If you have a child heading off to university soon, or maybe they’re just starting to think about their options, things can seem a little daunting. Whether or not you went to university yourself, things change so quickly that processes, organisations and the way things work are likely to be different every few years. This is because most universities are constantly working to find better ways to support their students and staff.
At Endsleigh, we’ve been working with students and universities for over 55 years. It's safe to say we’ve been through it all. That's why we’ve pulled together this parent and carers’ guide to university to help everyone who’s getting ready to send a child off to uni. From the initial application to understanding accommodation, to the dreaded drop-off day, we’re here to help.
Understanding the university application process
Regardless of which university or course your child will be applying to, they will use the University and Colleges Admissions Service (otherwise known as UCAS).
Pretty much everyone who will apply for an undergraduate degree in the UK will do so through UCAS. UCAS is how university applications are submitted, course choices are made and offers are received.
As well as helping with the admissions part of the pre-university journey, UCAS has lots of other online services such as Clearing (where students can apply for courses with leftover spaces after results day), help with your child’s personal statement and lots of other online resources to help in the run-up to your child heading to uni.
Helping your child apply to university
Although your child will normally get support from their school/college’s careers service when it comes to university application, here’s an overview of how applying to university normally goes:
Step 1 – Choosing a subject
Sometimes this is the hardest part. Choosing a subject to study at university, that they’ll likely spend the rest of their life basing decisions around, is a big deal. Before making a final decision, it’s likely that they’ll have some kind of idea as to which route they’d like to head down, based purely on interests and the subjects they enjoy.
If they’re in a school or college, it’s also likely that they’ll have had support from careers advisors in terms of where they’d like to focus their future career.
Step 2 – Find a course
Once your child has an idea of the subject they’d like to study, it’s time for them to pick a course. Subjects don’t always relate to courses in a straight-forward manner. For example, your child may want to study marketing, but different universities offer a variety of different course styles. For example, marketing, marketing and business management, digital marketing, business with marketing. Your child will need to do some research and decide which routes they’d be happy to go down.
Step 3 – Decide on a location
This one’s a big one and the decision is usually made around a) how far away from home your child is looking to go and b) the course specifics. Some students know they want to study at home and so apply to nearby universities. Whereas others may be keener to attend specific courses, so will apply to a university purely based on their chosen course.
Step 4 – Apply
Once the decisions have been made, your child will be able to apply for up to five courses (although this varies slightly for some health-related courses).
As part of the application process, your child will need to complete a UCAS application which involves personal details and the completion of a personal statement. This is a 4,000-character statement which outlines the reasons why your child wants to study their course and why they feel they’d be an asset to any university. This is the process that usually takes the longest time, and any input from someone who has careers or writing experience can be extremely helpful.
There will be a small fee to pay on the initial application, so that’s worth bearing in mind.
Step 5 – Wait for interviews, offers and results
If your child is going through their exams, it’s likely any offers they receive will be ‘conditional’ based on their exam grades on results day. If they already have their grades, they’ll likely receive an unconditional offer, which means they’ve automatically been accepted based on existing qualifications.
For some courses, for example nursing and medicine, an interview process may need to be undertaken, meaning their offer will depend on the results of the interview as well as exam grades.
Once they receive their offers, they will be able to choose a ‘firm’ choice (this is their number one spot) and an ‘insurance’ (their second spot).
If they don’t get offer at all, don’t panic. They can either use the Clearing process to try and find a course with spaces, or wait to apply again at the next university intake.
Step 6 – Consider finance options
If you’re sending your child to uni, you’ll likely be applying to Student Finance for tuition fee/maintenance loans. This is a standard route to funding students’ time at university and over 1.3 million students in England benefit from student loans each year.
The loan entitlement takes parents’ income into consideration, so this is likely something you’ll need to lead on. Don’t worry too much about how they’ll pay their loan back right now though. There are processes in place for steady loan repayments once your child is earning over a certain salary as a post-graduate.
Read more about student loans here.
Important university dates
If this is your first time sending a child to uni, there are a few key times of the year you’ll need to be aware of:
October-January – University application deadlines
Different universities will have different deadlines, but you should make yourself and your child aware of the deadlines for their chosen universities so they don’t miss out on applying.
February – UCAS Extra
UCAS Extra is a service for those students who didn’t get offers from their university choices. They can re-submit applications to different universities around February.
April-June – Student Finance deadlines
Depending on which part of the UK your child will be studying, the Student Finance deadlines will be slightly different. Find out more at Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales, Student Finance Northern Ireland or Student Awards Agency Scotland.
May – University decision deadlines
This is the deadline for universities to make decisions on final applicants (based on students who applied before the January deadline).
June – Student decision deadlines
This is the deadline for students to make their firm and insurance choices.
Late June – Early July – Final university application submission deadline
This is the final period students can apply to university for the upcoming year without having to go through Clearing. Check UCAS and UCAS Extra for exact dates.
Early July – UCAS Clearing opens
This is where students who didn’t get on a course/receive the grades they needed can search for courses with leftover spaces.
