Supporting students experiencing estrangement from their parents

Young people who are considering higher education but do not have support from either of their parents due to a breakdown in their relationship (also known as being ‘estranged’) may encounter challenges in their journey. Here we outline the ways in which you can help students in at each stage and explain what support they may be able to access.

This content has been developed in partnership with Stand Alone.

Pre-application and research phase

  • Where possible, identify students whose relationship with both their parents has broken down, or those who have a difficult relationship which could potentially break down later. The pastoral team in your school or college may be able to help with this, but be aware that not all students’ circumstances will be known to the school or college. 
  • Flag that support is available – signpost UCAS’ information and advice.
  • Ensure young peoplpe understand what ‘estranged’ means – many are not familiar with this term but they will encounter it when applying to HE, for student finance, etc. so it's important they know it. 
  • Make sure you and your colleagues understand what estrangement is and the challenges students face. Make sure it is mentioned alongside care experience whenever talking about HE support.  
  • Research bursaries, grants, and other support at universities, and through charitable trusts – read more on
  • Encourage students to contact universities and colleges directly prior to application to find out what support is available. 
  • Estranged students can be more likely to experience difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing, so ensure they are aware of what support is available and how to access it. Encourage and support students to disclose a mental health condition in the UCAS application, where relevant. 

When they’re applying

  • Encourage students to share their circumstances in the ‘More about you’ section of the application, explaining that this information will be used to connect them to any support the university may offer. To find out more about sharing this information, visit the FAQs page.
  • Encourage aspirational choices – students may not realise they can access support that would enable them to move away. In some cases, estranged students may be considered for a contextual offer – make sure students understand contextual admissions.
  • Use the reference to highlight where the student’s circumstances have affected their attainment or performance. 
  • If the student feels comfortable mentioning their circumstances in their personal statement, the UCAS personal statement guide is written by estranged students to help those making their application. 


  • Ensure they apply for student finance as an independent student, and check what evidence they need to provide – they may need help with acquiring this. Read more about applying for student finance as an estranged student.
  • Contact the Independent Team at the Student Loans Company at or the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS), for advice on supporting applicants (e.g. if they are struggling to provide evidence). In England, you can find out more about applying for student finance as an estranged student on the SFE practitioners’ pages.
  • Locate and contact the university or college support team or dedicated adviser. If a contact isn’t listed, get in touch with the designated member of staff for care experienced students (see the Propel website), who may be able to help.
  • Check students can attend applicant visit days and interviews – the university or college may be able to help if cost is a barrier, and Buttle UK offers grants to help students without family support
  • Remind students to update their contact details if they change address and contact the university or college if there is a change of circumstances.  
  • Remind students to apply for accommodation that allows them to stay over holiday periods. Many universities and colleges offer 365-day accommodation for estranged students or financial support to help with extra costs, so they should check what is available. 
  • Estranged students can complete an 'estrangement form' when completing their student finance application – the university or college can help the student complete and return this form to the relevant student finance company.

During Confirmation and Clearing

  • It may be hard to secure year-round accommodation in Clearing so, if this is required, students should check this with the university or college.  

Preparing for the transition to university or college

  • Make sure students have started thinking about budgeting – more information and advice on
  • Get students thinking about how they will move to university or college and buy the equipment they need. Buttle UK offers grants to help students with costs, and some universities and colleges offer starter packs.  
  • Remind them to take key documents, such as their passport, birth certificate and driving licence. 
  • If a student is homeless before or during the summer holiday prior to starting their course (or is at risk of becoming homeless), work with the university or college to help the student secure suitable to live over the summer (e.g. an appropriate homeless hostel).  
  • Ask if they have made plans for the Christmas holiday period. This is often a difficult time for those experiencing parental estrangement, so they may need help from their university or college with accommodation and wellbeing support.  
  • Make sure they know who to contact if they have any questions or problems when they arrive. Bear in mind that not all universities and colleges will be equally familiar with the challenges of estrangement, so it’s helpful to support their transition by liaising with the student support team – find their details on the university website. 
  • Suggest students visit the All of Us online community from Unite Foundation to connect with other estranged students and get advice. 

For more support