First-time students need a degree of common sense

Across the land, anxious parents are getting ready to drop off young people at universities far from home, looking nervously at the big cities and tiny student accommodation.

There are lots of online sites for students offering discounts.

Today’s students face tons of challenges that their parent’s generation didn’t, including huge student loans, expensive housing and a challenging job market when it’s all over.

It’s important that students get a fair deal. So here are a few tips for first-time students (and their parents).

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◆ Use your student powers for free stuff. Get the NUS card and railcard – you’ll save a packet. There are lots of online sites for students offering discounts. Watch out for non-uni affiliated Facebook groups. I’ve had many reports about fraudulent “free” deals on them.

◆ If your looking to move into a house or flat with other students or friends, make sure you’re all listed on the contract and bills. You’re fully liable for the entire bill even if your friends move out and dodge the electricity bill – so make sure everyone coughs up each month. Go digital for the bills if you can to avoid letters with personal details going missing in communal hallways.

◆ Don’t get tempted by flashy giveaways with bank accounts. Go for the biggest free overdraft you can find. And don’t spend up to the limit! Check to find out what happens when you graduate – the interest rates can change.

◆ Don’t ever pay money upfront for anything, from viewing properties to buying a guitar online. You’ve no way of getting the cash back if there’s a dispute. Once you have an agreement, pay by debit or credit card if you can.

◆ Watch out for fraudulent emails. There are lots of convincing frauds doing the rounds. As a rule, never respond to anything asking you to confirm your private details or bank account.

◆ Do a few safety checks. Yes, we know this is boring, but a working smoke alarm is really. Boilers should be serviced once a year so check with your landlord that this is happening. A lot of student accommodation is rubbish so get a carbon monoxide detector, some anti-mould spray and if the house is damp, get a cheap dehumidifier.

◆ Don’t overshare on social media. You’ll be building up your friends lists at uni, but don’t give too many details away, like your date of birth, first school or any of the other things that could be used by banks or other organisations to identify you. Watch out for those online mini-quizzes or ‘what kind of superhero would you be’ things that do the rounds. In reality, they mine your data and sell it on.

◆ Don’t panic if you get into money difficulties. There’s loads of help out there. Check out the National Association of Student Money Advisers who provide free, confidential advice. They can help you get a bit of perspective. The important thing is to admit it as soon as you need help and not panic and take out a payday loan that offers a short-term, high-interest way in too much deeper debt. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You won’t be the first student to get in to debt – and there are solutions.

Get a complaint about student debt or any other problem sorted at

James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service