Are you are applying to higher education without the support from your parents or even your wider family due to a breakdown in your relationship with them? Are you already living independently and have little or no contact with your parents and maybe also other close family members? Or is this likely to be your situation before you start uni? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you might be classified as an ‘estranged’ student which means you could get support to study.
In higher education, if your relationship with your parents has permanently and irreconcilably broken down and you have no contact with them, this is referred to as ‘estranged’. If that is the case for you, you may be wondering about things like: how to finance your studies, where you will live, and how to make friends and fit in. Maybe you are also thinking about how you can keep yourself safe from unwanted contact and interference from your parents and/or family, and how to manage your mental health and wellbeing.
If you are not sure if you are estranged, then visit the Stand Alone charity website for more details and have a look at the information on UCAS about the support you may be able to get.
There is a range of support to help estranged students study at university or college. This can be through student finance and directly from many universities and colleges (e.g. bursaries, accommodation, and other help).
Tip 1: Do your research
When you are exploring your choices, find out what support 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 before you make an application.
Tip 2: get in touch with the estranged student contact
Many universities and colleges have a member of staff who is specifically responsible for helping estranged students. Ask them for advice – that’s what they are there for, and they want to hear from you. You can find a list of these contacts on the Stand Alone but the list isn’t comprehensive so it’s best to also search the university or college website for ‘estranged’ or ‘student support’.
Tip 3: ‘Tick the box’ on your UCAS application
When you are completing your UCAS application, you can indicate that you are estranged from your parents in the ‘More about Me’ section. Why? Because that will enable the university to work with you to arrange the right support and ensure you have all the information you need. You don’t need to tell them the details about your family experiences and why you are no longer in contact with your parents – they only want to understand your individual support needs so they can work out what you might be entitled to and help you access it. This might be helping you to complete your student finance application, getting extra financial support from the university or college, securing accommodation, finding your way around, and making sure there is someone you can speak to if you need emotional support. The information about your situation will stay confidential and will only be shared with your consent.
As this university member of staff in student services says:
“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 some applicants feel uncomfortable disclosing their status and may want to put their past experiences behind them, however, the range of support available to estranged students at university is developing all the time and without declaring status (by ticking the UCAS box, and declaring your estrangement 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 to support estranged students financially. So, as difficult as it can be, it really is worthwhile ensuring that your university knows as early as possible about your estrangement.”
By ticking the box on the UCAS application, you are telling the universities and colleges you are applying to that you already are (or are likely to be) estranged when you start your course. This means they can reach out to you and – together – you can sort out the support you are eligible for. You can get to know and trust the staff member at your university who is there for you to contact at any time if you have any questions or issues throughout your time at uni.
This is what estranged students say about how their university has helped them:
"The support has enabled me to stay on course and at university, otherwise I would have had to leave".
“My university has been really supportive. They’ve directed me in the right direction in cases with bursaries, for employment, or help over the summer in terms of rent. It would have been so hard without them.”
Tip 4: Check the EaCES Handbook
Have a look at the Estranged and Care Experienced Students Network (EaCES) Handbook – it has loads of really useful advice about applying to or studying in higher education and has been written by estranged and care experienced students who know first hand what information will be useful.