Mark Twain, the 19th century American writer and entrepreneur once wrote “when ill luck begins, it does not come in sprinkles, but in showers”. I don’t really subscribe to the idea of a situation being totally out my control, but sometimes it’s hard to imagine how things could have been any better. Bad luck, I suppose.
When I started my academic journey last year, I could only describe it as such. Strapped for cash, fighting an uphill battle with student finance and adapting to a new learning environment made the transition into university a painful one. While now I can safely say there is no longer an issue, that period always keeps me drawing that same conclusion.
“With your grades, we’d be happy to accept you onto the course”.
A sigh of relief as the two-day hunt for a university came to a close. One mark spelled the life-changing difference between my media study now, and the language therapy I’d have fallen into – I really should have taken the re-sit. It was time to let it go - no point thinking about what could have been. Instead, I had to focus on an entirely new reality.
Everything had changed. I was no longer on an NHS-funded course, no longer living in Leeds (or Cardiff) and no longer prepared for university. I had to start making arrangements. Where am I going to live? What will I need? How long will student finance take? Less than a month to solve problems that take more than a month to solve – a bad situation indeed.
The actual complexities of my situation hadn’t yet become apparent; I was under the impression that it was as simple as just picking a place to live, throwing an application at student finance and having it all done and dusted by late-September (or at latest, early October). Seemed as though my naiveté had gotten the better of me.
£50 a week. That amount would last me for 5 weeks. By then, I’d have received the money from student finance and having received my passport back, I can open up an overdraft account. Subtract the train and bus fare…
£2 a week. That amount would last me for 5 weeks. My failure to secure a well-priced accommodation meant sacrificing 4 hours - on a good day - on travel to and from Manchester. My parents were happy to provide said money, but it was noted (for reasons I can’t disclose) that this stream of cash was unsustainable. I had to put my faith in student finance, although after rejecting my foreign birth certificate and forcing us a payment of £100 for quick passport renewal, I wasn’t in high hopes.
This hold-up had very much prolonged the process. I received my passport in mid-September, only for it to be instantly stripped away from me. I knew that my previous financial projections were tight, but now it seemed impossible. £2 was enough money to get by – especially living at home - but we all knew that wasn’t going to last.
The end of October steadily approached and with it, so did my financial streams. My job hunt was unsuccessful, my passport unreturned and my worries skyrocketing. A lack of money had already caused me to miss a few lessons, and this in combination with countless requests for nights out – all declined - it was becoming too much of a burden.
“You should take out an emergency loan” – this vital information came courtesy of the student help desk, and it was a game changer. MMU provides a service where if in an emergency, you can loan £200 to be taken out straight away.
Having quickly qualified - money in pocket - I started to feel confident. By the end of November, the money should be in my account and I can put this all past me. The stress had lifted from my shoulders. “I’ll be alright” I thought.
“It looks as though your student finance application has been deleted”.
I’m not a stressy type of person, even during A-Levels I managed to maintain a certain amount of composure. So, in other words; it takes a lot for me to have any sort of breakdown or freak-out – it actually had never happened to me before.
But there I was, absolutely frozen in the middle of the street. Perhaps it was the shock or just bewilderment at what I was hearing, but it hit me all the same. The student services at MMU said my application had disappeared, suggesting it had been taken off the system. After coming off the phone, I had to take a time out, and spent the morning using my train fare on a lunch.
12:30 – I made the call. I prayed that what I had heard wasn’t true.
It had been 3 months since I’d last used my debit card, so withdrawing from it felt oddly satisfying. Finally, after months of waiting and money saving antics, it had come through. A genuine sense of relief came over me. At that point, I was in a ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ mentality, so seeing it there felt like the ending of a bad chapter.
My application got stuck in processing – or so I was told. That vagary doesn’t sit with me well, but it was resolved after a long phone call trying to hold back my anger. It was this that caused my application to disappear on the system, and with that known, they were able to reinstate my application. A week after that day, my passport finally returned, allowing me to open a student Santander account – granting me an overdraft and a railcard that I made great use of.
Now this didn’t mean the end of my bad luck unfortunately, as delayed trains shortly lead to many late arrivals and even an absence during an exam, but hey, at least I don’t have to think about money anymore right?
I suppose the most important thing to take from this story is that there is always a way to stay financially afloat at university – even when it appears there isn’t. The emergency loan, student overdraft and just the willingness of those at the university to help, is something you can take advantage of during your financial struggles. So make sure you do so, spend smart, and remember, the biggest mistake you can make is not asking for help.