Both Lee and I had been to university (it is where we actually met) but it is a totally different experience when it is your first born starting university. This time last year Chloe was frantically revising for her A Levels in Sociology, RS and Geography, a true humanities girl right there! We were beginning to think ahead to starting university. The offer for Plymouth University was on the table and we looking at student finance and working out how to plan ahead for Uni.
Over the past year, we have adapted to this new arrangement where our girl has branched out and made more steps to becoming an independent adult. Starting university is definitely a defining moment and we have all learned lots along the way this year which I am sharing with you in this post.
Firstly student finance is actually quite straightforward, tuition fees are covered for all UK students. This money is paid back via a graduate tax once the student graduates and starts working. As parents, we don’t need to worry about this cost and it is designed to help those starting university. Then the student can apply for a maintenance living loan which is means tested. To apply for this both parents need to fill in an online form which takes about 10 minutes each. This asks for the previous years income and once the forms are submitted, the student gets an email that informs them how much maintenance loan they can borrow for the academic year. This is also paid back after graduation. For many (like us) this maintenance loan does not cover everything and we are also informed how much as parents we are expected to contribute to the students living costs.
Secondly, student accommodation is seriously expensive. We have been paying an eye-watering £150 per week for an ensuite room in halls. As I stated we only received the min living loan and therefore we have had to fund the difference as it didn’t even cover her accommodation let alone feed Chloe!
Thirdly, as easy as it is to moan about student living costs and the fact that you pay over Christmas and Easter when they are not there you just need to not focus on it! It can’t be changed and it just makes you rage if you think about it too much! Instead, suck it up with a smile!
Next, getting involved in a club, society or sport that the student is interested in really helps them settle when starting university life. Chloe joined the hockey team and was selected for the 1st 11 which is a great honour. This group is who she spends most of her time with and they are the ones she will be living with next year. Therefore do encourage your teenager to attend a club right from the start. It may be challenging and out of their comfort zone to turn up that first time, but if you miss it at the start it becomes harder to rock up later.
As a parent, one of the hardest things is getting a call in the morning when your child is experiencing the worst hangover of their life. I absolutely broke my heart and just wanted to be there to look after her! All I could do was offer advice from behind a screen when she just wanted a mum cuddle! This is also the downside of joining a popular sports club, where drinking is very much part of the social scene!
It is also very strange to not know who their friends are, previously her friends are all people we have known for years. Now they are just names and it feels weird not to be able to visualise them or comment on their social media when you spot photos etc. Instead, you sit back and watch from the sidelines!
There will also be phone calls asking how to cook everything from chilli to how long a jacket potato takes to crisp up!
Your other children will miss their sibling despite just how much they usually wind each other up. Erin especially misses Chloe but again you have to develop a new normal. Dyl is terrible for if we go out for dinner anywhere he will photograph it and snap it to Chloe to show her what she is missing!
Starting university is a rite of passage and is a big change for both the teenager and the parents. Don’t underestimate how much life will be different. Allow yourself to miss your child but realise that it is a very short year. We visited in the October half term which broke up that first term. Since then though Christmas and Easter came quickly and the first year actually finishes in the middle of May. Which demonstrates that the year is actually only 8 months and that doesn’t include the holidays.
I can’t believe that we are now at the point where I am about to go and collect her for the end of the year. First year is almost done and Chloe will now be home until September again. Honestly, it does fly even if it doesn’t feel like it as you walk back to the car after leaving them for the first time in their new surroundings with tears running down your face!
So to the parents who will be facing their teenager starting university soon – try not to stress it!