Being the parent of a university student: Mum vs Dad

interview with university student parents

By Nicole Correia,

Secondary schools, universities, and UCAS application forms fire questions that sons and daughters can’t revise for about their university prospects and aims. Yesterday’s children are now tomorrow’s young adults. theunipod sat down with a family,  asking the parents of two undergraduates, about these life changing decisions that their children made whilst preparing for higher education.

What is important for parents to keep in mind when visiting university open days with their son or daughter?

The obvious worry is how far the university is from home, but it really is your child’s decision if they feel comfortable with living that distance. One of mine did, and the other didn’t - I think it depends on their personality and if they have stayed away from home before.

Oddly the daughter who has stayed for weeks away from home chose a university an hour away and my daughter who has never been away from home decided to choose a university three hours away! When it came to choosing their secondary schools we went a lot on “feeling”; university was the same, asking ourselves if it “felt right.” Sitting in the subject talks was also helpful as you make a judgement on the teaching with how the lecturers speak and deliver their speech and how passionate they are for their subject. In the back of your mind you’re always thinking if your child will be happy there, if it’s somewhere that you would be comfortable, and if it is suitable for their needs.

Dad: I wanted to know what the accommodation was like. We made sure we tagged on to the accommodation tours, asking embarrassing questions about fire escapes and so forth. The girls weren’t too impressed at the time, but their safety is important. Money is also an issue so we compared uni accommodation prices as some university halls had rooms that meant your child shares a bathroom with eight other people, whereas there are options to share between two or have an en-suite. The cost for each was very different but you pay for what you need. There’s lots of decisions to be made that sometimes goes a little over their heads as they already have so much to think about. The more you see the more informed decision you can all make.

Did you go to university and if so did you want your child’s experience to mirror your own? If not, what did you want your child’s university experience to be like?

No, I did not go to university but I wanted my daughters to experience going, living away from home, making decisions for themselves, and to have that freedom that I may not give them at home - as well as, of course, coming back to appreciate the comforts of home! It seems to be a life experience in many ways, which will help them in later life.

Dad: I went to university as a mature student but stayed in digs (which they now call “halls”) so I have a fair take on what university life is about. My daughters have very different interests and I hope that both of their experiences are fulfilling and educational. I hope that they make the most of every opportunity they are given and use the facilities well - when I went to university the libraries weren’t as good as they are now so I’m sure this well help them study better. Or, at least, I like to think so!

What were your main concerns about sending your child to university?

I couldn’t help but feel that the list of concerns for us was endless; that they did not like it and feel homesick, that I wouldn’t be able to see them every day, that something may happen and I wouldn’t be able to reach them quickly, that they’d get involved in a “bad crowd”, coming home late by themselves, the cooking the cleaning, washing and then the uni work on top - and not having enough time to do it. I’m a Mother, I forever have an endless list of worries!

Dad: I was concerned about their accommodation choices (again) and if they’d get their first choice, and what we would do if they didn’t. I was concerned about them travelling late at night with new people, and who they could trust in a new place. I was also concerned about the behaviour of students in halls but it’s important to trust that your children will make the right decisions. I knew I’d miss them, but also that they would come back home and visit too. We both tried not to tell them our worries too much, just in case it made them anxious about starting university.

Is there anything you did/your child did to make you feel better about your concerns?

Mum & Dad:
Talking every day helps - over the phone is best as you can hear in their voice if they are happy or not. A text or email if they are busy is also fine and puts your mind at ease.

Mum: She’d also send us a photo of her dinner sometimes.

Dad: We wouldn’t always know what it was.

What is the best thing about your child going to university?

I’m not sure as yet, but I am just glad that the experience so far has been a good one.  Even when there has been a problem she has been keen and willing to carry on which has been great to see. She seems to be learning a lot through the experience, which I recognise almost on a weekly basis, just by being able to mix and talk to many different people that attend the uni she does.

Dad: It is also nice to hear how much they enjoy what they are doing, using their independence and achieving lots of new things. Their experience at university is different to mine and in many ways it is already better than mine, which is good to hear and I hope that it motivates them in the future.