This might mean that you are:
- a biological parent
- a step parent
- an adoptive or legal parent
- a legally-appointed guardian
- a foster carer
- someone who provides kinship or other parental care to the child of a family member or friend
If you care for someone who is not a child, you would be considered a ‘carer’ – and you can also get support for your studies. Read more about the support available for carers.
What sort of support could I get during my studies?
Universities and colleges are aware that if you are balancing your studies with family life, you may experience challenges from time-to-time. However, extra support may be available to help you manage, such as:
- Academic support: If you have difficulty meeting deadlines, attending classes, or coping with work placements because of your additional responsibilities, most providers will have processes in place to help you manage your workload and keep on track. Talking to your personal or academic tutor if you are having any problems is a good idea.
- Financial support: This could include access to hardship funds on top of your student loan, help with understanding if you are eligible for benefits, an NHS bursary, and general advice with budgeting.
- Childcare facilities: Many providers have on-site nurseries – places fill up fast, so get in touch early to book a place, even if you do not yet have a confirmed offer. Consider how this will work if you have work placements as part of your course. Depending on your circumstances, it may be a good idea to check on baby changing facilities and breastfeeding areas.
- Health and wellbeing support: Most universities can provide counselling – student services or the wellbeing team will be able to give you details of what services are available. Also look out for peer groups and societies for parents where you can meet others who are in a similar position. Many campuses have convenient on-site health centres.
- Family accommodation: Some universities and colleges provide a limited amount of family accommodation – find out how to apply for this as soon as possible.
It’s advisable to do lots of research before you start your UCAS application, so you know exactly what is available for you once you start studying – not all course providers can offer the same level of support. We’d also strongly recommend getting in touch with student services to discuss your support needs, and to see how they can help – you will find their details on the university website.
If you can, it’s a good idea to go to an open day. As well as being able to see the facilities first-hand, you will be able to ask questions and speak to student services directly on the day. If the dates aren’t practical for you, see if you can arrange a visit independently, or perhaps ask to talk to another student who is in a similar situation.
What else should I consider?
Before you apply, do your research so you’re fully prepared. Don’t forget to consider:
- Contact hours: How many are typically needed for the course?
- Start and finish times: How do they align with childcare opening hours or after-school clubs? Timetables are often issued close to the start of the course – if you need to plan childcare, contact the university as early as possible to make them aware.
- Managing absence: Check whether it’s possible to watch lectures online, in preparation for any unforeseen circumstances that might prevent you attending.
- Childcare costs: Calculate, in advance, what these costs are likely to be – especially if you are planning to study in a new area. Bear in mind that some cities, such as London, may be more expensive than others. Remember that the Childcare Grant will only cover up to 85% of the total cost, so think carefully about how you will pay the remainder.
- Travel: How long will it take to get to the campus or work placements – and how will you travel? Have you factored the costs into your budget? Remember that parking on campus is often limited.
- Work placements: When are these likely to happen and how will they impact on your childcare arrangements? Students on healthcare professional courses (e.g. nursing) often have to manage shift patterns that include night shifts, early, and late starts, so you will need to consider how you will manage your childcare around this.
What financial support can I get while studying?
Trying to understand what you’re entitled to can be confusing, so it’s a good idea to speak to an adviser at the university or Citizens Advice, or at an independent advice centre.
- Tuition fee and maintenance loans: if you care for someone aged under 18 on the first day of the academic year you apply for student finance, you will automatically be considered an independent student. This means you will be assessed on your own income, even if you still live with your own parents.
- Childcare Grant: if you’re in full-time higher education, and eligible for student finance, you can receive up to 85% of your childcare costs for children under 15 (under 17 if they have special needs). This grant is means-tested and does not have to be repaid. Be aware, this grant is only payable if the childcare provider is registered with Ofsted – find a registered childminder. If you are starting or continuing a course from August 2019, you may apply for the grant as part of your student finance application. Read more about the Childcare Grant.
- Parents’ Learning Allowance: if you are a parent on a full-time undergraduate course, or an Initial Teacher Training (ITT) course, you may be able to receive additional financial help. This is a means-tested allowance and does not have to be repaid. Read more about the Parents’ Learning Allowance.
- NHS Bursary Learning Support Fund: if you started a healthcare professional course from 2017, you may be entitled to additional financial assistance. Read more about the NHS Bursary Learning Support Fund.
- Other benefits: depending on your circumstances, you may be able to apply for other benefits as a parent, such as: Universal Credit (which is replacing Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit and Income Support) and Council Tax Reduction.
If you’re in England, you can help plan your finances and understand what you’re entitled to, using this helpful finance tool.
If you’re elsewhere in the UK, you can find out what else you can apply for by checking:
How do I let the university know?
Providing parental care will have given you lots of transferable skills which will prove very valuable when you’re studying, so try to highlight these in your personal statement.
Telling the university about your circumstances will enable admissions staff at the university to take your circumstances into account, and consider your achievements and potential in context.
Also, if you want to book a nursery place, you will need to do so as early as possible, as places fill up fast.
- The NUS provides further information and advice for student parents.
- Brightside’s website will help you plan your finances for university, and offers tips from other students with parenting responsibilities.
- Contact student services directly at the university or college, or check their website to find out what support they can offer.
- Information about funding HE courses from Gingerbread, a charity dedicated to helping single parent families.