Removing the university ‘fear factor’ for parents and carers

by Patricia Seaman

As a team, we collaborative outreach officers have lots of different backgrounds, from teachers to data analysts. A few of us are also parents, including me, and also, I’m a parent of a teenager who was the first in our family to go to university.

My daughter was lucky enough to follow a similar programme to Make Happen when she was at school, and it changed her life. Five years later, she has graduated, and is loving her job as a primary school teacher.

But when she first told us that university was definitely the route she wanted to take, we learned the hard way in trying to do our best to support her – there was very little hand-holding along the way, and we simply didn’t know what we didn’t know!

So, here are some nuggets that I hope you’ll find useful if you’re a parent or a carer who finds yourself in a similar situation to mine…

Money is the first worry for most parents or carers
We know from the Make Happen work we do with schools that this is always the number one concern for parents or carers. How much will a university degree really cost? Won’t the amount of debt at the end be huge? How much help will we get for tuition fees? And what’s a maintenance loan? Do we qualify for that?

Don’t let any of these questions belittle you – lots of people are in the same position and feel scared and uncertain too, at first. Parents and carers need to know that the financial responsibility for repayment is not on them, and the answers to so many questions are out there, it’s just a matter of finding them.

We have some helpful information within our basic guides, but also visit GOV.UK and UCAS – the university and college admissions system – and Money Saving Expert for facts and guidance. Take some time to do some reading, it will go a long way to debunking myths and give you clear facts and figures.

Be prepared for paperwork
Obviously, everyone’s financial circumstances are different, but when it comes to applying for tuition fees and the maintenance loan, it’s important to make sure you have the documentation ready to apply and meet the application deadlines.

For me and my husband this included getting things out of drawers and photocopying, such as our payslips, bank statements and P60s as proof of income so that the right level of loan could be calculated for our daughter. Funnily enough, the bit of paperwork we didn’t need to help with was our daughter’s Personal Statement; luckily she had lots of support from her school to get this right.

Understand more about clearing
My daughter didn’t get her initial choices of university, but nevertheless she found a course that was perfect for her by going through clearing. This is basically a system that matches students to university places that are still available after exams results are published.

It’s an anxious time for teenagers, especially if they get disappointing A-level results, but the clearing teams at universities understand precisely the situation they’re dealing with, and can provide sound, sensible advice – and as parents we must do our best to stay calm too!

Lisette Seaman
Lisette Seaman, Patricia’s daughter, on her graduation day.

Preparing for departure
So, your son or daughter has worked hard for their place at university, and they’re getting ready to go. One of the best things we did was to start a bank account when our daughter was in the sixth form, just putting a little bit away when we could for her each month.

When it built up over time, we had a nice little pot to buy things like a duvet, iron and other household goods she needed to start her first year. Then, when she started, we let her settle in, and after a few teething problems we visited in the second term – involving a seven-hour drive to get there!

Be proud!
Not everyone ‘gets’ the value of university, and we have to accept we can’t change everyone’s minds; some parents or carers may never understand or acknowledge what the true value of going to university could be for their son or daughter.

But it’s not about us – it’s about them, and their future. All we can do is our bit to help, in whatever way we can. For my family, this journey was always about wanting my daughter to fulfil her own aspirations and achieve her best. And believe me, on her graduation day, I couldn’t have been prouder.



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"My daughter was lucky enough to follow a similar programme to Make Happen when she was at school, and it changed her life. Five years later, she has graduated, and is loving her job as a primary school teacher."