Healthy nachos

Bake a packet of frozen potato wedges (look for ones with heart foundation tick).

While you’re waiting…

Chop and fry an onion,
add a tin of drained mixed beans,
stir in a jar of salsa,
add spices, seasonings, etc,
cook until it tastes great.


Grate a chunk of cheese.

When everything’s ready….

Layer wedges, salsa mix and cheese in a wide oven-proof bowl/dish and
bake until cheese is melted.

When melted…

Top with some low-fat sour cream and seasonings.


Get a second opinion

You’ve spent hours researching, writing and editing your essay and now it’s printed, stapled and waiting on your desk, ready for delivery. You’re finished, right? Wrong.

Before you hand it in, get a second opinion. Your classmate, your high-achieving friend, your Mum. Preferably, it’ll be someone familiar with the BA lingo, but anyone’s better than noone. Let them read your essay, then listen to what they have to say about it.

You may choose to ignore everything. You may choose to rework your essay entirely. Just give your essay a chance to be read before it you hand it in.

Recipe: student muesli

Here’s a recipe for the breakfast dish that got me through my BA. I haven’t included quantities or times because it depends on how much you want, how much you’ve got, and how you like it. Being a student is all about being creative.

1) Pour oats (rolled, wholegrain, whatever’s cheap) into a baking dish.
2) Melt honey, oil and a dash of vanilla together and mix in with the oats, so that it’s all lightly coated. If you’ve got any kind of nuts or seeds, you can stir those in too. Same goes for dried coconut, wheatgerm and the like.
3) Bake oat mixture at around 180 degrees until golden brown.
4) Take mixture out of oven and, if you want, stir in any kind of dried fruit (sultanas, chopped dates, apricots – again, whatever you’ve got).
5) Leave to cool then store in an airtight container. Eat on its own or with any combination of milk, yoghurt and fruit for a satisfying, healthy and versatile meal.

The real challenge of a BA

My worst essay was for Sociology – whether a person’s sexual identity is influenced more by social or biological factors. Knowing that everyone else would stick with the lecturer’s social view, I decided to be different. I spent ages researching, and found some compelling material. I referenced everything meticulously. I addressed both sides of the issue, and then explained why my biological perspective was the most accurate.

I didn’t do very well. Perplexed, I took it back to my lecturer for some feedback.
‘This is a very well-written essay,’ she said. ‘It’s well researched, and well argued.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘So why didn’t I get an A?’
She flicked through the perfectly formatted pages for a couple of seconds and then looked at me. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you’ve totally diverged from the key idea of the course. You’ve contradicted everything I’ve said in lectures. This is a sociology course, and you’ve written a biologist’s essay.’

The experience taught me a powerful lesson: the real challenge of a BA isn’t learning how to express your own view, it’s learning how to express the views of others. Your essays aren’t about taking a different view for the sake of being different, they’re about taking the same view as someone else but casting it in a slightly new light. They’re about showing that you can assume perspectives, even if they’re different from your own.

If you’re finding it hard to relate to one of your courses, let go of your own views for a little while. Have a go at speaking your lecturer’s language, and seeing the world through their eyes. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Procrastination: the silent killer

Uni’s tough for loads of reasons: confusing readings, tedious lectures, tight time-frames, complex assignments, obscure lecturers. By far the most commonly-sighted challenge I hear about, though, is student-made.

Procrastination is that voice inside your head that says, ‘nah, it’ll be sweet’. It’s the strange impulse that makes you spend the morning surfing the net rather than working on your essay. The bad influence that convinces you that cleaning the bathroom, or sorting your cupboard, or reading the news, or catching up with a friend is actually more important right now that doing your readings. The thing that makes you believe that your assignment doesn’t need to be started, but then makes you feel guilty every time you think about it.

Procrastination’s only real combatant is motivation. Without motivation, it’ll take total control. It will make you stressed, cast a guilty shadow over your enjoyment of your day, and ultimately stop you getting the grades that you’re capable of. If you’re going to make the most of uni, you have to get motivated. The good news is that if you’re not the sort of person to possess motivation, you can make it. Here’s how:

1) Create structure. Ever wonder why your most free days are often your least constructive? Time is like money – it’s hard to value when you’ve got oodles of it. Break your day into one-hour blocks and set yourself tasks and appointments for each hour. Book in time for Facebooking, or tidying the house, alongside time for doing your readings and working on your assignments. Knowing you only have an hour on something can help to create a sense of urgency.

2) Set goals. As a student, your work will never be done. There’s always more to read, or write, or think about. When you’re not working towards anything specific, it can be incredibly hard to attain a sense of completion. Set achievable goals and work towards them one at a time: reading three articles from your Course Reader, gathering five sources for your assignment, writing 300 words of your essay.

3) Get rewards. We all seek acknowledgement for the work that we do. When you meet your goals, make sure you get the rewards you deserve. Buy yourself a coffee. Spend an hour on random Youtube videos. Get someone to cook you something you love.

4) Believe in yourself. It’s cheesy, but it’s important. If you don’t think that you can do it, you won’t want to try. It’s not worth the time, effort, or risk of getting a crap mark and looking stupid. The truth is, if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’re totally capable of getting an A+. Create motivation, defeat procrastination, and you can do whatever you want.

Rethink your student loan while you still can

It’s all changing. Soon, it’s very likely that your student loan will no longer be the one that you signed up for at the start of your degree. Here are the proposed changes, in a nutshell:

1) When you finish studying and get a job, you’ll have to put 12% rather than 10% of your salary towards your loan.
2) You’ll probably not be rewarded for making voluntary repayments. At the moment, if you pay off more than you have to, you get a 10% bonus.