Mid July - University decision deadlines
This is the deadline for universities to make decisions on final applicants (based on students who applied by the June deadline).
Mid July – Student decision deadlines
This is the deadline for students (June deadline applications) to make their firm and insurance choices.
Mid-August – Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results
Mid-August – A-Level results day and UCAS Adjustment
Where students who exceeded grade expectations can look to apply elsewhere if they wish.
Mid-August – University preparation and applying for student bank accounts
End of August – All offer conditions met and end of UCAS Adjustment
September – The big move!
Student Finance and how it works
What funding support will my child get at university?
When students head to university in the UK, they are eligible to apply for a student loan to help support them through their studies. There will normally be a tuition fees loan (which the student never sees, as it’s paid directly to the university), then a maintenance loan which will be paid directly to the student at set periods throughout the year. The maintenance loan is to help students live, cover rent and general living costs – so they’ll need to learn to budget to make sure it lasts them the whole term.
What is Student Finance and how does my child apply for a student loan?
Student loans are mostly managed through an organisation called Student Finance (Student Awards Agency in Scotland) and an application will need to be submitted to them in order for your child to be assessed for their student loan. The application location will be slightly different depending on where you live. For example, Student Finance England vs Student Finance Wales.
What input will I need to have with my child’s application?
Student loan applications are partly means-tested. This means that in order for your child to get the most allowance possible, you will need to declare your household income. Your child will likely need your support during the application process, especially when it comes to providing your income evidence. Filling out the application together can be a good exercise to get them ready for the admin that comes with adult life! And don’t forget that they will need to resubmit a Student Finance application every year, so it’s a good idea to get them on board from day one!
When will my child need to repay their student loan?
Naturally, most parents will worry about their child going into debt at such an early age. However, you should be reassured by the fact that Student Finance is there for a reason. The repayment methods and timescales are fair, and they will not be expected to start paying back their student loan until they have reached a certain salary.
Head here to read more about when students need to start re-paying their student loan.
Sources of university information for parents
Applications – UCAS
Students will use the University Colleges and Admissions Service (UCAS) to apply to university. UCAS’ website has some great resources to learn all about the application process and other services they offer.
These are the organisations which provide student loans to students in the UK. They will slightly vary depending on which country you live in.
Course information - University website
The best place to research the course your child will be studying, or the university itself will be the university’s dedicated website.
Accommodation - University accommodation departments
If it’s accommodation information you’re looking for, each university will normally have a team dedicated to looking after their accommodation. You’ll normally find this via a link on their website.
Student insurance – Endsleigh Insurance
Your child will take a lot of belongings with them to university and it’s a sensible idea to make sure that those items are insured. At Endsleigh Insurance, we’re the best student insurance provider* in the UK and have been working with students for over 55 years. We also dedicate our time to publishing useful resources to help with student life. Follow us on Instagram for student tips and tricks, or head here to learn more about student insurance.
*Voted at the Insurance Choice Awards, 2020
Student discounts - Totum
Totum is a student discount scheme that used to be called NUS Extra. Their cards get students access to discounts across various different brands, both on and offline.
There are endless resources for student information. These are just some organisations who are dedicated to students with a real focus on providing helpful resources to assist with student life.
Once the university choices and finances are out of the way, the next thing you’ll likely be thinking about is accommodation. There are a few different types of student accommodation including:
• University halls • Private halls • Student house shares • Living at home
Which option you and your child chooses will normally depend on preference and budget. Each have their own pros and cons and you can read more about each type in our parents’ guide to student accommodation.
Preparing your child for moving to university
When your child heads off to uni, chances are, aside from the odd evening alone whilst you were at work, or out with friends, this will be their first time living alone. It can be a big adjustment for you both, and you’ll get there. But to make the transition even smoother (and stop you worrying), it’s a good idea to prepare them with some practical skills before they leave. Here are some ideas.
- Help them brush up on their cooking skills
Many children in the UK won’t have cooked for themselves before heading to uni. So freshers’ week can sometimes be a bit of a shock to them (and their bank balances – hello takeaways!). Teaching them the basics of cooking meat properly, boiling pasta, food preparation, kitchen safety etc. can go a long way.
- Teach them how to do laundry
For many families, children may be well-acquainted with the washing machine because they’ve already started pitching in and contributing to the weekly household chores. But again, for others, they won’t know how to turn a washing machine on, let alone work the settings.
- Teach them how to budget
Financial planning is rarely taught in school and budgeting their student loan can be one of the biggest learning curves when students move to university. Teaching them how to budget, how to organise their bills and about all the different types of outgoings they’ll deal with can be extremely helpful. You can even use this blog post as a basis.
- Get used to meeting new people
Mental health isn’t something taken lightly anymore (thankfully) and after such a long time in lockdown, we know some students are feeling very anxious about being back out socialising. Encouraging them to meet new people, make new friends and even make their own appointments can help them prepare for when they move out.
What your child should take to university
If your child is moving away to uni, the list of what they may need to take can be endless. It’s a sensible idea to go room by room and list the basics of what they may need. Also, if your child is in touch with their new flat/housemates, they may want to coordinate who brings what so that they don’t end up with five kettles and three toasters!
