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Helping your young person prepare to start at university

By Lauren Sandhu, on 9 September 2020

This series for parents and carers is written by Karen Roberts our Senior Access Officer for pupil engagement. Karen is a former teacher and has lots of experience working with young people. We will be posting on a regular basis so please check back for more tips and ideas.

So, the time has come.  Your child has finished their schooling and is preparing to start university this Autumn.  We recognise that A Level results day was difficult for many families, but now those young people who found a university place can get ready to move from secondary to Higher Education.  Here, we provide some tips for parents on how you can support your son or daughter as they prepare for the next stage of their education journey.

  1. Find out how your child’s university plans to teach students during the first academic term

At UCL, we have made the decision to offer a mix of teaching methods next term (September-December 2020), with most teaching and learning taking place online and some face-to-face teaching in small groups where possible (see UCL’s statement on our website). Many universities are going to follow a similar approach, but this will vary across the sector so we suggest looking into this for your child’s university if they’re going elsewhere.  At the moment, universities generally do not yet know if there will be more face-to-face teaching in 2021 due to the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19.

In these circumstances, you and your child may decide that it makes most sense for them to live at home for all or part of the year and only travel to campus when they have face-to-face sessions.  Of course, your child may want to live on campus regardless or they may not have a choice about living away from home if their university is too far away to commute to, in which case you will need to choose suitable accommodation (see point 4 below) and we would recommend reminding your child of the key ways to stay safe during this time (see point 2 below).

  1. Make sure your son or daughter is aware of the safety basics

Universities have worked hard to put measures in place to keep students and staff safe in the coming year such as making sure rooms are large enough to allow social distancing, reducing the number of people who come onto campus at any one time and providing more bike racks to make cycling to campus easier.

However, individuals also need to play their part.  So, we suggest reminding your child of the key ways to reduce their risk of Coronavirus infection i.e. staying 2m apart from others where possible, washing their hands frequently, wearing a mask in shops and on public transport and avoiding touching their face.  UCL has produced some advice for students which you may find useful.

  1. Talk to your child about finances

If your child has applied for Student Finance, they should have confirmation by now that their tuition fees will be paid and details of how much maintenance support they can expect to receive for this year.   Once you know how much they’re going to spend on accommodation (see below), then you can talk to them about budgeting and whether or not you will be able to contribute anything towards their living costs while they are university.  Remember to check if they are eligible for any bursaries or scholarships; this is money which your child will not have to pay back! Also discuss with your child whether they feel able to work part time to add to their income while they are studying.

We have included links below to details of the bursaries and scholarships which UCL offers along with some other websites related to student finance which you may find helpful.

  1. Support your child to find suitable accommodation

Your child has three main choices in terms of accommodation while studying at university:

  • Living at home
  • Living in student accommodation (halls of residence)
  • Living in private housing (owned by a private landlord).

If your child is planning to leave home, then you need to check the available accommodation and lockdown restrictions in the university location.  UCAS has lots of useful information on this on their website. If your child is planning to live in university halls of residence, you should be able to obtain information directly from the university on, for example, whether masks will be mandatory in communal areas.

Most halls of residence offer single rooms, with shared kitchen and living spaces.  Many have rooms with a private bathroom and others provide self-contained studios where your child would have their own bathroom and cooking facilities.  Obviously, the more private space your child has, the more expensive the accommodation cost will be. However, many parents like this option for their child’s first year at university because halls offer a secure and comfortable environment with lots of facilities included.  Living in halls could also be a good way for your child to make friends with other new students initially.

Private housing is usually cheaper than halls of residence, particularly if your child chooses to share with other students and it means they will live in a ‘normal’ house.  If your child has decided to live in private accommodation, UCL has prepared some advice which may help even if your child is going to a different university.

  1. Help your child to develop their cooking skills

Living on ready meals and takeaways might be appealing at first, but ultimately it will be cheaper and healthier for your child to learn to cook.  This doesn’t mean they have to become the next Jamie Oliver!  If they don’t already cook at home, then perhaps you could teach them 2-3 simple meals which they can practise by cooking for the family before they go to university.  Even if they are not leaving home to study, this will be a good life skill for your child to develop as they become more independent.

  1. Help your child to get their essential supplies together

UCAS has published a big list of everything your child will need to take to university which you may find useful.  At the very least, your child will need:

  • Towels and toiletries
  • Bedding
  • Some basic kitchen equipment (frying pan, saucepan, mugs, plates, cutlery, a tin and/or bottle opener, sharp knife, wooden spoon, chopping board, something to wash dishes with)

They may also want to take along some home comforts to brighten up their room such as a plant or two and some posters or photos, but they don’t need to go overboard as this will just mean more things to pack when they come home.  Our advice would be to contribute whatever you can from home and only buy essential items new. There will be some things that your child uses at home which they can take with them (such as their bedding) and others which you should be able to buy quite cheaply.  It’s a good idea to find out in advance what is already provided in your child’s student accommodation to avoid unnecessary spending.

Good luck to all of you and to your children who are starting as undergraduates in the next few weeks.  If your child is coming to UCL, we look forward to welcoming them here.  If they haven’t already, they may want to check out our Countdown to UCL which is on our website and available via an app.  You – and they – may be anxious about the new life they are about to begin, but take it from us that you will all get used to it and it will be worthwhile in the end!

Some useful resources related to Student Finance:

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