Friday, 20 October 2017

The ten essential for those supporting people in care

The step to higher education is daunting for everyone – but for those who come from a care background it can be even more daunting. That’s why we’ve developed a suit of resources to help teachers and advisers support students who may be care leavers – they’re all available from our supporting care leavers toolkit. Here we’ve picked out the ten essentials for supporting people in care:

  1. Advocate, encourage and support the educational development of looked after children. Have aspirations for them from a very young age. 
  2. Forward planning is extremely important. If a young person who is in care is thinking about higher education, make sure that an adviser knows this at their school. This is essential to ensure they get the appropriate funding and support as early as possible. 
  3. Help them plan for the university or college that suits them best. a. Involve yourself with planning and preparation. b. Attend open days with them. Go to for more information. c. Gather information about the support packages available. d. Encourage them to speak to the designated care leaver contact at each university or college. 
  4. Find out if certain universities or colleges have special arrangements for care leavers. For example, some offer university accommodation over the holidays, others may give priority access to, or even a guaranteed place, in university accommodation. The Who Cares? Trust Handbook is a useful guide: 
  5. Familiarise yourself with the UCAS application process and application deadlines. List key dates so you know what needs to be done. You can find out more information at
  6. Listen. Encourage them to talk about how they feel about moving on, starting afresh and aspects of university or college life. 
  7. Encourage and support them to develop new friendships when they start university or college.
  8. Prepare them for independent living. Get them up to speed with self-care skills like cooking, cleaning and budgeting. 
  9. Make sure that any financial support they receive from their local authority is confirmed in writing and that they have a copy of the document when they start university or college. 
  10. Keep in touch. Make sure you find the time to regularly contact them to see how they are getting on once they have moved on

To access this in a downloadable pdf – along with more resources visit our supporting care leavers toolkit. 

Care leavers: Three reasons to tick the box

This week is National Care Leavers' Week! We’ll be publishing daily blogs to help students and teachers find out more about the support that’s available to people who are going in to higher education to care.

There is lots of support for care leavers in higher education, but the key thing is unis need to know you’re coming from a care background. To make this critical first step happen you need to tick the box in the care questions on your UCAS application. Here are the three key reasons you should tick the box:
  1. So admissions staff at the universities and colleges you are applying to can consider your achievements and potential in context.
  2. So that your chosen universities and colleges can let you know what additional support you are entitled to, this will make sure you’re fully supported
  3. The information is confidential – they’ll only share this information with those who need to know, and who you agree should be informed.
For more information on the support that’s available visit our care leavers page.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

How taking social action can help you stand out

Making your UCAS application stand out from the crowd can be challenging. One thing you could consider is taking part in ‘social action’ to show you’re a motivated, disciplined, and resilient person.

By social action we mean campaigning, fundraising, or even volunteering. This can give you something unique to talk about in your personal statement, and can reinforce your commitment to your chosen study area. There are loads of organisations you can contact to discuss opportunities – from the Scouts and Girl Guides, to your local council.

We’re Step Up To Serve, a charity that coordinates the #iwill campaign. We work with over 750 organisations across the education, business, voluntary, and health sectors, to ensure every young person has the opportunity to take part in social action.

The beauty of social action is that it has a double benefit – both to the communities you serve, and to you taking part.

Anita said she ‘found that being involved in social action before heading to university made me a more confident person, which helped me to interact and meet new students from diverse backgrounds. Having set up my own campaigns since the age of 16, university gave me the confidence and encouragement I needed to lead workshops and join mental health societies to benefit other students in Belfast.’ 

We also have #iwill ambassadors – young people who are chosen because they’ve done sensational things for their community, changed their own lives, and the lives of others.

Getting involved in social action can also help you in other ways.

  1. Helping you make the transition to uni.
‘Social action helped me develop the grit resilience and life skills I needed to help me deal with the transition into university life. It gave me the opportunity to find my voice, share it, and feel confident in my skills and opinions – meaning I came to uni much more confident and optimistic than I would have!’ says Jack, who has campaigned on mental health and volunteered with the Scouts.

  1. Helping you meet new people.
Naomi volunteers for NSPCC, and for her ‘moving to university was a big deal and big change. I was really worried about not fitting in because I don't really drink and didn't want to go out all the time. But social action provided me that opportunity to meet people. And once social action has supported you getting into university, and then made your time there amazing, it doesn’t stop giving.”

  1. Giving you something else to add to your CV.
‘Once I graduated, I was surprised by how much employers valued the social action that I'd been involved with. Many employers have remarked that volunteering and campaigning was just as important as work experience, showing initiative and a good work ethic. Many of my answers in my job interview related to examples of volunteering during university, and it helped me get the graduate job I have now!’ Megan first got involved in social action through the National Citizens Service, and now does so with Vinspired, and at her university.

