Starting university is challenging and can feel pretty overwhelming at the best of times. There is so much to think about and there will be so many new experiences awaiting you. And this year due to Covid 19 much of the tuition is likely to be online for some time and social distancing rules apply on campus. Hopefully though you are excited and looking forward to it.
If you are going into higher education without the support from your parents and maybe also your wider family, you may be wondering about things like: how to finance your studies, where you will live, how to make friends and fit in, as well as how to make sure you keep yourself safe from unwanted contact and interference from your parents/family, and how to manage your mental health and wellbeing.
You might already be living independently without any contact with your parents and maybe also other close family members, due to a permanent and irreconcilable breakdown in your relationship with them and you don’t have support from a local authority as a care leaver. In that case you would be classified as ‘estranged’. Or this is likely to be your situation once your course has started.If you are not sure if you are ‘estranged’ check the Stand Alone website for details.
What advice do estranged students who have been there give to new students?
One estranged student who felt as if they were the first estranged student to have ever gone through the process of studying in higher education created a Guide for Estranged Students to help other estranged students who will likely face the same issues, with some great tips including:
Recover all essential documents that may have been lost in the estrangement process.
If you are already estranged then don't use any email address or postal address that estranged family know about, as they may be able to hack into your accounts. Universities keep whatever addresses you provided in UCAS applications for years after so university may continue to send things to those addresses.
Ensure you have all the essentials for studying (equipment, textbooks etc), and living (bedding, plates etc). Some institutions offer to provide bedding, etc, sometimes for a charge.
Avoid contact with your estranged parents because Student Finance may think you are no longer ‘irreconcilably' estranged and you could lose out on your maintenance loan. Siblings / grandparents / other relatives seem to be fine, however.
Discuss evidencing your estrangement with the university too, and your status will need to be confirmed every year for Student Finance (see section below).
When you start your course, arrange counselling of some kind or just check-ups with the designated contact (see below): How is class? Workload? Made friends? Having something like that set up at the start and to use at crunch times such as exams, assessment deadlines, etc, could be very helpful.
How to handle the first few days/weeks: people often ask things like ‘did your parents drive you up? What do they do, do you have siblings?’ Best to expect this and prepare how to respond. Pretend that everything is fine or say you are estranged? Say you don't have family? Or be open and honest about your situation?
Plans for holidays, may seem far in the future but can be very isolating when everyone leaves to go home to family like for Christmas or the summer, or during lockdown. Again, there may be questions about when you are going home and what you will be doing, and why you aren’t going home.
There is also a UK wide group of current care-experienced and estranged students on Instagram and they have written a Handbook with lots of advice and lived experiences: