Your time at university is unique. Not just for all the friends you’ll make, drunken nights you won’t remember, essays you’ll write and independence you’ll gain. It is also likely to be the only time in your life when you’ll be paid for your spare time.

Your student loans (and bursaries or scholarships) cover your tuition fees, accommodation and other living costs throughout your years of study. That includes the hours you spend in lectures, and also the hours outside.

So how should you spend your spare time at uni?

(NB. It’s no coincidence that the verb ‘spend’ is closely associated with both money and time!)

Well, the average contact time for a university course is around 13 hours a week. For Arts and Humanities it is usually lower, sometimes as little as 6-8 hours a week. Of course you’re expected to use more hours than that outside of class; reading, revising, conducting independent research, planning and writing essays. But ultimately, most students will find themselves with a LOT of free time.

It may be tempting to whittle away this time drinking, dancing, flirting, being hungover, and eating leftover pizza. And that’s fine, some of the time. But just don’t spend all of it this way.

If you sleep for 8 hours a night and study for two hours per day on top of lectures (ambitious perhaps, but we’ll count the stressful ‘feeling-guilty-about-not-doing-essays-and-carrying-around-books-from-the-library-but-not-actually-reading-them’ in this category too), add in a tablespoon of socialising and a dash of well, dashing around, and your weekly hours will look something like this:

  • Total hours doing stuff = 104 hours
  • Hours in a week (24 x 7) = 168
  • 168 – 104 = 64 hours.
  • 64 hours of free time a week! That’s nearly 10 hours per day!

What could you be doing?

You could be using this time for a part-time job, volunteering, internships, blogging, career networking, free training, sports teams, or being on the committee of a university society. Or, if you look at it in ‘CV checklist’ terms: Learning key life and work skills, money and time management skills, leadership, initiative and teamwork skills; and what’s more you’ll be making friends and gaining confidence while doing it.

Instead, a lot of students spend way too much time clicking through that never-ending whirlwind of social media tabs, playing video games, napping or watching really trashy TV.

A lot of graduates expect to have to work for free when they leave the warm comforting duvet of campus life; unpaid internships and work experience now seem to be synonymous with getting a degree. But understandably not every graduate can afford to do them. However, if you get enough experience and skills while still at university, whilst being effectively PAID for your free time, then you may well not have to give up anymore of your time being wageless after donning the celebratory hat and gown.

It’s not necessarily easy but nothing worth doing usually is…

(Cliché alert!)

But talking from experience, I learnt crucial time management skills by juggling a part-time job, volunteering, doing a remote internship, being a student ambassador, being on the committee of a sports team and running a society. And a bit of studying on the side. But what got me a job when I graduated, differentiating me from all the other candidates? I can guarantee it was the time I spent outside the classroom.

Guest blogger Rebecca Coxon is a writer, journalist, presenter. Feminist and Mental Health campaigner. Find her on Twitter @RebeccaCoxon