Applying to university is challenging and can feel pretty overwhelming. There is so much to think about when you are whittling down your choices to those universities and colleges that are the best fit for you.
You may be applying to higher education at university or college without the support from your parents and maybe also your wider family due to a permanent and irreconcilable breakdown in your relationship with them. Either you are already living independently without any contact with parents and maybe also other close family members, i.e. you are ‘estranged’ from family, or this is likely to be your situation once you leave school or college. If so, you may be wondering about things like: how to finance your studies, where you will live, how to make friends and fit in, as well as how to make sure you keep yourself safe from unwanted contact and interference from your parents/family, and how to manage your mental health and wellbeing.
If you are not sure if you are ‘estranged’ check then Stand Alone website for details or the information on UCAS.
There is support for estranged students to study at higher education. Do your own research while you are making your university / college choices: find out what different universities and colleges offer. The level of support available varies from one institution to another and it is wise to check them out individually. Many universities now have a member of staff who is responsible specifically for estranged students. Stand Alone has a list of those contacts on our website. You can contact them directly and have a look at the information via the link provided.
Also, Stand Alone has developed a Pledge that universities and colleges can sign up to. It means that they have made a commitment to put in place support for estranged students.
It your decision entirely whether you would like someone in the university or college of your choice to know about your situation in confidence. They will work with you to sort out support for you - even before you start your course. You don’t need to tell them about your family experiences and why you are no longer in contact with your parents. What’s important is that they understand your support needs. Having a member of staff you can get to know and trust and who is there for you to contact at any time if you have any questions or issues while you are studying can be really helpful. They will provide you with information about what you might be entitled to and how to discuss your support needs. This could be helping you complete your Student Finance application, extra financial support, finding and securing accommodation, finding your way around, having someone to speak to if you need emotional support. The information about your situation will stay confidential.
Here is some great advice from a university member of staff in student services:
‘As the main staff point of contact for Estranged Students I would urge all applicants to highlight their estranged status when making an application to study at university, in order to ensure that whatever institution you end up studying with can offer you relevant advice, guidance and any on-going support you may require throughout the duration of your studies. I know that some applicants can feel uncomfortable with disclosing their status as often estranged students making the move into Higher Education want to put their past experiences behind them as such, however, the range of support available to estranged students at university is developing all the time and without declaring status (by contacting the university during the application period or on enrolment) you may miss out on something that could really positively impact on your time at university. For instance, lots of universities now offer dedicated funding pots for estranged students to support them financially. Overall, as difficult as it can be, it really is worthwhile ensuring that your university of choice knows as early as possible about your estrangement.'
When you are completing your UCAS application and if you are comfortable to share, you may wish to draw on skills and experiences you've gained while having no support from your immediate family in your UCAS Personal Statement, provided they are relevant to the course you apply for as these could be seen as positive attributes. While no estranged student is the same, your circumstances may have helped you to develop resilience and self-reliance based on experiences of living independently. And don't hesitate to seek application advice in general at school or college from a form tutor, mentor, etc. This is especially important where schools or colleges have an internal deadline in the autumn before the general UCAS deadline.
A good tip from a university:
'Look out for any pre-entry schemes / named contact support targeted at estranged students at universities you are interested in. They could help you navigate the whole application process more effectively, including providing general advice on preparing UCAS Personal Statements.'
And what advice do other estranged students have?
One estranged student has written ‘Guide for Estranged Students ’ with some really useful tips for your application:
- In your personal statement, describe how despite everything you are overcoming the odds to go to higher education.
- When writing their part of the statement teachers can mention ‘estrangement’ (if they are aware of your circumstances) which means you don’t need to waste your word limit explaining your situation.
- If you are already estranged when applying then don't use any email address or postal address that estranged family know about, as they may be able to hack into accounts. Universities keep whatever addresses you provide in UCAS applications for years and may continue to send things to those addresses.
- If you are estranged from your parents don’t make contact with them as that might mean Student Finance will not see your relationship with them as 'irreconcilable' estrangement.
There is also a Handbook created by group of current Estranged and Care Experienced Students (EaCES) in the UK. It summarises all the advice and information they know about to support students like them and to share their own lived experiences and stories.
Once you have accepted a place at uni and are applying for student finance it is also important to know that if you are independent, without any contact with your parents and under the age of 25 you might be assessed as ‘estranged’. This means you will be able to get the full student maintenance loan without having to provide your parents’ income. You will need to be able to evidence your independence due to an irreconcilable breakdown in the relationship with your parents to Student Finance England/Wales/NI or if you live in Scotland to SAAS. To find out about evidencing estrangement there is information on our Stand Alone website at https://www.standalone.org.uk/students/
And another great piece of advice from a university:
'If you’re worried at any point, do ask for help from the higher education provider you are thinking of applying to: universities and colleges have people in place to help support you, and should be familiar with circumstances such as estrangement – there shouldn’t be any judgement, just staff who want to help and support you achieve your best.'