Caring, Uni and You
From studying a topic you are interested in, to pursuing career goals or experiencing student life, there are many reasons why people choose to go to University. Whilst it can be a really exciting time for many people, it is also a time of great change. For some Young Adult Carers, there are unique challenges and things to consider when preparing for university. As a group of Young Adult Carers, here we share our diverse experiences of navigating the information and support for Carers at University, to help those who are about to start this journey.
Making decisions: It’s all about you
The decision to go to University is a personal one and finding the right course and university that works for you is so important. The good news is, every single person who is thinking about University is making these decisions too, so you are not alone. When thinking about our decisions, we all agreed that it is important to remember that this decision is about your future and that any choice you make has to be right for you, not the person or people you care for.
When making the decision to move away or commute to university, there are so many factors to consider, finances, travel, independent living, and caring roles.
Alicia, a young adult carer who is currently applying to University shares that, for her, moving away to study will help her to become more independent and develop an identity away from her caring role. It will also help her to create a balance between studying and caring as she will not be regularly rushing back to care for her family member.
"For most of my life I have had little to no choice in most things and had to say no to many opportunities due to having to stay home in case I'm needed, so now I am trying to give myself some independence and do what I want rather than be defined by my caring role - is it something I'm scared about, yes of course, but I need to live my life before I regret it.”
Personal statements: To include or not to include
Personal statements are a necessary part of the UCAS application process but they are also an opportunity to showcase you, your skills and interest in the subject area. Some people include the skills they have gained through their caring role including resilience, organisation, self-motivation, reliability, effective communication, time management and more. Some people do, some don’t. It is completely up to you.
Abi shares her thoughts on why she included her caring role in her personal statement:
"I choose to share the skills I have gained as a carer because I knew that being caring, responsible and trustworthy are all qualities universities are looking for. I knew this would not take away from my application but could only enhance it. University will never look down on you for being a carer."
When writing your personal statement, it’s important to remember that the focus is not on the person you support, but on the skills you are able to demonstrate through your caring role. You don’t have to go into detail about your role to talk about the skills and attributes you have gained.
Wellbeing and Carer support: Does your university care for the Carers?
Did you know that some universities have specific support for Carers?
Whilst this may not be the deciding factor for you when choosing your university, it can be helpful and reassuring to know that there is a specific package of support for Carers, should you ever need it during your studies. Each university offers Carer support differently but here are some of the ways we have found it:
These vary hugely, but their aim is to outline the potential needs of Carers and the channels of support available. University policies focus on academic processes like attendance, assignments etc (including extensions and support) and opportunities for flexibility such as timetables and interruption of studies, should it be needed.
You might also find that Students Unions have a policy which includes specific statements for Carers on topics such as Carer or Student Voice, peer support, links to local organisations, campaigns and plans for development.
Wellbeing and emotional support
All Universities offer wellbeing support for their students and can include dedicated wellbeing advisors, workshops, online information, counselling and signposting to helpful services. Some universities also offer specific support for groups of students, including Carers. For example, an advisor who specialises in the needs of Carers, tailored Student Carer information booklets and Carer Awareness training delivered to university staff.
Although it is less common than the other types of support, some universities offer financial support for Student Carers through a Carers Bursary to support them during their studies. This can be direct payments to Carers or a bursary which Carers apply for to buy specific equipment or resources.
The Open University also offers a Carers Scholarship Fund which allows Carers to gain a qualification for free. There are only 50 of these Scholarships available but if you meet the criteria, this scholarship might help overcome a financial barrier to higher education. If you are interested in the scholarship, you can get all of the information at: http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/fees-and-funding/carers-scholarship-fund
Courtney shares her experience on accessing University support:
For me personally, I received a huge amount of support from the university. Once they understood more about my caring role etc, I received the most amazing support. My tutor understood that sometimes I would be late and sometimes I would have to take time off unexpectedly and even that helped because I didn’t have to explain myself every single time if that makes sense. Once I had opened up and told my tutor I was a young adult carer, she told me what support was available via university so well-being support such as counselling etc if I needed that. My tutor also supported me a lot emotionally when I needed it. Sometimes the staff just knowing your a carer does help because you don’t have to explain yourself. But I think it’s important to say, the support is there, it will differ at every university, but access it if you need to!”
Making the most of open days: Using open days to open doors
Open days are an opportunity to visit a University Campus, explore the facilities, speak to academics and gain first-hand experience of the university that you might be studying at. This year, things are slightly different but universities are offering virtual open days to help you find all of the information you need. Whilst you may not be organising a journey to the university campus, you can still find out about the course, university, location, student experience and more from the comfort of your own home.
Here are some of the things we came up with to help you get the most out of Open Days:
Make a note of a contact name and email address or number. This will give you the chance to follow up and ask those questions which escape your mind at the time.
Speak to the students. The student representatives can give you an insight into their student lives and share their experiences, from course workload to extracurricular activities and being a part of the university community.
Have a conversation with the person you care for, family and friends before the event and ask them to help you come up with questions. This includes them in the process and helps you to think about some of the information they might need to know.
Book onto a tour to explore the University facilities that you might come across throughout your time at University. It is also helpful to find out about when you might use the equipment for yourself, either as an assignment or as an extra curricular project.
Make loads of notes! Notes on course information, the activities available, the things your most interested in and even how you feel in the moment can be really helpful to look back over when deciding which university is right for you.
Going to university can feel like a big step towards independence, a career and even a new city. Here are some of the words of wisdom that were shared with us when preparing to go to university.
If there is something that could make your university experience more enjoyable, do not be afraid to ask for it. Universities are able to offer a whole range of support for aspects of university life from the course to activities and accommodation.
“A friend of mine asked the accommodation team of student halls whether it was possible to request a ground floor room as their parent was a wheelchair user and there was no lift. The university was really helpful and was happy to consider this. They did get a ground floor room”
If you can, go and visit the area around the university; explore the city, find out about the things you can do and the transport links. Familiarising yourself with the area can help with settling in and feeling more at home.
Keep an eye out for student deals and discounts. There are great savings to be had on travel, student essentials, laptops and more. Some of us have used 16-25 railcards, shop discounts, student bundles for home essentials (Wilkos / Amazon) and Amazon Prime Student, which is free for 6 months.
Do university your way. Everyone’s university experiences are so different and it’s okay if your university journey takes some twists and turns. Be confident in your development throughout your course and if you change your mind about something or do things differently, that’s completely okay.
Sanyu shares her experience on interrupting her studies to care and making the decision to resume her studies at a university closer to home:
"I chose to withdraw from university because I loved my family and I could not even fathom leaving them while my dad was in a coma. He was hit with a horrific accident and without hesitation, I chose to withdraw from uni. It held me back a year and even started a new course closer to home, but I did eventually get my degree."
“You’ve still got your own dreams to achieve too, so go for it.”
Written by Chloe Rollings, Abi Saunders, Courtney Mcdonald, Sanyu Musoke and Alicia Jones.
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