Perhaps try and stick to one night out a week or if that’s not possible, just try and slowly reduce the amount you are drinking on each of these nights out. Alcohol is a depressant that affects the body and brain. Having a few drinks can give you a new-found confidence and reduce your anxieties; this is when the ‘feel good factor’ of drinking kicks in. However, as you drink more, more of the brain is affected and instead of pleasure increasing, negative emotions may takeover. Drinking heavily and regularly means you are more likely to develop symptoms of depression due to lowering levels of serotonin.


  • Exercise – being active gives you a sense of achievement but also releases feel good chemicals in your brain, eliminating feelings of low mood, anxiety and stress. Even a short walk or doing 10 minutes of yoga can help. There are lots of sports societies on campus from yogalates to Korfball that can give you the benefits of exercising as well as the benefits of meeting and talking with new people.


  • Food – Students are known for not eating well and having a poor diet. But there is lots of evidence that improving your diet can help to improve your mood, give you energy and help you think more clearly. Eating sugary and snacky food can give you a sharp increase in blood sugar and then a sudden drop which can make you feel tired, irritable and depressed. Slow-release energy foods (pasta, rice, nuts, seeds, outs, wholegrain bread) can help to keep your sugar levels steady. Having a balanced diet and eating regularly throughout the day can be important for your mind. Also, cooking can be quite a therapeutic process and give you a sense of achievement.


  • Go outside – sunlight is a great source of vitamin D which is important as it helps release chemicals like endorphins and serotonin which improve mood. As its coming into winter, SADs (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects a lot of people as they are not getting enough sunlight, making them feel depressed or down. Make sure you are going outside daily, even if that’s just to go to the shops or have a short walk around the lake.


If you are currently feeling mentally unwell, the University has a counselling service in the Carrington Building which offers one-to-one support. You can also go to your local GP or Shinfield health centre next to the University who offer support via the telephone or internet. Family and friends can also be a great support network. Or the Samaritans are available 24/7 to call for free on 116 123 if you are in need of support quickly.


Want to be the sharpest tool? Try Life Tools!

Student Liam explains why he thinks you should head along to a Life Tools session…


(Please forgive that awful pun.)

Hi guys, Liam here, I just thought I would inform you on a really helpful (and free!) programme known as Life Tools.

But what actually is Life Tools, Liam?
This is a programme that runs during the academic year and features a wide range of lectures to assist you in improving your academic skills, ensuring you are your healthiest self, and preparing you for the working world (also known as ‘The-World-That-Must-Not-Be-Named’).

Some examples of upcoming lectures include the following:

  • Successful Strategies to Manage Academic Pressure
  • Ways to Stop Procrastination and Finish Your Work (Gosh, I might need to attend this one)
  • Mind-body Conditioning: the Benefits of Exercise.

How can this programme benefit you?

The great thing about Life Tools is that the lectures are wonderful and diverse—much like the community at the University of Reading—which ensures that you are bound to find something for you.

For instance, if you are a student with a good work ethic, you may still benefit from a presentation on mindfulness to unwind a bit. Furthermore, it would be understandable if you were feeling a bit nervous about socialising at university. If that is the case, there is a lecture on building your confidence to address that.
These are just a few examples of how Life Tools can develop your know-how in various facets of life. Additionally, this programme has a few added bonuses: you do not have to book in advance to attend these lectures, you can just turn up; and your presence at these lectures counts towards the Red Award!

(A taster of what you could learn from a Life Tools lecture.)

My personal experience with Life Tools:

In 2017, I attended two Life Tools lectures that focused on getting a healthy amount of sleep and strategies to cope with academic pressure. From those lectures I have learnt how to maximise sleep in a tight schedule, and how to place a healthy amount of value on academia itself. These lessons have supported me from 2017 onwards, ensuring I am a cheerier and healthier student.  For further information regarding Life Tools, please click here.

Also, I frequent the Life Tools blog from time to time, which is extremely useful for obtaining some brief and valuable tips to aid in your personal development.

I hope this help, guys! Thanks!



What I learnt in Second Year

Just gone into second year? Student Rebecca tells us how she made the most of it!


  • Utilise the Academic Tutor system

As you know from first year your tutor is there for both academic and pastoral support, although when your tutor meetings come around it can be hard to think what to say.  In first year my tutor meetings took the form of a friendly catch up on how the year was progressing, however during second year I learnt to really utilise the relationship built with my tutor. I would email my tutor to arrange meetings when an issue arose, or I needed help in a particular module – this help was absolutely invaluable. The changes to the tutor system this year has seen the introduction of academic tutors and their ability to refer pastoral issues to the student welfare team. Read more here: .

Similar to this, I also learnt the benefit of lecturer’s ‘office hours’, essentially a time to drop in and ask questions on areas you may be unsure on after the lecture. This is particularly useful during exam season, although possibly rather busy with other students doing the same– therefore I would recommend seeking out help during term time when the questions arise.


  • Pull on 1st year knowledge

Often the structure of a course will include introductory modules in first year to then be built on during second year.  Therefore not only is it assumed you have the knowledge of your first year modules but you may also be required to actively use said knowledge. Daunting – as I know I can forget everything I have learnt the second an exam finishes! Thus bringing your books/notes from first year to uni, and reviewing the content before building on it will be hugely beneficial.  During second year revision I actually did practice questions from my first year books, to build myself up and ensure I thoroughly understood the underlying principles.


