Navigating university life as a single parent

Undergraduate student Sophie Ward shares her tips on how to get through university if you are a single parent to a young child 

December 13 2019
Navigating university as a single parent

University can feel quite daunting for many people. It usually involves moving away from your family, friends and hometown and for some, it is their first taste of independence, which is scary and can induce many feelings of anxiety and fear.

From my perspective as a parent, it is much harder because you have bigger responsibilities outside of university and must prioritise your child before yourself. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take time out from parenting to be at university just like everyone else. Therefore, it is worth making sure you have some back-up on hand like nurseries and family members to take care of your child while you stay on track.

I have a history of low mood and anxiety but being at university has given me a new purpose and independence. Admittedly, it is difficult to juggle everything and can become overwhelming so I can only advise you on what has got me through it:

1. Ensure that your finances are in order prior to starting university. Make your student finance application as soon as possible to ensure that you get your first instalment quickly and so that any problems can be rectified beforehand. The application stage can get messy when you have to send proof that you have a child, and proof of your income and if you are in receipt of benefits. It all takes time to process.

It is also important to keep a log of your household incomings and outgoings such as bills, and to look towards the future at how you will manage them. Planning beforehand is key, but do not get too stressed about it as there will be help along the way.

2. Additionally, make sure you check if you are entitled to any benefits to help you. What I did not know when I first started university was that your student loan, even though it is not paid monthly, is still classed as a monthly income and it can be deducted from your benefits entitlement. This does not apply to grants such as the Parents Learning Allowance. If I would have known this, I could have avoided many problems with finance.

There are also grants and bursaries available from your university or from other trusts so make sure you look into these. 

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3. Make sure that your child’s place at nursery is confirmed and be aware that you may not be told your timetabled university days until the week before. When you do receive the timetable, work out how many days your child will need to be in nursery and how you will afford it. Student finance offers a childcare grant where the nursery makes online requests for payment and you confirm them. Take special care when working out how far the grant will stretch across the year to work out which days your child can attend nursery.

I will point out that, as bad as it may sound, the more time your child can spend in nursery, the better, as it means you can spend more time studying and getting the most out of university. So if you also have a part-time job (which personally I could not take on), you will need to also work this around your full-time degree too. 

4. Finally, don’t lose yourself in the process of trying to juggle everything. Try to enjoy the student life and be open-minded about meeting new friends and be ready to embrace their differences. Also, if you commute to university, make time for new friends you have made and have fun with them.

Meeting new people is one of the things that makes university so nerve-wracking, it can be especially hard for parents who have limited time. But once you reach out to others, you will find that your anxiety fades and that they help you in the long run. Also, stay in touch with your family and your old friends, you need people you can trust and lean on when times get tough. Be brave and vent to them, let go of your anxieties and troubles, even if it is to a member of staff at the university’s wellbeing centre. 

Please do not let your worries about being a parent get the better of you when you want to go to university, or feel overwhelmed with panic about how you will cope. There is always help when you need it, whether it be financial or emotional. Go after what you want and there will always be someone there to support you if you look for it. 

Read more: Oxford university, postnatal depression and me

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