Son or daughter off to university? Parents’ guide to help new students prepare
PUBLISHED: 09:58 11 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:58 11 September 2018
So your son or daughter is flying the nest and heading off to uni. What do you need to help them with before they go, and what should they take with them and leave behind?
It can be quite a wrench for parents when, after seeing your child through every stage of education from nursery onwards, you suddenly find them heading off to a university, maybe in a different area of the country.
As a parent, you can’t just switch off worrying about them - and you will want to do everything you can to help them before they set off. Here is our checklist of important things to do before they leave home.
One of the most essential and difficult things is for both parents and children to realise that this is a step into adulthood, and not just like the start of another three years of school.
Officially, your son or daughter is now an adult and responsible for many aspects of their own life - ranging from making sure they eat sensibly to managing their money, attending lectures and getting their coursework done.
However, it isn’t always easy to get used to living away from home, so it’s also a good idea for parents to find out what services are available at their child’s university in advance. This means, if they call you with a problem, you can tactfully suggest where they might be able to find guidance on campus.
If they want to apply for a part-time job, you can also help them to make sure their CV is up-to-date before they go to university.
Also encourage your student to attend freshers week events, join clubs and societies and get to know other students, as students support one another and important friendships are often made early on. They can also get to know people in advance by signing up to the social media group for their course or hall.
Often there are peer mentors or similar initiatives which pair older students with new ones, so they can get instant advice about anything that is worrying them and be pointed to the right services.
Cooking and shopping
If, up to now, your offspring have relied on you for free catering services, alarm calls and all the other things that mums and dads typically provide, this is the time to take a step back and encourage them to learn to do more things for themselves.
Years ago when I went off to uni, one student had decided to cook himself some frozen peas - but wasn’t sure how to tell when the water in his brand new saucepan was boiling, although he should surely have covered this in chemistry!
To avoid this type of problem, it’s a good idea to start teaching them any basic cooking skills which they don’t already know as soon as possible, so that they are able to rustle up at least a few basic meals before they go, as well as being aware of food hygiene and storage. There are also student cookbooks available, although these are probably less essential now that so many simple recipes can be found on the internet.
Food shopping is another important thing to teach. The University of Suffolk has a series of helpful blogs by student bloggers Sarah and Sophie, which includes one by Sarah on shopping on a budget, with a number of money-saving tips.
She advises considering a weekly bulk shop at a cheaper supermarket rather than buying items from day to day, and also says: “Make sure you freeze things! The freezer will be your best friend during uni.”
Doing the laundry is another chore which new students will need to learn, to avoid them bringing home bags of dirty washing as an unwanted present.
This includes separating colours to avoid ending up with pink underwear, as well as knowing which items can be tumble-dried. You could always get them to practice by doing all the household washing and ironing for a week or two before they go.
Managing money - and time
Opening a bank account is important, and all the major banks usually have special student offers, so you can help your son or daughter to check through these and see which one has the best offer. In reality, often overdraft limits are more important than snazzy free gifts.
Most students will be on a very tight budget, and will need to manage their money carefully to make sure it lasts through the term. As a parent with experience of budgeting, you can often help with this, by talking through with them what their priorities are and advising on where they can make savings - for instance, by buying second-hand textbooks, which are available via many websites.
Essex University has put together a list of top tips for new students, including some pointers from recent graduate Josh Neville, who says: “Once your loan comes in, you’ll be tempted to buy rounds of drinks and shop online through the night – but don’t. Be sensible with your money, make the most of your first week but remember that there are multiple events, trips and performances still to come.” Advice on money matters is available at all universities if they do need help.
Time management is also very important for students, and again this is something that parents can advise on, from their own experience of juggling priorities. Encourage your child to draw up a timetable and make sure they don’t over-commit themselves.
What to pack for university
Some items to take are obvious, such as clothes, but there’s usually no need to get carried away and pack too many, just concentrating on clothes for the current season. However, if your son or daughter is planning to apply for a part-time job, they do need to pack a smart outfit for interviews - this may also come in useful for special events.
Bedding is also needed, and most students like to decorate their rooms in hall with photos, posters etc,
Kitchen essentials such as cutlery and crockery will be needed, but it’s usually best not to bother with a toaster and kettle, as typically students will share a kitchen and these items are likely to be supplied. Students will usually take many electrical items with them, so chargers are essential. Remember that university towns have plenty of shops, so there is no need to take items you aren’t sure they need, as these can always be bought when you arrive.
Also remind your student to check whether they have all the important documents they need to take, such as ID and student loans letters - it’s all too easy to leave these behind and they will need to show them to staff.
If students haven’t had a meningitis vaccination before heading off to uni, it is advisable to contact your GP and arrange to have the jab, If your child has any specific health issues and you need advice on these, it is also advisable to contact the university in advance, and check on this in order to set your mind at rest. If you aren’t sure who to contact on this, the university’s support services should be able to advise you. Safe sex advice is of course also important, even if you may find it embarrassing to discuss with your student son or daughter.
Insuring personal possessions and gadgets such as computers and games consoles is something that students often overlook, and research has found that nearly 50% of them fail to take out a policy. However, it’s very important to insure items, since even if halls offer a basic level of insurance this often only covers items if they are in a locked bedroom.
There are various low-cost policies available and often a university or hall of residence will have a particular deal available for new students. Parents can advise students on making sure their laptops, mobile phones and tablets are covered, and also give advice on sensible security precautions to avoid being a victim of theft.