We have a full guide on what your child should take to university which you can find here.
The importance of insurance at university
Did you know that the average value of a student’s possessions at university is £3,041*? So naturally, you’ll probably want to make sure their things are insured when they head off. As many students don’t quite understand the concept of insurance, or why they need it, we usually find that it’s the parents who help them become aware of the need to cover their items. After all, you probably won’t want to be forking out for a new laptop should theirs get stolen, right?
The good news is that if your child is staying in university halls, they may already have cover. They just need to download the My Endsleigh app to check their cover.
*UCAS Lifestyle survey 2020
Why your child should have their own insurance policy
When you already have household insurance policies, it can be tempting to add your child’s belongings onto them. Here are a few reasons why we suggest not doing that, and making sure your child has their own policy.
- All risks may not be covered
If you’re adding, for example, your child’s laptop onto your home insurance policy, your child may not be covered for all of the risks they need. Dedicated student insurance policies will have been built with students in mind, so provide options for cover like accidental damage etc. The last thing you want is for your child to think they’re covered, then not actually be insured for the risks they’re most likely to come up against... such as spilling coffee on their brand new laptop!
- Your excess may be higher
Insuring your child on your own policy (for example, home insurance) may seem like a good idea until it comes to needing to make a claim. The excess on home insurance policies may be hundreds of pounds, whereas student insurance policies are normally much more inexpensive – especially helpful if your child ends up needing to make more than one claim.
- Your home insurance premium may be affected
Imagine you make a handful of small claims for a few of your child’s gadgets throughout the year, then find out that next year’s home insurance quote is significantly impacted by the fact you’ve needed to claim. If your home insurance policy isn’t designed to deal with multiple claims, it may affect your premium and end up costing you more money in the long-run.
- Replacement times may be long
As student insurance specialists, we’ve worked hard to understand what they need and to tailor cover especially for students. This means features such as 24-hour replacement (once their claim has been approved) on certain policies so that students don’t need to be without their items for long and their deadlines/communication methods shouldn’t be impacted much at all. It’s worth checking what the replacement times are if you’re considering insuring your child’s gadgets on your own policy.
- Your insurer may not cover you if your child isn’t living at your property
Some insurers won’t provide cover for your child if they’ve moved out of your home into another permanent residence. So it’s always worth checking with your insurer first.
What happens on the day your child heads off to uni?
When the ‘big day’ arrives, it can bring a huge range of emotions (not to mention anxiety). Your child’s university should make them fully aware of what will happen when they arrive, but here’s an overview just for you:
- Student halls key collection
If your child is staying in student halls, when you arrive at their accommodation, there will normally be a designated hub for your child to collect their keys. They may need to take paperwork/forms of ID with them, so it’s a good idea to remind them before you arrive just in case.
- Estate agent key collection
If your child is staying in a shared house or other type of accommodation, you may need to pick the keys up from the estate agent, or meet someone at the house.
- Move in
Once you have the keys and have been shown where to go, it’ll be time to check the accommodation out, followed by a bunch of trips to and from the car with all their things (prepare to do a lot of these trips alone if they bump into flat mates they may have already become acquainted with online!).
- The ‘see you laters’
Once everything is moved in, your child might already be settling themselves in with their new friends and it may be time to say one of the hardest ‘see you laters’ of your life so far. Although sometimes if your child is a little nervous, they may like you to stick around, check out the local area and help them settle before you leave. It’s really down to you as a family – there are no rules!
Finding the right supportive balance when your child goes to uni
Children moving to university is a big adjustment for everyone in the family.
- Prepare them before they leave
We already mentioned starting to prepare your child for university by teaching them new skills. Going to university prepared to do their own cooking/washing etc. can make a huge difference if they’re ever having a day where they’re missing home.
It can also be a good idea to remind them that they have a big transition coming up. Many students get carried away with thoughts of partying and meeting new friends, they don’t get a chance to think about how different life is going to be and the things they’ll miss when they move out. Gently reminding them of this may make them more conscious to learn as many new life skills from you as possible, and also make them appreciate the time they spend at home.
- Ask them how often they want you to stay in touch
You might read a lot of articles online telling you to scale back your calls and let your child live their new life. However, each student will take to university differently. Some may be more than happy to go off and experience university life with their new friends, with a check-in every few days. Whereas others may need more support if they’re struggling to settle in. Ask your child about this before they leave for uni and ask them again when they’ve been there for a few days – you may be surprised at how their answers may change once they’re away from home.
- Consider sending care packages
Most students get homesick occasionally, especially in the first few weeks of university. A great home sickness remedy can be receiving a care package in the mail. This could include their favourite foods, toiletries (so they don’t have to buy them!), photographs, a few treats, new pyjamas, a cosy jumper, batch-cooked meals or anything else you think they may appreciate. Just a heads up that posting these types of care packages can sometimes cost more than the contents of the package! So you may want to drop it off next time you’re passing their accommodation.
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