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Preparing to start university

Moving to university is a big step for a student and their parents! For students, the move to university is an exciting, fresh start which will bring friends, freedom, and fun. For parents, proud as you are of your child’s achievements, you are worried about how they will survive this exciting new challenge. Fiona, who has seen four of her children through University shares her top tips to help students feel prepared and parents feel reassured.

1. Get the accommodation right Where you live in your first year, will have a big influence on your experience at University; it is where you will make your early friends and where you will call home for the year. So, it is important to research the choices on offer and act quickly to submit your request, as it will be allocated on a first come first served basis. You need to consider questions such as: Do I want to be in self-catered or catered accommodation? Do I want to be close to campus? Do I want mixed gendered apartments or single sex? Do I want my own room or can I share? Do I want an en suite bathroom? Each university features accommodation with different characteristics and it’s important to consider what is going to make you comfortable.

2. Pack wisely The key here is not to take too much, as there will not be much storage in your university accommodation. Keep your clothes comfortable and practical and warm if you are heading to the northern hemisphere. Don’t forget to pack some formal clothes as there will be society dinner and social events that require you to dress up and clothe to party in. Don’t forget the practical things - toiletries, bedding, mugs, cutlery, plates, desk lights, speakers, first aid kit, adaptors for plugs. Ikea is a one stop shop for most of these things once you land in the UK. Having some home comforts with you will help you feel more connected so bring photos of family and friends to remind you of good times at home.

3. Survival skills Picking up a few life skills before starting university will mean you won’t starve and you won’t run out of clean clothes. Learn how to cook at least three simple recipes and what are store-cupboard-essentials. Also, work out how to use the washing machine and how to change your bedding. Parents – this is where you step in -you want your children to have the skills to support themselves and be resilient in the early days of settling in so make sure they are prepared!

4. Life lesson Skills A Unite Student survey shows that whilst parents worry most about how their children will survive looking after themselves in a practical way, students are more concerned about how they will cope emotionally. They want to know where they can get advice and information on relationships, alcohol, drug awareness and mental health issues. It is a good idea to have a chat with parents, friends, older students on where to get help with these questions and to discuss any areas that you are worried about before you start at university so you can have some tools to cope with these issues or at least know where to get help if you need it.

5. Study Skills - You are there to get a degree! In the midst of all the excitement of new friends and new found independence it can be hard to remember that your number one goal at University is to get the best degree you can. Studying at University level you will be treated as an ‘academic” and expected to take your studies seriously. For every hour of contact time, you are expected to be doing at least 4 hours of independent studying. To get off to a flying start, go through the course reading list and make sure you have read some of them before you start. Be prepared for studying in much more depth and looking at a subject from multiple angles. Academic pressure is one of the biggest causes of stress at University, if it all feels too much talk to someone about it and get help.

6. Finances – manage your money For many students it is the first time they have managed their own money and it is a big responsibility. Have a round table chat, parents and student and work out what you think it is going to cost to live as a student, how much will you spend on accommodation, food, travel, clothes, books, going out and where this money is coming from. If your outgoings are going to exceed your income then it is time to get a part time job. Set up a student bank account, it will give you all the best deals and overdraft repayment terms but check if these terms apply to an international student. If you have home status set this up as soon as you can, so that you can complete Student Finance England.

7. Making Friends There will be plenty of opportunities for socialising in the halls of residence, the sports teams, the academic departments, and various social clubs from the Student’s Union, as well as a range of external and other organisations. But finding ‘your tribe’ can take time. The key is to keep trying, talk to a wide range of people, try new activities or study modules that take you outside your comfort zone, this way you will be more likely to connect with others some of whom you will get to know on a deeper level. Student events have a reputation for being quite alcohol fuelled but some will be alcohol free, don’t feel pressured to try things you are not comfortable with. And don’t forget to smile - it really breaks down barriers.

8. Entering the country As an international student, once your place has been confirmed by the University you will be sent a CAS letter. Once you have this you can go to the Embassy to apply for your study visa. Before this you will have to have taken your IELTSVI assessment. This is a test in English proficiency, accepted by universities for students studying abroad in the UK and it is a required part of the visa process for international students even if you have been educated in English. You can find more information about that here on the UKCISA site.

9. Manage the stress and expectations There is huge pressure on new students for the University years to be amazing, but be realistic – there will be ups and downs. There will be times when you feel snowed under – don’t worry, there will be people to turn to.. Enjoy meeting new people, experiencing new hobbies, and most importantly, learning a new love of a subject but don’t give up when you feel overwhelmed. Ask for help when you need it and before it becomes a crisis.

10. Parental rights For parents, the transition can be hard, you may be expecting a call every day and to have regular updates but this may not be the case. Give them space but let them know you are only ever a phone call away for those homesick nights. Also be aware that your child is now 18, they are legally adults and this means that the university relationship is directly with the student, there will be no regular reporting and no-one for you to contact directly at the university to check up on your child. With these top tips you should be well prepared for university and the first few weeks will be fun, sociable, and stress free and parents can relax knowing they have done all they can to prepare their child for independent living. Keep an eye on our social media for packing check lists and good student finance deals nearer the time!

Good luck and happy packing!


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