University from a parent’s perspective: mixed emotions

interview with mum

By Heather McCutcheon,

I started my first year at the University of Kent almost a year ago now. A year on, with students about to find out whether they have got their place at uni, and with others visiting open days to make their choice and fill in UCAS applications, I interviewed my mum, to give parents out there a view of what it’s like when your kids step out the front door for the first time and head off to uni.

I interrupted Mum reading her book on the terrace

In September 2012 I left our home in London to go to university in Kent. What were your first thoughts when I was looking into going to university?
Admittedly, I was worried at first that you were looking at universities too far away from home like York and Falmouth; it was my first experience of my child leaving home and I didn’t want you to go very far in case of emergencies. The worry soon developed into excitement for you when you got the grades you needed and the place at Kent you really wanted.

Can you describe your feelings on the night I first left home, and if so, have those feelings changed a year on from then?
I definitely missed you on the first night you were gone and felt that the house was very quiet without you. I still miss you a year on from then each time you leave to go back to uni although we’re all a little more used to it now. On the first night you left I was very anxious for your well-being; I didn’t know how well you would live by yourself so I was worried about that. After hearing you can live off pizza those feelings have gone away and I know you’re okay. I worry about the workload and pressure that you put yourself under and I have done since the first night you left home; I do still worry about you stressing over your work by yourself.

What would you say is the most important thing to have prepared when your child collects their A Level results? How do you keep them calm?
I think having a list of other choices is important to have ready if you need them. Having a list of alternative universities, similar courses with lower grade boundaries and phone numbers will help in the panic of results and Clearing. Also, having a plan B ready in your mind is good in case things don’t go quite as you were hoping for. Aside from that, my advice would be to keep busy and keep normal – you can’t change the results now so it’s best to help your child keep their mind off them as best as you can. If all goes well it’s good to celebrate with friends and family after results day to mark the exciting future and next steps in your child’s education or work life.

Do you think it’s best for your child to go to university close by or further away from home?
From a purely selfish point I would say I’d prefer it if my child were closer to home rather than five hours away; it’s easier to get to them in an emergency and being closer to home means an easier journey. However it really depends on where the child feels more comfortable and drawn to. It’s important that their decision is based mostly on how much they like the university and area rather than the distance.

Do you think university open days helped in the process of me going to university?
Definitely. I’d say go to as many open days as you can; your first three or so choices are a must. Open days gives you such a good feel for a university and the surrounding area – you can walk around and decide whether you feel happy living there. The talks give you an informed overview of courses, accommodation and finance which are very important to understand during the process for students and parents. I really enjoyed going to the open days with you so I could get a sense of where you’d be living too, and I could imagine you walking around campus!

Do you think an older sibling going to university inspires younger siblings to go in the future?
In my family’s case it hasn’t. My younger daughter has seen the process you have been through and has decided university isn’t for her. It can inspire some or turn them off completely. I think that perhaps watching an older friend or sibling can show that moving out and education can be done and that it isn’t as daunting as it may seem at first. I think it depends on the person and whether they are interested in further education and want the independence.

Supporting her daughters

Supporting her daughter

What facility do you think was important for me to have accessibility to in my on-campus accommodation?
I think having your own private bathroom was important for me to know you had accessibility too – I couldn’t quite stand the image of my daughter having to share a toilet with strangers. Good and clean cooking facilities was also important - I think the large kitchen with two ovens was a good aspect of your accommodation at Kent. Other than that I just hoped you had a clean and comfortable room to live in and friendly flatmates to share it with.

What is your favourite way to keep in touch with me when I’m at university?
I like texting you every day to hear about what you’ve been up to and to know that you’re okay quickly and easily. For longer conversations I enjoy Skype-ing you each weekend – seeing the person’s face helps to see that they’re doing well and are happy.

From your experience in helping me prepare for university, what are the three best places to shop for university?
IKEA was brilliant for getting pretty much everything; cutlery, crockery, bedding, glasses and things to decorate your room with like your butterfly poster. It’s so cheap and quite hardwearing – I would definitely recommend that as a top store. I would also say Sainsbury’s was helpful when buying pots and pans, food and toiletries for you; they can sometimes have good deals on and two for one offers. Thirdly, I would say that Amazon was a great place to shop for all of your books and textbooks; it had everything on your reading list for reasonable prices and good conditions.

Do you have any advice for parents preparing for their child to leave for university this year?
I would say the best things to do in preparation for your child going to university is to have a good understanding and an early knowledge of finance and taking out student loans – don’t get caught out last minute with anything money-wise because it can take a while to get your head around it all. Read up with your child on courses and universities online and in prospectuses so that you both can find out the right information in order to have a good understanding of what they will be doing. Mostly I would say it’s important to support them in their decisions and to let them know it’s okay to change your mind as there are so many options available for different courses and places to study or work – the best thing to do is to keep communication open and be proud!