Hi, I’m Emma – I’m a second year law student at the University of York. Today, I’m going to be talking about coming to York as a low-income student.
Who am I?
Being a student from a low-income household is just like being any other student – I go to class and treat myself with a coffee. I go to concerts and galleries, I participate in societies and enjoy a rich social life outside of my timetable. Essentially, there isn’t anything that sets me apart from my peers, but when I was about to start my first year, my financial situation changed. On top of going to a new place and starting my journey into adulthood, I had the added responsibility of being financially independent.
My start at university was simultaneously unique and parallel to others. When I moved to uni, my family didn’t have a car, so a family friend dropped me off. With half of my things up in York and the rest at home, I got comfortable in my accommodation. In hindsight, I was scared – but in the moment, I was relieved to be surrounded by familiar things. As my friend’s parents took them for a shop to get them started, I went to the on-campus Nisa to buy myself cutlery.
As anxious as I was about money (or, lack thereof), I felt, for the first time, financially uninhibited – my student loan was fresh in my account, and using apple-pay made everything feel free. I bought myself a freshers ticket, and made the absolute most of the events they had on – I mean, if I’m paying £30, I’m getting £30 worth of things to do!
My own personal 2008 financial crash…
I settled into financial independence quite nicely. I budgeted and tried my best to balance enjoying myself as a first year, and ensuring I didn’t go over the weekly allowance I set.
And then it came time to pay my first instalment of rent.
I looked at the email outlining the payment structure in horror. There was no way this could be right – I was living in a college older than the Dave Matthews Band, why was I paying a premium?! My first rent payment came out of my savings – and it hit me hard. I went from an opulent, Gatsby lifestyle, to living like Renton in Trainspotting. It sucked.
I was in a catered accommodation for the first year, and I was at every breakfast and dinner. When my friends would go splits on a takeaway, I would politely decline, citing anything but finances. I felt like I couldn’t go out with my friends because I was worried I would go over my budget. So I became reclusive, and my mental health took a hit. I was embarrassed of my situation, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it.
The light at the end of the tunnel
It went on like this until the end of second term, when I was sat down by my friends and asked where I had gone, or if they had done anything to upset me. I avoided the question until I couldn’t any longer. I told them everything – about how I was suddenly financially independent when I went to uni. How I was paying rent out of my student loan and savings. How I felt like I couldn’t participate because I was so worried about money.
I was scared that they wouldn’t want to include me, but (as loathed as I am to admit it), I was wrong. They couldn’t have been more understanding. Once I made it clear that I couldn’t always participate in certain activities, my social life grew. We started doing things together that I could do too – we went to free society nights, and student art evenings. We went to the less expensive pubs, and they would sometimes ‘forget’ to ask me to pay them back if they covered me once or twice.
How life went on
Student life doesn’t stop if you’re from a low-income household. Just because you feel like you can’t do everything your friends can, doesn’t make it so. This year alone, I’ve been able to plan things with my friends that don’t stretch my budget thin – we had a fireworks night where someone brought fireworks from home. I’ve done an arts and crafts evening, and seen live music at pubs. We’re planning a Christmas dinner for 15 of us, where everyone cooks and brings what they can. You can have the university experience you deserve, if you’re honest with yourself and the people around you. So good luck and I can’t wait to see you all next year!