Starting university is an adventure, but it can also be a bit daunting for many new students. Will I fit in? Will I make new friends quickly? Will I enjoy my course? What if I can’t cope financially or academically? These are the kind of questions going through new students’ minds.
Luckily, 90% of students have the back-up of a close family when going to university. Parents help their children settle in to the new environment and make sense of the new challenges ahead, and, if possible, help financially, and just as importantly, emotionally. Stand Alone’s most recent research, ‘Family Matters’, identified the importance of emotional support from their family to students throughout their time in higher education, especially during stressful times.
But there are students who are going to university independently, without the support of their family, or a corporate parent. Either because they have chosen higher education against the will of their parents, or because they have decided to break away from a negative family relationship.
These estranged students rely solely on themselves to handle the start of university, and all the issues that studying brings with it, such as finding appropriate accommodation, often following a period of homelessness, making new friends and fitting in, while fearing the stigma of ‘estrangement’, and juggling academic work and jobs to make ends meet financially.
Stand Alone found that not having a supportive family can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and students feel more stressed and under pressure while completing their studies alone, and relying solely on their own initiative and resources.
I don’t have a ‘safety net’ if something goes wrong with studies/work, and I can never really just take a break. I think that makes me more anxious about the future, and generally more stress-prone. (Estranged student)
Luckily, most higher education providers now recognise the needs of estranged students. 112 higher education providers have taken the Stand Alone Pledge since its launch in October 2016. The Pledge is a commitment to developing better support for estranged students – not only to help these students achieve, but also to feel part of their university: www.thestandalonepledge.org.uk.
When I first began my studies, support at university was not visible, and felt non-existent. There was no awareness of estrangement from key support staff. Support has developed an awful lot over the past 12 months, and I now feel less invisible, and more valued. There is a designated member of staff who helps students living with estrangement. (Estranged student)
Many offer tailored support, both with the transition to university and during the course. This may include deposit waivers and guarantor schemes, bursaries and priority access to hardship funds, graduation support, mental health support through university wellbeing departments, mentoring, and peer support.
At the start of my degree, I was working just as hard in my job to support myself, but the financial support I now receive has allowed me to reduce my hours, and really focus more on my studies, and hopefully get my grades up a little higher. (Estranged student)
But there are variances across the HE sector of the type and level of support available to estranged students at their higher education provider, even among those that have signed the Stand Alone Pledge. So researching what each university offers is key. A good place to start is a university’s website – many now provide information on support for estranged students. The university Student Services department will also be able to help and there may be a member of staff responsible for supporting estranged students.
- UCAS offers extensive information for estranged students and their advisers.
- The Stand Alone Pledge is a tool to communicate and promote to estranged students that the university/college is there to help.
- The Stand Alone website provides a range of information for students around evidencing estrangement, and there is a list of HE contacts for estranged students.