In New Zealand, we’re very lucky to be able to get loans for our study. What we have to accept, though, is that our country’s in a tough way financially and, well, something’s gotta give somewhere. While I believe that everyone, regardless of financial status, should have the right to go to uni, I’d rather that the government save a bit of money by tightening up our student loan rules than cutting money from something like healthcare or compulsory education. Going to uni is a wonderful, enlightening, empowering thing but in the short term it doesn’t keep us alive.

How you can help – both yourself and the rest of New Zealand – is by keeping your student loan as small as possible. This week, I’ve asked a number of recent graduates to rethink their own student loan decisions. While none of them could have paid their fees without a loan, all of them now admit that they could have easily taken steps to avoid having to take out huge loans for living expenses. What seemed like a good idea at the time is now draining their weekly salary enormously, stopping them from being able to go overseas due to the massive interest they’ll accrue on it, and stressing them out with a feeling of ‘I’ll never be able to pay this off!’

Some people NEED a loan for their living expenses. But do you? Here are three simple ways to minimise the amount you need to borrow to live:

1) Get a part-time job. It’ll keep you focussed, motivated and can provide you with priceless experience.
2) Move back home. Your ability to do that will depend on a lot of things, but pride shouldn’t be one of them.
3) Keep your expenses to a minimum. You are a student. You need to live like one. Budget down to the last cent. Trust me, it’ll make that first post-uni pay cheque so much sweeter.

Living by the two-dollar-a-meal rule

There are a lot of rules in An Insider’s Guide: always read your readings; start assignments as soon as you get them; include at least ten references for each assignment. But one of the most important rules isn’t to do with academic success. It’s the two-dollar-a-meal rule.

My copy editor wanted me to cut it out. Two dollars a meal? Crazy! While I followed her professional judgement about a lot of things, in this instance I held my ground. The two-dollar-a-meal rule is not only totally doable, it’s one of the most important rules for a student to follow. So, how do you do it? Easy. Follow these 10 simple steps:

1) Have breakfast before you leave the house. A couple of slices of toast or some cereal costs nothing and stops you getting crazy hankerings for coffee and chocolate later in the morning.
2) Make your own. Cereal, soup, hummus, biscuits and sauces are all heaps nicer, healthier and cheaper when you make them yourself.
3) Pack your lunch. Sandwiches are cheap, healthy and awesome.
4) Shop at Pac’N’Save. Swallow your pride and do it.
5) Only buy stuff on sale.
6) Set a weekly shopping budget, and stick to it. $2 x 3 meals=$6. $6 x 7 days=$42. With a bit more for non-food items, $50 a week for yourself is totally doable. Then make what you’ve bought last a whole week. If you’re running out of food, bust out those 2-minute noodles and tins of spaghetti that are lurking at the back of the pantry and wait until shopping day.
7) Don’t follow recipes. Just use what you’ve got to make a meal.
8) Keep meat to a minimum. Learn to love beans, lentils, chickpeas and eggs. Learn how to imagine that mushroom is like steak.
9) Cook in bulk. Cook up a big load of pasta sauce, or soup, or lasagna, then separate it into portions and freeze them.
10) Pasta, potatoes or rice. Every day. You can’t afford to be picky.

And always remember – there is such a thing as a free lunch and, as a student, it’s your job to always find it.


If you’re going to do well at uni, you have to be able to self-reflect. Before you head back to campus next week, take a bit of time to reflect back on how things have gone so far, and to set some goals for the next stint of lectures and assignments. Here are some questions that might help:

1) What were your three biggest successes at uni last term?
2) What aspect of your uni life (lectures, assignments, clubs, social life, etc) are you most enjoying at this point in the year?
3) How do your actual results compare with the results you thought you would get before you started uni? Why do you think this is?
4) Were you too slack most of last term, or too stressed? What do you think you need to do to manage your time better next term?
5) What three main points of feedback from your assignments are you going to work at this term?
6) What area/s of your uni life (lectures, assignments, clubs, social life, etc) would you like to work on developing this term? What steps are you going to take to do so?
7)  What three concrete, measurable goals are you going to set for this term (e.g. speaking up in class once a week, getting at least a B+ in every essay)?

The wisdom of foresight

Illness can’t often be timed to fit around your studies. Your cold doesn’t care if you’ve got an exam tomorrow. Your stomach bug is oblivious to that looming assignment. Your headache doesn’t give a damn about that three-hour lecture this afternoon.

Sometimes, though, it can. Take wisdom teeth, for example – a topic close to my heart as I write this with a face twice the size it should be, so swollen I can only feed by way of a party straw. I have known for some time that my wisdom teeth needed to be cut out and, resisting the temptation to see it as a good excuse for some sick leave, I scheduled my surgery for the start of the holidays.

If you haven’t already had your wisdoms checked out, go and do it. If you’re unlucky enough to need them taken out (like about a third of us do in our early twenties), book in for your next uni break. It sucks to lose your holidays, but it sucks even more to lose your GPA due to a stroke of bad dental luck.


The thing I miss most about my student job is the hours. Some days you might have eight hours of lectures, requiring you to be on campus for the whole day; other days, though, you might have none, allowing you to go to a paid job, do some volunteer work or study at home instead.

The thing I miss least about my student job is the pressure. No matter how many lectures I had on, or how well I filled in my eight hours of study a day, there was always something else that could be done. That essay could be made clearer. I could do next week’s readings. I could email that lecturer to get their feedback on my last assignment.

Buried under all these coulds is a must. You must schedule in time for a break each week. If you don’t, you’ll soon go crazy and start resenting the very place that you’re paying lots of money to enjoy. So, this Easter, make sure that you schedule in at least a full day’s worth of nothing. No work, no jobs, no set readings. Read something with absolutely no critical acclaim. Chill.