Tips for university life as a young adult carer
James wrote this blog in support of Carers Rights Day, which this year fell on 25 November 2021.
Moving to university has been tough. It’s tough enough for an average student, but for someone with caring responsibilities, it’s so much tougher.
I’ve been caring for my mum since I was seven. Eleven years on, I still have that burden. Thankfully I have my brother, who can help lighten the load and give me a chance to go to university.
He’s giving me the opportunity to follow the career path I’ve dreamed about since I was twelve. Without him I wouldn’t be here, and when he gets to university age, I’ll be stepping in to give him the same opportunities he is giving me.
Despite having my brother to shoulder some of the burden, I still worry. Coming 400 miles to university was a massive challenge, but I’m here to show you that being at university as a carer isn’t impossible.
The first thing I should clarify is that had it not been for my brother, I wouldn’t have been able to travel quite so far to university. However, that doesn’t make higher education completely inaccessible. If you follow these four steps, trust me, university life will become far easier than you could have ever imagined.
Talk to people
There’s a support network in place for you at university, but you need to be open and honest with your tutors and course staff if things are going on at home. This will help you get as much support from the university as possible.
For example, I live in Glasney View and wouldn’t ordinarily be permitted for a parking permit. However, if I’m needed to help my brother with my mum’s care urgently, I need a quick way of getting home. I spoke to the university, and they granted me a parking permit.
The student services team are there to support you and they’ll do everything in their power to allow you to be successful at university, no matter what barriers are in your way. They’ll talk to course teams, accommodation, finance… any area that you need support with, they’ll help you receive the support you need.
Don’t be ashamed of who you are
Being a carer is something that you should be proud of, it’s far from something that you should see as a hinderance. It helps you develop empathy, sympathy, and maturity far above your years.
The lessons you learn as a carer will help you settle into university life far quicker than your peers, as you’ll already have a basic knowledge of cooking, cleaning and how to look after yourself.
Talk about it and I can guarantee you’ll meet people who understand where you’re coming from and what you may have been through. There’s more of us than you think!
Use the skills you have
Let’s face it, having caring responsibilities before university will stand you in good stead for the independent living that comes with life at university.
Remember that you’re somewhat at an advantage to your peers when it comes to understanding how to live on your own. You’re going to be a role model to your flatmates on how to, for example, budget, shop effectively or cook filling meals.
Some of your flat mates might not have had to cook for themselves, let alone several people before, so having the skills to do so will certainly give you an advantage to help you settle in to the flat.
I’m sure we can all agree that meeting new people can be scary, but having these skillsets gives you a chance to open conversations and help people if they’re struggling.
Take time for you!
If, like me, you’re moving to university accommodation, it can be hard to find a way to unwind at first. However, once you settle in, life in halls gets so much easier.
It’s important to remember that you can now relax. Take time to enjoy yourself - university is as much about meeting new people and experiencing new things as it is about education.
Go and have fun, but do so at your own pace, try not to get pushed into going out too quickly as it can result in you getting overwhelmed.
Just take your time and you’ll be able to find the right balance. For those students continuing to live at home whilst at university, it’s just as important for you to try and take as much time as possible for yourself. You may not have the same luxury of freedom that comes with living in halls but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking time for you.
Following these tips will help you, as a student with caring responsibilities, to integrate and adjust to university life. University is for everyone so don’t feel like it’s an impossible challenge that’s out of your reach.