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How to Make University Pay, Wherever and Whatever You Study

04/08/2016 11:20 | Updated 04 August 2016

This week the government scrapped grants for the poorest students, leaving all students financing their education through debt. There's been general outcry, with commentators claiming that this will put the poorest students off going to university. At the same time, the Intergenerational Foundation released a report that seriously challenges the £100,000 lifetime graduate earning premium.

So, what should parents and students on the cusp of a university education make of all this?

In my view, education is the only investment that can never be taken away from you. Whatever else you invest your money in, the value of it can go up and down or it can be taken from you. For example, if you save the money you would have spent on your education and use it to put down a deposit on a house the value of that house can go up or down, you could have the house repossessed or you could lose the house to flood or disaster.

On the other hand, an educations stays with you for life. Whatever hand life deals with you you'll carry the knowledge and skills you learned at university in your brain forever.

However, it's imperative that if you're going to invest your time and money in a university education that you make the absolute most of it. How do you do this?

1. Work hard at your studies
Long gone are the days when students could afford to while away their days in the student bar. When you go to university you should be aiming to work hard. When I went to Cambridge I decided that I'd treat my studies like a job. I worked from 9am to 6pm, taking a lunch break and a tea break. I then made the most of the rest of university life in the evenings. I also studied at weekends. It wasn't until my final term that I started to study in the evenings. This approach enabled me to get the most out of my studies - reading in the library, attending lectures and supervisions and writing essays.

2. Maximise the extra-curricular opportunities
The people who I see shining brightest from my time at Cambridge all started to develop their experience and connections while they were at university. Chris Mason, the BBC political correspondent, studied geography in the same year as me. I watched him buzz about writing for the university newspaper, being on university radio and networking with future politicians. I also watched two future MPs take on leadership roles in the Cambridge University Conservative Association. These people used the extra-curricular opportunities available at university to their maximum advantage and have seen their efforts pay off.

3. Develop your skill set
Even if you're not sure what you want to do when you graduate you can take part in university societies to develop your skill set. When I was treasurer of the Cambridge Union I taught myself a lot about marketing and pitching to companies trying to sell advertising space in our term-card. I also learned something about book-keeping as treasurer of the Cambridge University Geography Society. I was involved in organising events and learned lots about my strengths and weaknesses. This is all useful stuff that you can write about in job applications and draw on in the work place.

4. Get yourself noticed
I was lucky enough to get head-hunted for my first graduate role. Not everyone is going to have this good-fortune but I put it down to the fact that I put myself forward for prominent positions in the university, such as being treasurer of the Cambridge Union. If you put yourself out there and get yourself noticed it can often lead to other things.

5. Make the most of the holidays
Use the very long holidays you get during your degree to make yourself more employable. You could do anything from paid work in a local shop to internships to pursuing a passion project. The key thing is to use this time well so that you've got something other than essays to tell your future employers about.

The keys to making university pay are to develop your passions, collaborate on projects you care about and stay committed to excellence in everything you do. When you do these things you will form habits that will serve you well as you hunt for jobs and as you seek to progress your career.

Lucy Parsons is an academic coach who empowers young people to get the top grades and into the best universities. Find out more about her work on her website, lifemoreextraordinary.com.

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