With the excitement of results day now out of the way, many eighteen-year-olds are turning their attention to life at university. Settling into life away from home is not necessarily easy, and the support of family and friends will be invaluable to making the most of this significant time away.
Going to university will be one of the most exciting phases of your child's life. However, it can also be a time of great trepidation and uncertainty, as students step for the first time beyond the familiarity of the family home, into the great unknown.
After the frenzy of the first few days at university, the discipline of a course timetable can help with the settling in process. But it is the simple, practical things that often get taken for granted. For example, some students find themselves stumped when they have to work out how to use a different washing machine for the first time. Questions about how to plan a weekly food shop, or how to defrost food properly, are not uncommon. So as a parent, it can be helpful to explain these things before your child leaves for university this autumn.
If you are set to visit your child's university in the early days of freshers' term, a supermarket run will be hugely appreciated as students look to stock up their cupboards for the first few weeks of term. Given the headiness of freshers' week, health and wellbeing should not be neglected, so consider fresh fruit, veg and healthy snacks as priority items. And, if you're looking for a gift to leave your child with, a selection of high-quality recipe books will likely be a winner. Not only do these help students to plan well-balanced meals, keeping the cost of food down, but they will also be appreciated by your child's friends, who get to try out some of the yummy recipes. Another nice gift idea to look out for is vouchers for cookery courses in and around your child's accommodation. At the University of Bedfordshire we run a series of cookery classes for our students, which are always very popular with first-year students and their friends and family alike.
Living independently also often means taking the first steps towards full financial independence. Perhaps the biggest challenge lies in the fact that the student's first student loan payment won't be followed by another until the new year - this first payment must last right through December, a typically expensive month. Moreover, the high upfront costs of starting university - for example, deposits on rental accommodation and the purchase of core text books - mean that unrestricted spending at the start of term may leave your child short later on. It is therefore worthwhile explaining proactively what to do if your child finds themselves in need of a little extra cash to tide them over at any point. For instance, you should take time to explain why it is much cheaper to borrow money via interest-free overdrafts that come with most student bank accounts, compared to using payday loans or relying on expensive credit cards.
This said, going to university is all about learning, and these sorts of experiences are all part of the journey of growing up. While practical advice is helpful, it is just as important to let your child find their independence at university. Intervening too frequently, or paying too close attention to each step of your child's experience, can be stifling for the student looking to find their feet. Support staff, personal tutors and lecturers are all looking out for the welfare of your child, so while it is entirely normal to wonder if they are settling in ok, you are certainly not alone in wanting to help. Being supportive, approachable and available, without being seen as interfering, is a fine balance, but when you get it right, it will allow your child to flourish away from the home and make the most of their university experience.
Ruki Heritage, Assistant Director of Student Experience and Head of Student Support, University of Bedfordshire