This time last year, we were just beginning to get everything ready for Charlie to go to university. He was delighted to be offered a place at Leicester, and we were slowly ticking off items from the ‘to do’ list, from sorting out a student bank account, to shopping for bedlinen and essentials for his new uni accommodation. Making the leap from living at home is a huge undertaking and can be a really stressful time for even the most confident teenager. Student accommodation provider, Unite Students has recently released The Leap – a report about the challenges involved in making the transition to uni, and providing tips for making the leap to university from a range of experts, parents and students.
As part of their #packedforsuccess campaign (see below for your chance to join in and win a camera), Unite Students challenged me to team up with photographer Vanessa Champion to come up with my own flat-lay of the essential items I can’t live without, and we had the best fun (and obviously there was cake – that’s an essential, right?).
Our tips for making the leap to university
- Talk about money, and then talk about money some more. Although the student loan payment is split into three terms, your child will suddenly receive quite a dollop of money on day one of every term. Shockingly, the survey also showed that while 80% of teenagers aged 16-19 are confident they can manage their money, 78% didn’t know the price of a pint of milk. I think there was the feeling that we didn’t want to be too overbearing, so once his student bank account was sorted, we kind of took a step back. With hindsight, we should have sat down and talked about splitting the money into months, and then budgeting for food, rent, etc. This micro-budgeting will also help you work out whether you’re going to have to chip in and cover any shortfall, or maybe make them decide that they’ll need a part time job.
- In fact, talk about EVERYTHING. A recent poll conducted on behalf of Unite students found that most teenagers aged 16-19 who expect to go to university say their parents haven’t offered advice about sensitive topics. 77% haven’t been given advice on sex or mental health, 72% on relationships, 66% on drugs and 58% on alcohol, and while we’re a pretty frank talking family, I know others that aren’t. On this occasion, though, you have to bite the bullet and have the embarrassing conversation, even if it’s in a jokey way. It doesn’t have to be you giving advice while they listen either – it can be just a round the table chat about how different people deal with things like alcohol, contraception, being offered drugs, etc. And I guarantee they’ll shock you with how sensible they are.
- Don’t buy everything at once. Once you’ve got your list, try and buy just the things you think they can’t live without and keep some of your budget back. If your child discovers half way through the first week that they can’t live without a ladle/lemon squeezer/whatever, well, then you can always buy it afterwards. Rather that than be saddled with a load of stuff they never use.
- And talking about buying stuff: your child will find out who their flatmates are quite a long time before they move in together. Make sure they have a chat and divide some of the bigger purchases, rather than turning up on the day and finding that everyone’s bought a kettle/toaster/can opener.
- One of the best ways I found that I could help the budget go further was to set up my own little food bank. Every week when I went shopping, I would buy extra tins of food, dried pasta, cereal, cleaning stuff, shampoo, etc. It didn’t add a great deal to my shopping bill, but come September we were able to load up the car with a load of stuff to get them going.
- Once they’ve chosen their accommodation, think about going up to the university town maybe for a night, or a weekend. Check out the area around their accommodation, maybe find the nearest supermarket, just generally allow them to get their bearings. It makes the first week of uni so much easier if you’re familiar with a few places (plus if your son or daughter is looking for a job, they can drop a couple of CVs in to places before everyone else does).
One year on, and a lot has changed. Charlie didn’t settle at Leicester and ended up transferring to Lincoln, where he’s now really happy. Sometimes life just never goes quite to plan, but that’s fine – we’re pretty relaxed and have let him call the shots.
If you or your offspring are taking the leap this autumn, Unite Students have announced a fantastic social campaign challenging students and parents to post their own flat-lay images of their university essentials. To join in, and for your chance to win a Nikon D3400 DSLR camera, just tag @Unite_Students in a flatlay pic of what they’ll be bringing to uni and use #packedforsuccess.
For more information, advice and top tips for making the leap to university, head to The Leap.
All photographs: copyright vanessachampion.co.uk