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Advice: Sending Your Child to University

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University advice

7 Tips to help your teen start on the right foot at university

If your child is about to start University they deserve congratulations for all the hard work that got them this far – but they didn’t do it by themselves. You should give yourself a pat on the back for the countless hours of support, encouragement - maybe even a little tough love - that helped them get the grades in the first place.

They might think themselves as grown up and ready to stand on their own two feet. But the truth is the difference between Further and Higher Education is huge and the culture shock of starting university can be overwhelming for anyone. Prepare yourself for difficulty too as you face the empty nest left behind.

It may be daunting for your child at first. They may be going to another city further from home and will have to clean their own clothes and feed themselves. They will probably be managing their own finances for the first time, and there will be many more responsibilities they might not have faced before. They are definitely going to need your help to get ready for it.

The good news is that you’re not the first parent and child in this situation, and we have put together some useful advice from our own experiences to help get your child off to the best start at university, without being accused of being a nagging parent:

1.       Preparation

Use the time leading up to the start of the semester to prepare your child for living away from home. They will need practical things like bedding, towels, cooking utensils and toiletries. Luckily at this time of year, many stores run offers on student essentials so you may be able to buy everything together as a bundle.

Does your teen know how to wash and dry their own clothes or have they always been oblivious as to how clean laundry magically appeared in their wardrobe? Now is the time to teach them how to separate their whites from colours and how to work the washing machine. Most halls of residence usually have on-site laundry facilities so maybe a trip to the local launderette now is a good idea to show them how to load and operate the machines. There are usually communal irons and ironing boards in halls but it may prove useful to get your child their own cheap iron. 

Cooking is a vital skill your child will need – It may be a cliché to suggest they can’t even boil an egg but many students could quite literally burn the water before they got that far! Teach your child the basics and take reassurance in the fact they will have the ability to cook a nutritious meal for themselves. They will need a set of knives, plates, bowls, and at least two pans. The absolute essential kitchen item for every student is a wok – you can cook a stir-fry or a curry in a wok – you can make soups and stews in a wok – you can boil an egg in a wok. It’s the most useful and versatile item they will have in their kitchen. Before leaving home everyone should know how to cook a quick Spaghetti Bolognese at least.

Another important thing to think about before they leave is that once they receive their student finance your child will be solely responsible for managing their own money, so it’s a good idea to discuss budgeting with them beforehand. How will they cover their bills, food, clothing and travel and still have enough left to socialise? It may prove helpful to take them along to the supermarket with a budget so they get an idea of the cost of food and how to make savings.

There is only so much preparation you can do for your child before university, but by teaching them basic life skills such as these they will have a good basis to work from – and at the very least you managed to get them to help cook and clean for a few weeks!

2.       Moving Day

So you’ve got a car loaded up with boxes and duvets and directions to your child’s new address, but what will you need as soon as you get there?

Milk, coffee and a few teabags will help break the ice with their new housemates and help them feel more at ease with their new surroundings. Perhaps a few frozen home-cooked meals will also help ease the transition until they get their bearings.

A few photos of friends and family for their room will add a little familiarity and help your child settle into their new surroundings. It will also help them make conversation with their new friends.

Another good idea is once you have unloaded the car to take your child to their new local supermarket and stock their cupboards, fridge and freezer. Not only does this allow the opportunity to explore the area but you will have provided everything they need for the first week or two without arriving with a car full of defrosted food!

Finally, don’t forget the tissues!

3.       Computing and study resources

Consider if your teen will require their own laptop or computer for their studies. Library resources are notoriously overcrowded around exams and assignment deadlines so having their own computer and printer will put them at an advantage. Most halls of residence will have internet access but it’s a good idea to bring an Ethernet cable in case the Wi-Fi isn’t up to the job.

4.       Staying in touch and setting contact expectations

The transition from living at home to university life is going to be a challenging for everyone involved – homesickness and empty nest syndrome will be tough but both of you can take comfort that you are just a phone call away from each other.

The days of top-up phone cards and no mobile credit are gone, and with their shiny new laptop or mobile, you and your child can chat face to face over Skype, or at least message each other for free with mobile apps such as WhatsApp.

But it’s important to get the balance right between keeping in touch and having your child feel pestered with too many phone calls. Remember that not only will they be busy with their studies so may not have time to chat every day, but that this is a time for them to make new relationships and work on their self-identity. You might agree on a message or text every other day and maybe a weekly Skype call one evening at a set time - you don’t have to cut the apron strings completely but they should be loosened a little!

5.       Get to know the student services and support structure available

There is a lot of help available to new students. Universities and student unions offer support and services for all issues they may face – from accommodation, finance and studies to health and counselling.

It is inevitable that your child will soon get sick after starting university. They will meet and live with people from different places and it’s unavoidable they will also meet the germs those people brought along too. The dreaded ‘Fresher’s Flu’ will more than likely be an annual occurrence and without their parents at hand, your child may not know how to nurse themselves better. University services will offer health advice and maybe an on-site clinic, but if your child has moved away from home it is important they register with a GP before they actually need to see one.

A nasty case of flu, while they’re already feeling homesick, is terrible timing, but nothing that a much-needed care package from home won’t soon fix – so maybe a visit to the post office with a selection of medicines and treats would show them you are still able to look after them even from a distance!

6.       Expect them to feel out of place, but watch out for warning signs of something more serious

Many students starting university struggle to adjust. Even those who didn’t expect to be homesick can find themselves struggling with new surroundings and longing for the comforts and security of home.

If they aren’t having the time of their lives that they imagined, you should remind them that feeling down is entirely normal and they are not the only one who feels out of place. All students who leave home leave behind an established identity and familiar faces to become another anonymous member of a community of thousands of strangers – but it won’t be like that forever. The feeling usually passes after the first few weeks once studies start and they settle into the weekly routine of classes and socialising – there quite literally won’t be time to miss home!

1 in 10 of us will experience depression or anxiety at some point – and there are fewer situations that cause more anxiety than uprooting your entire life to go to a strange city on your own. You should look out for any significant change in your child’s behaviour or appearance: have they lost or gained weight? How is their complexion? Are they not sleeping or are they sleeping too much?

If you are concerned your child is really struggling then there is a network of support and counselling available to them through the university and students’ union, but the most important step they have to take first is to acknowledge that they do have a problem and to ask for help from a counsellor or their personal tutor.

7.    Don’t forget the education

Although they should be encouraged to take advantage of the extra-curricular activities available at university its important your child realises the most important thing is their studies and to strike a balance between work and play. There is a lot of life experience to be gained by joining societies, taking internships or even working part-time while at university but these things should never be allowed to get in the way of their degree.

The three most important things your child will learn at university are self-sufficiency, maturity and motivation. Hopefully, our advice above will help them become more self-sufficient but they must also learn to be mature. They must learn how to form and maintain relationships, and to take responsibility for themselves and their actions without having their hand held by parents or tutors.

Perhaps the most important thing your child must learn in order to make their time at university a success is to find their own motivation. It’s all well and good making the big step going to university and enrolling in classes, but that means nothing unless they actually get up, go to class and do the work. It may seem miles away in the distant future now, but one day the student loan will have to be paid back. Ultimately they must realise that whether they finish their degree or not they will have to pay for every lecture they attended or slept through, and having to do so without a diploma to show for it will be a burden for most of their working lives.

So they should enjoy their time now and grab every opportunity with both hands. Just as long that in three or four years’ time they come home with more than an overdrawn bank account to show for it.