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Are your children heading to University?

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Published: 10 Jan 2013      

Are your children heading to University?  Here’s some helpful tips to make the journey a bit less stressful, for both of you!

Many of us are reaching the point where our little bundles of joy are ready to fly the nest and strike off to prepare themselves for their life careers.  University is both a blessing and a curse for most of us.  A blessing in that our own homes become a bit more peaceful, our food bills go down, even our utilities see an easing in how much strain they are put under. 

But they can also be a curse because we now have to worry about our young offspring having to look after themselves, many for the first time; take responsibility for their successes, or failures, and we get to foot the new bills that arise – from tuition fees to accommodations to books and living costs.  But with a bit of careful planning, the entire journey can be made less painful.  Having just gone through the process – twice now – I can say that I have some expertise in this area, that could be useful to our readers who are in the same position.

1. Making the right choice

Assuming your son or daughter knows what they want to study, then the first thing is to find the right university.  Depending on their chosen field, there will be anywhere from 2 to over 30 universities that they could potentially choose from.  To see a full list and how they rank, check the league tables that are updated annually at http://bit.ly/UniLeagues. Where your child actually ends up has a lot to do with their final GCSE and A-level grades. Ultimately it will come down to which university they like the best ( assuming the final choice is theirs!) Let’s assume they come out fairly well, then they will be asked to make three choices.  It is highly advised that they (and you if possible) attend the open days that all universities organise for new undergraduates.  These will give your child a much better feel for how they will like the place.  They will get to talk to other students and professors, see the campus and its facilities, and most importantly get to see where they will be living for the first year – the halls of residence!

2. Tuition Fees

Extortion comes to mind with tuition fees having gone up in 2012 to £9000 per year. But bear in mind that students can still get loans from the government to cover full tuition. These loans are NOT means tested, which means that everyone is eligible no matter what the household income is.  The down side is that they will eventually have to pay these loans back to the government once they finish their degrees and start to work and earn more than £21,000 per year.  Remember that if your child decides university isn’t for them, then any loan they have received from Mr. Cameron, will have to be repaid.  It will still be at the very low rates as for any other student, but no one is exempt from paying. Students are also eligible for loans to help cover their other costs (called maintenance loans).  These ARE means tested, and if the household income is less than £42,000 per year, then the student is eligible for a maintenance grant, so some of the loan is not repayable. 

3. Free Tuition

Yes it’s true.  You can get FREE tuition for your kids.  Some university programmes are funded by the NHS.  If your son or daughter wants to become a nurse, midwife, dietician, physiotherapist,  or social worker and several other AHP (Allied Health Professional) degree courses, then the NHS will pay for most or all of their tuition fees.  In these programmes, your child could be eligible for:

  • A £1,000 grant from the NHS
  • An income assessed Bursary from the NHS
  • A non income assessed reduced rate loan from Student Finance
  • NHS paid tuition fees 
  • Supplementary allowances depending on personal circumstances in all years


So before making a final decision on what career path to take, make sure you consider these programmes. Get details by visiting http://bit.ly/NHSPaid

4. Halls of Residence

Most universities insist that first year students live in their halls of residence.  This is to help them integrate with other students in their faculties, and ease their transition into university life.  They won’t have to worry about travel to and from the campus, meals are provided for them, and they can – ahum!- dedicate their time to their studies. (lol!)  If your cheque books will stretch, I highly recommend that you opt for a room with an ensuite bathroom.  Not all halls have these and it’s usually first come first served, but for the young women especially, this is highly recommended as you don’t know who their hall mates will be. Speaking from recent experience, not all people of university age have the same hygiene practices, so having your own bathroom is a definite plus.

5. Campus Food

Most campus residence plans include meals provided at least 5 days per week. If your son or daughter isn’t too fussy an eater, then they can usually find something tasty and in many cases healthy that they can eat. Bear in mind that these are out-sourced catering companies so they do produce in quantities which means that quality sometimes suffers, but they always have a selection that caters to both omnivores and vegetarians!

6. Keeping the sanity

For many young people, making a change as big as moving to anew city, in a new place with a new “family” can be quite stressful and traumatic. Couple that with raging hormones, housemates that drive you crazy and all the course work they have to do, and it could be a recipe for disaster.  Many students drop out in their first year because they find it so difficult to deal with all of these stresses all occurring at the same time. But encourage them to seek help if it gets to be too much.  All universities have counsellors on staff specifically to help them deal with these types of issues.  Our daughter started to suffer because of an ex-boyfriend who kept hounding her.  Endless texts, some of them full of profanities, threats of self-harm – it all became too much and her work started to suffer. She was referred to the university counsellor who with a couple of sessions was able to help get her back on track, to deal with the issues and finish her school year. There is nothing wrong with asking for help from a professional who is there to help the students overcome the obstacles that would otherwise prevent them from doing their best.

7. Renting

OK – now that the joy of your life has successfully navigated their way through their first year, they will now have to – nay want to - find a place to live that is not in residence. Word of caution – make sure you start looking no later than December of their first year, if you want to have the best choices of rental properties.  The best locations go very quickly so the sooner you start looking, the better the chances of getting the location you want.  Most of the searches can be done online. There are several good websites where you can start to narrow down your search. But do make sure that you or your child visits the place before signing the lease.  You don’t want a big shock the first day you move in!  One place you can look online is http://www.accommodationforstudents.com/ Costs will vary greatly depending on which city, where in the city and how many people are sharing.  But if you plan to pay in the region of £80 - £120 per week per person in most areas, excluding London, then that will give you a good idea of how much you will need over the course of 2 -3 years, for rent. These prices will not usually include utilities, broadband, phone or TV services.  So you will have to budget accordingly. Again the maintenance loans can cover some of these, but trust me, you will end up putting your hand in your pocket a few times over the year to help your child make ends meet.

8. Food and nutrition

This is where I see many people letting their duties as responsible parents fall down.  The number of young students I’ve seen show up at university not knowing how to even boil an egg or even bake a potato is unbelievable.  Do yourself and your kids a favour and teach them some basic cooking skills.  It doesn’t have to be much, but enough to give them the confidence to know they won’t starve or become a nuisance to their house mates or worse, burn the house down! And we all know that the brain can’t function well unless it’s well nourished.  Don’t allow your kids to be disadvantaged because they aren’t eating right.  We have prepared some very simple but tasty recipes that anyone with a pulse can master in no time.  Just go over to <insert link to recipe page> and get your kids practicing. It will save you and them a lot of money, time and aggravation.

9. Coming Home – The Yo-Yo Effect

So you thought that once you drop them off, or wave them off, that would be last you’d see of them for 3 years.  Ohh Noooo!!  Be prepared to have them bounce back in to your now more peaceful life every 8 – 10 weeks, if not sooner. Universities run on semesters.  The first from September to December, with usually a 4 week break. Then another from mid-January to late February. Then another until late March / early April to coincide with Easter when they have another 4 week break. This time is supposed to be used for revising as exams usually take place right after they return.  My daughter does find  time to earn a bit of extra cash during her time at home.

10. To work or not to work – that is the question?

Many students, will find a part time job to make some extra income to help ends meet and give them some extra ”pocket” money while they are at university.  Personally I discouraged my kids from doing this because they both had very intense programmes.  Having done it myself in my uni days, I know how hard it is to hold down a job and try to put in the hours needed to complete the assignments, and pass the exams.  There are only so many all-nighters you can pull before the brain and the body starts to suffer. Then before you know it, your kid will be back to step 6 ‘Keeping the sanity’. But if their programme does afford them extra time off, or if the job is in some way related to their degree, then it could well be worth it, if for nothing else than to keep them out of the campus pub!

So there you have it.  Ten tips for how to get your son or daughter into and through university without losing yours or their minds.  There are many websites where you can get more information.  I strongly encourage you to visit the sites of the universities your kids are thinking of attending, and get them doing their homework so they make their choices with all the information they can get.