  • Learn to Prioritise and ‘Balance’

Balance seems to be the buzz-word of our generation – too much of anything can be a bad thing, and we are constantly told you should eat, exercise, work and live in ‘moderation’.  But what does that all mean?

Second year bridges the ‘first year doesn’t count’ / ‘you only need 40% to pass’ attitude of first year, and the stresses of dissertation and final year exams in third year.

Thus now is the time to decide how much time and effort you want to allocate to studying, and socialising. Achieving your desired grade this year will alleviate some of the pressure for your final year, so do your future self a favour and work hard today. There is plenty of support advice available on Essentials:


I hope these tips will provide you with a little help and guidance, good luck in second year!

Coping with homesickness

It’s normal to feel homesick when you start university. Student Lucy tells us how she coped with feelings of homesickness as a new student, and now as a placement student in Italy!


For many students, now and the next few months may be challenging. We’ve just moved away from home and suddenly we have to fend for ourselves. No home comforts, no home cooked meals and no bank of mum and dad to rely on.

When I moved to Reading in first year, the initial few weeks I had an absolute blast. Homesickness? What homesickness? But about a month in it hit me and it hit me hard. The reality that I was at university and away from home flooded through my mind. It was tough and scary, but if you learn how to deal with it, it is easily resolved.

Here are some tips if you are starting to feel homesick:

  1. Keep busy! If you pack your days with plenty of things to do, you won’t be thinking about how you miss home as much. The worst thing to do is to sit at home and feel sorry for yourself! You could take part in a new society, meet up with friends or learn a new hobby.
  2. Talk to you friends. You can almost guarantee that they will be feeling the same too.
  3. Don’t avoid uncomfortable situations. If you feel uncomfortable going to an event to meet new friends, throw yourself in and be brave. These events are important to meet new people and experience university life to the full. You will soon feel more comfortable.
  4. Explore your new home. Instead of thinking back to all the great things at home, start exploring your new city and think instead about the benefits of being there. One of my favourite things to do is to walk around the lake on campus and around the Harris Gardens. Another thing not to be missed is brunch at Cafè Yolk, which is just a short walk from campus.
  5. Make your bedroom more homely. Put up pictures that make you smile. This should be a place that you want to go back to at the end of a busy day. A place for you to relax.
  6. Meet up with your friends back home who are at other universities. This way you’re still exploring university life.
  7. Regularly exercise. Exercise is not only amazing for you physically, but also mentally. Endorphins released when you exercise make you happy. It is amazing for your mental health and will help you to think positively when you are feeling down.
  8. FaceTime! If you still feel really homesick, you can FaceTime or Skype your family back at home. However, I wouldn’t recommend doing this too much in your first few months as you could end up missing them more.


I have just moved to Italy for my year abroad, so I am practising all of the above techniques. In the past two weeks I have been out and about exploring my new home, I have made my bedroom somewhere I want to return to and I have met up with a friend from university who is in another city in Italy. I have been busy every day since I got here and have got plans almost every weekend until I come back for Christmas!

Whilst feeling homesick can feel really rubbish, it shouldn’t be something that inhibits you from living your life and it won’t last forever. Soon enough Reading or wherever you may be will become home.

How to manage a Student Loan in the first term

Tips from 4th year, Kate!


kr-moneyThis is an exciting time, you suddenly have access to a large amount of money. Yipeee! However, this has got to last you term 1 and probably the holidays.  You may choose to put this towards your rent or use it to live. Regardless managing your money is crucial.



This seems obvious but divide your first loan amount by the number of weeks in first term (11) and you will get a weekly amount.  From this you have to then work out how you spend your money. Once you start doing this for a few weeks you will work out what you do and don’t spend money on, so you can plan for the future.


Make your money go further

Discounts and offers are your best friend.

Invest in a 16-25 rail card if you travel often by train.

Buy a NUS card you get tonnes of offers and cheaper tickets at union.

UNIDAYS also an essential app with lots of discounts.

Buy groceries in cheaper supermarkets. It all tastes the same!


The Dreaded Overdraft

So it’s not always dreaded, it can save you if you get into a sticky rent situation or need to treat yourself to a train fair home. But… I would highly recommend not going into your overdraft if you can help it. You will feel like you are in a constant battle with the minus sign climbing back up to £0. This is stressful and not something you should have to worry about so avoid the draft!


Spread the costs

What I mean by this is don’t be the person who continuously buys the rounds of drinks, pays an extra £10 for a supermarket shop or buys all the communal items for the flat/house. Go ahead and pay for them if you know that people will by you your next drink or pay you back. It’s lovely to be friendly and help out others occasionally but make sure it doesn’t become a habit and impact your loan.


Don’t buy all your text books straight away

Buying textbooks straight away could be a very expensive mistake. You can find many online or access them at the Library. Some you will need to buy if the library only has 1. Be clever, is there one book that is used across a number of modules? Yes? Worth it! You’ll find lots of students selling used text books at a cheaper rate so check this out before spending a fortune on amazon!



Apps that do it for you! They breakdown the costs so you can see where your spending the most money and help you keep a track of your spending!

Money Box and Pennies are highly recommended.


Just because you have the money it doesn’t mean you have to spend it.

Remember it is a loan you will one day have to pay back!

For further advice, check out the links:

-Reading Student Advice

-Money Saving Expert
-NUS Money Saving Expert