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Student life-before you start

Tips for parents of students starting university

Read our advice for parents of university students, from how to prepare for them leaving to coping with an empty nest.

Happy student hugging her mother after graduation


  1. Preparing for their leaving

  2. After they've gone

  3. The empty nest myth

Preparing for their leaving

All being well, come September you'll be preparing to take your child to their new university. If they're moving away, there's a lot to prepare. Living in a completely different place that may be several hundred miles away, for one. From signing forms to insurance, there's a lot to sort out. 

Helping them prepare

If you haven’t already, it’s time to make sure they have a basic grasp of living independently. Try to teach them how to cook some, how to keep on top of their washing and how to budget suitably – there are plenty of books, aimed at students on these topics if they're resistant to your help.

Remember to check things that are easy to forget, such as insurance, or if they need a TV licence. It'll be helpful for the future to get them involved in these aspects from the beginning so they can learn as they go. 

Live-at-home students

Just because your child isn’t going away to study, you don’t want them to miss out on learning how to be independent, so try and give them space.

Don't be surprised if they occasionally don't come home at night (they're likely to be on a friend's floor in university accommodation). But it’s still ok to set boundaries and clear rules for them letting you know their whereabouts to avoid worry – even if it’s just a text.


Budgeting is important, even for live-at-home students. If you give them a free pass they’ll be missing out on a big life lesson.

They can access almost a £7,000 loan to support living costs, plus in many cases a student grant or bursary. Try to encourage them to budget and save money for later in the year, and to use their support income to avoid excessive term-time job hours. 

They're at university to study, to make new friends and experience university life – 10 hours of part-time work should be fine for students living at home. They normally have no rent to pay and less living expenses than their counterparts who've left home.

After they've gone

Finally, your child is at university. Rest assured the whirlwind of emotions you may feel is completely normal.

For them, the nervousness will soon evaporate as freshers/welcome week activities and the course get underway. If necessary, advice centres, tutors and counselling services will be on hand to provide help and support, and you're only a phone call away.

You may well find the transition harder than they do. A new student is embarking on an exciting adventure that'll lead to new experiences and new possibilities. It'll be a new beginning for you too, as well as an ending. Don't underestimate how long it'll take you to adjust.

It’s not forever

Just as you're settling into a new routine, discovering new things to do as a family, the Christmas holiday arrives and you're all together again.

Your son or daughter is back in the same bedroom and abandoning clothes in the same place and is still the same person, but they'll have moved on and grown up in subtle ways. Try to enjoy watching these changes, as you did when they were a child. You too are the same person but will have moved on as well, so embrace it.

Keeping in touch will help

Try to keep the contact going as the distractions of term time mount. Regardless of how long or short the phone calls, texts and emails are, you can't say everything that could be said. Indeed, one thing you can be sure of is you won't get told everything. That's probably just as well – it'd probably only make you worry about them even more!

People change

However hard you try, chances are that both of you will behave as though the other hasn't changed a bit. They'll expect their bedroom to be exactly as they left it and you'll expect them to behave just as they used to.

You'll almost certainly both be wrong, and there'll be another process of readjustment to go through.

The empty nest myth

Alison Patterson, the Complete University Guide's University Liaison and Research Manager, saw her youngest child off to university not too long ago. She says getting your new student ready for university brings with it a mixture of emotions all round. Whether you're seeing your first, only or last child off to uni, her insight is valuable:

"Before they go, you're pleased they've reached this point – it’s a time of celebration and anticipation. But it’s also tinged with anxiety and apprehension. How will they manage without you? How will you manage without them, more to the point?

When they leave for university, you're not saying goodbye. They keep coming back – every 12 weeks or so, or more frequently. Their electronic devices (all of them) mean they or you can be reached at any time, so don’t worry you might lose them. We've never managed to mislay our children, however hard we tried!

When it comes to packing them off to uni for the first time, travel light – your child isn't going far, you’re only going for a term, and you’ll probably have to empty the room in December. You’ve got the bank account and funds lined up, got the laptop, got the duvet and special pillow. Everything else is optional.

Things change depending on whether you're doing this for the first or last time. Packing for the last child will be different to packing for the first. When the first child left for university the occasion was loaded with significance – this was something we hadn't done before. Now, the last is on her way and our children are worried about their parents, whether we'll manage in the new normal that consists of no school, children at home – only two ageing parents that haven't lived alone together for about 26 years.

What we aren't accustomed to is an empty nest. We'll have to learn to live a new life at home. This is the new world order where, on the whole, the young don't have the means for full independence. 

So, let’s not get maudlin, or wildly excited about the prospective freedom that should come with empty nesting, because it’s just an illusion – they haven’t really gone at all!"

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