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10 top tips for young adult carers off to university

Young adult carers at university share their tips on balancing studying with caring. While making sure to also squeeze in a little fun too!

We spoke to young adult carers in the Mobilise community, to find out how they manage studying and caring. And what top tips they would give to students starting, or returning to, university. Here’s what they said:

Illustration of three students hanging out.

1. Let your university know about your caring role as early as possible

UCAS has a section in the application process for us to let the university we're applying to know that we're an unpaid carer.

Once we've been accepted into a university and the courses begin to kick off, it can be hard opening up to our new tutor or mentor. Yet, a simple email to them about our situation means we don’t have to explain why there will be some days when we may not be feeling our best. Or why we may, occasionally, fall behind on deadlines.

As Abi, a young adult carer in the Mobilise community describes,

“It’s a way of letting them know that I might not be myself everyday.”

This can be as simple as an email to our academic advisor (our go-to person outside of our selected course). Or we might prefer to arrange a private meeting with them at a time that best suits us.

Being honest and open (to the point that we are comfortable) with our tutors can also alleviate the stress and anxiety of having to go through university ‘alone’. So do not hesitate to reach out.

Another option we can have a look at is to see whether our university offers counselling for young carers.

“By letting my university know my situation, I was able to take 3 months off my PhD to be able to deal with the shock and to adjust to caring for my partner”

2. Apply for extra funding for student carers

There are several opportunities around funding for student carers.

Illustration of two boys leaning on a mobile phone.

Can you get Carers’ Allowance if you are a student?

Carers’ Allowance is unavailable for full-time students. But if we are a part-time student, studying for less than 21 hours a week we may be eligible. We can find out more here.

Young adult carers bursary

Depending on our university, we may be eligible for a ‘Young Adult Carers bursary’ if we provide unpaid care to someone. This is additional financial support from our universities on top of our student loans to further help us with the resources we need. We can check our eligibility for the bursary here.

Abi also shared with us how helpful receiving a bursary from the University of Liverpool has been for her, as she was able to purchase a laptop to help her in her studies. The bursary can also be particularly helpful to cover internet connection expenses, textbooks and stationery.

How do I apply for a young adult carers bursary?

To apply, we will need to submit a written proof of evidence that we are caring for someone directly to our university. Only some universities offer this bursary so it is worthwhile double checking. This could be our carers’ allowance statement, or a letter written by our GP, or social worker. Find out more about it here.

Disabled Students Allowance

If we have our own learning disability or mental health diagnosis, we may be eligible for the Disabled Students Allowance, which can help pay for equipment or staff support.

3. Decide on a structure that works for you

We may be studying from home to manage our caring role, or our caring role may now be remote, such as emotional support over the phone or holding a Financial Power of Attorney.

Whatever our situation, pausing to think ‘what works best for me’ is a great idea. From that starting point, we may be able to find simple shifts.

“Having structure and routine helped. We would try to get up, exercise, make meals etc at the same time each day.”
“Sitting down and having a real think about how to best utilise the time my partner got with carers (which was only 20 minutes, once or twice a day). This was both for him and me e.g. we asked that they make and clear up lunch for him, as before I was having to make all his lunch in Tupperware's as they were coming at 10am - we moved them to midday.”

4. Be assertive

One student carer shared that being assertive about who also has responsibility for each part of the care, was really helpful. And while we may be the main carer, we may have family and friends that could step into some of the roles.

“I was assertive with his parents and family that if I needed a break (which I did occasionally) it was up to them to cover for me. It wasn't a favour, it was a necessity.”

It can be tricky to have these conversations with family and friends. Plus it can be tricky to think of ways they can help. So we have some resources to help.

5. Find out what clubs and societies are available

Freshers week is a great opportunity to sign up to any clubs and societies that are available on campus. It’s a great way to meet people and to tap into new or old passions, outside of our course.

Some universities also have a Carers’ forum, so make sure you ask.

6. Set up online food delivery

As a carer who is studying, our time is likely to be more precious. One simple thing we can do is to arrange for supermarket food deliveries to arrive at a time convenient to us. It also helps with budgeting and meal planning.

One of the carers in our community recommended Amazon Fresh, for the heavier basics such as packs of water or detergent.

Another great way to save both money and time (and the environment) is checking out the App, Too good to go, available on both the App Store and Google Play Store. With Too good to go, we can rescue the yummy, unsold bags of food from local businesses around us - for free!

7. Stay organised

We all have our own ways of organising ourselves. And taking a little time to think about what would help us keep track of our caring, academic and personal life ‘to do lists’ can be very helpful.

Here are some tips from student carers in our community:

Illustration of a happy girl on her laptop.

Use a multi-subject notebook diary

Recommended by Abi, a 10 subject notebook diary has colourful dividers to help us to stay organised.

We can assign a colour to each module, and even write our profile on the first page to include our contact details.

Or we may choose to include details about the person we care for, to help us if we need to explain our caring role.

Small changes add up

Sometimes, one hour of good quality work is more productive than cramming in five hours of work when we feel drained. And small pockets of focus time can be much more manageable around our caring role. As ambitious individuals, we often like to aim high, but this may lead to disappointment if we don’t reach our target.

Be kind to ourselves by setting small, effective goals as they will still yield steady, productive results.

As Will Smith’s famous analogy goes:

“You say 'I'm gonna lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.' And you do that every single day. And soon you have a wall."

Apply for extensions

There may come a time where things outside of our control will prevent us from completing a piece of work on time. Apply for an extension, or an ‘extenuating circumstance’. This is when an event in our lives stops us from being able to meet a deadline.

The time frame in which we can apply for an extenuating circumstance is typically within 48 hours of our deadline. But this may vary depending on our university so it is also worthwhile double checking. And it will not affect our grade if granted.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask to move to a different seminar

On some days, 9am seminars may not be attainable for us. Especially if we have to take the person we care for to a last minute appointment. This should not stop us from getting the most out of our university experience.

We can explain to our tutors or lecturers (via email if we feel more comfortable) our situation and ask for the option to attend a different seminar group at a later time. Or even better, to find out if there are any extra resources or recordings that we can benefit from.

9. Buy colour catchers for the washing machine

As young adult carers, we may well already be used to doing our own washing! But in case not, other young adult carers have recommended ‘colour catchers’. They’re laundry sheets (that we pop in the drum), and which allow us to wash all colours together (even our whites) - saving us both time and money!

We can order them on Amazon straight to our doorstep, or take a stroll down to our local Tesco to grab some.

10. Do the small things that make us happy

Finally, university is going to have challenging moments. There’s no denying that. And in many ways that’s what makes it so rewarding - the opportunity to overcome those challenges and succeed.

But as young carers, the challenging bits can affect us more deeply. So when we catch ourselves having a bad week, let’s find something that makes us happy.

Illustration of a boy sitting in a chair, happy with his hands in the air.

Perhaps it’s treating ourselves to new pens, notebooks or stationery of our choice.

Or creating a relaxing or upbeat playlist to help us through our study periods. If we need inspiration carers from our community have shared 30 simple things that can help us feel great.

Whatever brings us joy - do exactly that!

You might also like:

Support resources for young adult carers at university

We’ve pulled together some other resources that may be helpful:

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