Guest Blog

University Survival Guide for Young Adult Carers

This week BBC Radio 4 aired a special edition of ‘The Untold’, aptly entitled ‘Coping Without Kira’ which focused on young adult carer Kira’s journey to university. The programme questioned whether she could find a way to leave her mother and, if she did, would she actually enjoy life as an undergraduate?

Helen is 19 and has been a long-term young carer (now young adult carer) for her mum, sister and brother. Despite the overwhelming responsibility she has taken on for her family she tells us that YES it is possible for young adult carers to go away to university and enjoy their time there. Helen is a year 2 student studying Social Work and offers the following advice for young adult carers who are struggling at university or doubting whether for them it’s an option:

  1. Switch off / Give yourself a break
    Try not to think of the “what’s ifs” back home – you’re at university to make a career for yourself and better yourself. You deserve the break. It’s natural to wonder about home and doubt your decision especially when there are wobbles. You may not always be able to be there physically but the family unit will survive. If really necessary, trains/buses exist for a reason and Skype and/or FaceTime are good for keeping in contact.
  1. Choosing to leave for university doesn’t mean you are leaving your family and responsibilities.
    You’re showing people just what you can do and, in the process, inspiring other young carers that they can achieve this too. If possible, try not to go home too much as you don’t want to become dependent on staying home and then missing it all week whilst you’re back at university. Set up weekends where you can plan out something fun to do with those back home and stick to these plans (unless there are emergencies, of which there will be less, if any, than you currently think).
  1. Work hard.
    You will hear “First year grades don’t count”. This is correct, but you still need to be ahead of the game as first year sets you up for your next few years. Nail it in the first year when it “doesn’t matter” and you will feel a lot more relaxed when you reach second year. You will develop good habits and although there is pressure to go out a lot, make sure you stay on top of your workload. Your friends aren’t going to hate you if you opt out for a night to concentrate on keeping up with work and/or you simply need a break.
  1. Fun isn’t just about drinking
    If drinking isn’t your thing (like for myself and Kira) – do what I did and, whilst everyone ‘pre-drinks’, drink tea with them. Uni life goes hand-in- hand with drinking but that doesn’t mean you’re excluded if you don’t drink. There are plenty of societies so get involved and use them. Everyone is welcome and you’ll meet a great bunch of diverse individuals whichever societies you opt for.
  1. All about choice.
    Going to University is an individual choice and not one that’s right for everyone. Families will be proud whatever career/education path you chose and there are great alternatives like apprenticeships. If you’re just not sure about moving far away there are also local universities such as Gloucestershire and Worcester that may work best for you.

December 2016