A Parent's Guide to University

parents guide updated

Hi, my name is Rebecca and I'm a Student Recruitment Officer at the University of South Wales. I am a mother to two daughters - the elder graduated from university in 2016, and the younger is currently studying at university in her first year. Rebecca Breen, Student Recruitment Officer

In these unsettling times, with the prospect of starting university at the forefront of students’ minds, I thought it might be useful to share my experience of being a parent of two daughters - one who has graduated and one who is currently at university. I hope you find these blogs reassuring, informative and entertaining!  If you have any further questions or queries then please contact me using the email address [email protected] - I would love to hear from you.

We know that it is quite a worrying and stressful time to complete Level 3 qualifications, before progressing to university. Your children might be worrying about the way their predicted grades will affect their university place. 

My colleagues have created an online workshop to maintain positive wellbeing, which your children might find useful. Also, UCAS has good information and advice from each qualification system for you to check out.

Going to university open days is useful for you and your teenager to get a feel for the campus, the course, the lecturing staff and the social atmosphere, as well as seeing facilities and accommodation first hand. It's always interesting to compare universities as a parent or carer. What impresses or disappoints you will probably be very different to your children. It's a good idea to take lots of photos to remind you of things you've seen, when you look back later.

Applicant days are important to go to as well, because they give students a better taste of what the course is like and you can ask more questions of the staff and students. 

In the current COVID-19 situation, it is difficult to attend open and applicant days. So if you can’t visit a university in person, there are virtual open days, campus tours and student vlogs that may be of help instead. At the University of South Wales, we have students who have made some great vlogs of recent open days at our Cardiff Campus

It's important to research and compare accommodation options. Again, what's important to you might be less important for your child. There are virtual tours on university websites you can check out together. If your child is coming to USW in September, this is a great accommodation vlog from Timmy, one of our student vloggers.

Applying for student finance is simple. Students register and submit their applications online, which automatically sends a link to parents, so you can register your support for the application. Once registered, you'll need to answer questions about your employment, provide your NI number, gross earnings for 19/20 and any other supporting financial information. If you are self-employed, you will need to provide evidence of your earnings and tax. This all takes about 15-20 minutes.

Below are the different student finance websites for Welsh, English, Scottish and Irish students: 

Wales: studentfinancewales.co.uk 

England: gov.uk 

Scotland: saas.gov.uk

Northern Ireland: studentfinanceni.co.uk

Ireland: hea.ie 

Student finance deadlines vary depending on where you're applying from, so make sure you check the deadline relevant to you. Your child does not have to have received a firm offer from a university to apply. 

If you are worrying about your child paying back their loans after graduation, remember that students only start repayments once they have graduated and are earning over £27,295. 

Universities offer scholarships and bursaries to students for many different criteria, including sport scholarships, young carers, and care leavers to name a few. Watch our short parents' and carers' guide to student finance here, or find more about USW on our website.

Our Disability and Dyslexia Service can help with any of your questions about the support available at the University of South Wales. You don’t have to wait until your child arrives to study in September to contact disability support

If your child has a disability, they will need to fill in a Disabled Students' Allowance student finance form. If they are going to study at USW, they can contact our Student Money Advice team to book an appointment for help with completing the application process.

It is August, their university place and accommodation have been confirmed, and your little one is making final preparations to go to university. If your child will be living away from home, you may need to buy a few essentials to take with them. We found Wilko and Ikea were our favourite places to shop for pots and pans, bedding, crockery and cutlery, and imitation plants! Shopping trips for university essentials is exciting and makes the whole experience seem real. It is worth checking which household items will be provided in halls at the university they will be attending. This will save you both money and valuable room in your car! 

As the end of September approaches, the days are counted down until they move out of their home and into university halls. Your child will probably be feeling excited and perhaps a little nervous at this time, and you may feel anxious and worried too (but you can't let them see this is the case), feelings which are absolutely normal. 

Your child may find it useful to have practice runs of cooking healthy meals and putting a few loads of washing on, if they have not had to do this before. This was absolutely hilarious to watch and supervise! It was quite funny coming home from work one day, to find my daughter looking for videos on how to cut a cauliflower - it seems all common sense to us parents, but obviously not to our children! The concept of washing similar colours together was also quite a mystery to them. I would be asked questions such as 'can you put black, brown and grey items together mum?' I have since found out that when they were at university, to save money, all coloured items of clothing went into the same wash, and then wondered why their white tops had a tinge of grey or pink to them! 

Moving in day will arrive sooner than you think, and before you know it you will be on the road, your car loaded to the brim with clothes, food, household items, plus all the other essentials they (and you) have been storing back at home for months. 

Many of my friends could not wait for their child to leave for university, and that day couldn't come soon enough. Their house would be kept clean and tidy, there would be food in the cupboards throughout the whole week, and finally, they would have a clean, spare bedroom for guests during term time. For some parents, however, like myself, this was much more of an unsettling and slightly anxious time. Even though I knew that they would have such an amazing experience at university, I wasn't keen on the thought of them being so far away, so try and prepare yourself for this scenario, if you can. Both of them enjoyed (and are still enjoying) living away from home. They are free to do what they want to do and when they want to do it, they had to fend for themselves for the first time ever, and have blossomed into intelligent, mature and confident young women, as a result of going to university.


Rebecca Breen, Student Recruitment Officer, University of South Wales

It is really important for your child to make new friends as soon as they arrive in halls. These are the people they are going to be living and socialising with over the next year or longer, so they should try to chat to their new flat mates and make new friendship groups. They will need these newly acquired friends when the Freshers' activities start at the end of the September. 

Keeping the door open when they are in their room will allow their new neighbours to stop by and have a chat. We were advised that it was a good idea to take cakes or other items of food or drink with us on moving-in day, enticing their new flat mates to come and chat and have a drink and a cake. This usually breaks the ice ... and who doesn't like cakes? In halls, there will be communal spaces such as the kitchen and/or living areas for them to use. It is important that students use these spaces as much as possible, so they do not feel isolated in their bedrooms and can chat to their new friends. 

Remember, all students will be in the same boat. They will not know anyone at university, so everyone will be making new friends at the same time. I had to keep reiterating this on a daily basis to my elder daughter as she was worried about this aspect of moving away! The younger one was part of a WhatsApp group with fellow students who were going to be living in her flat. This helped a great deal, as she had many conversations with them before leaving home.


Rebecca Breen, Student Recruitment Officer, University of South Wales

It is important to keep in touch with your child when they are living away from home at university, especially during the first few weeks of term. All social media platforms can be used to keep in touch with them from time to time. I found FaceTime particularly useful as my daughters felt under obligation to answer my calls when my face appeared on their screens! SMS and WhatsApp messages tended to get ignored. 

You might not hear from them much during the Freshers’ activities at the start of term - they will be enjoying themselves far too much, making lots of new friends and going out most nights, to consider touching base with you regularly, so be prepared for this (which I wasn’t!). I am sure that when both my girls moved away to university, I missed them far more than they missed me. Try to resist the urge to contact them too often though, which I did all of the time. The ‘yes mum I’m fine, I am eating well and getting plenty of sleep’ conversations were had very frequently during the first term. This was reassuring to hear, even if it was not entirely the truth! 

Pasta, chips and takeaways seemed to be the preferred meals at university, rather than the usual fish, meat, fruit and vegetables that they were used to at home, so be prepared for this too!


Rebecca Breen, Student Recruitment Officer, University of South Wales

Thank you for reading. I hope it has helped you in some way. If you have any further questions or queries then please contact me using the email address above - I would love to hear from you. Good luck parents, I am sure your children will thrive in university and make you proud in the future. Rebecca