From 20 – 24 November, our partners across the campaign are celebrating #iwillweek. Throughout the week, we will be working with hundreds of organisations to celebrate young people, and the impact they’ve had on their local communities, as well as the work of our partners to extend these opportunities to all young people. 

So, if you’re interested in taking part in social action, take a look at organisations who can offer opportunities to you at

Monday, 16 October 2017

My first few weeks at uni

Imagine this - someone turns to you and says ‘I can help make your dreams come true’.

‘Okay?’ You respond. Curious as to how this will work.

‘It’s simple.’ They begin to explain. ‘All you have to do is experience 2 years of stress to meet our standards, then be placed in a house with a group of strangers. You will then live with them, cook with them, clean with them and party with them for a year. I can guarantee this will be the best time of your life.’

Well that is pretty much the first few weeks of university. You have the opportunity to have your dream job by completing the degree you need but to do so, you move away from home, live with a group of strangers (who will become some of your closest friends) and party a lot. But yes, without a doubt, these have been two of the best weeks of my life.

At first it was very daunting, I came into my accommodation and the girl in the room opposite me was still unpacking with her mum. I said an awkward hello and introduced myself. This occurred every time I met a new flat mate but with each new flat mate, I got more and more excited because I realised I have the best people in my flat. What you have to remember in a time like this is that you are all in the same situation and you are most probably all just as nervous as each other.

One particularly odd bit of university for me during the first few weeks has definitely been the independence. How do I work this washing machine? How long does it take to cook this pasta? Since Ive started university I have successfully burnt toast, pasta, cookies, all sorts; I have put a load of washing on without the detergent in and I have locked myself out of my flat but hey, its all a learning curve! Its a fun experience really because I can guarantee that there are hundreds of Freshers who have done all of those things too!

Another amazing part of university for me has been the friends that I have already made. You are meeting so many new people all the time at university from people in your flat/block to those in your lectures or clubs. Make the most of meeting these new people and chat to as many people as you can because it is a great feeling.

Overall my first few weeks of university have been a bit of a rollercoaster. I have had some lower points where Ive found it fairly tough but the good points have completely and utterly outweighed these.

A x

How I've settled in to uni accommodation

Moving away from home was an extremely daunting thought for me because I have never been away from home for longer than 10 days. Therefore, a hugely important thing for me was to make myself feel as at home as possible and a key way of doing this was to make my bedroom feel like home.

To make my room feel as much like home as possible, I ensured that I bought enough things with me to make me feel comfortable. This includes a lot of photos; my favourite pillows; some psychology books; my jewellery stand and some dreamcatchers. What you have to remember is that, although your actual bedroom may be back home, this is your bedroom for a year and this has to be as homely as you want it to be, in order to help you with any of those homesick nights.

Dont be embarrassed by anything you want to bring with you. Its your room so make it your own.

Im in a flat with six other people, one shower, two toilets and a basin in my bedroom. At first I was absolutely terrified by the thought of sharing a shower with six people but not once have I had to wait for the shower and its stayed remarkably clean! Similarly, the thought of a university kitchen filled me with absolute dread but it has stayed clean and tidy (with the occasional washing up that we might leave for the next day) and weve not had any problems!

I found it difficult to settle in on the first night because I didnt like being away from home but after a while you get so used to your surroundings, so used to your friends and your neighbours and so used to your university campus, that it begins to feel like a home from home.

A key factor in settling in well, for me, was making friends in my accommodation you become like a little family. I absolutely adore my flat. We are all very different characters but we all get along so well; we have good old natters in the kitchen when cooking dinner and we look out for each other. Id also say to definitely bring a door stop because my friends and I leave our doors open very regularly in order to have a chat and if your door is open then people will frequently stick their heads in and say hello, offer you a cup of tea and so on. Door stops are a must!

Settling in to university accommodation is scary and yes it can be challenging but its such a great experience and I am having the time of my life. I love my accommodation. I love my flat. I love my new room. Youve just got to give yourself time to settle in properly.

A x

How to complete your personal statement

I can imagine that you are getting pretty fed up of the extremely long and boring talks you are getting from your teachers about how to write a good personal statement so I’ll summarise some key points for you in a short and snappy blog post.

Firstly I’m going to emphasise the name of this ‘personal statement’. Therefore make it completely and utterly personal and when doing so, make a statement - stand out!

You’ve got to show passion. You’ve got to show charisma. You’ve got to show love. You’re doing a subject that you love and/or find interesting (if you’re not then seriously consider spending the amount you are paying for something you don’t enjoy).

When I started mine, I thought about what led to my interest in the subject which, for me, was a TV program (it can literally be anything). I then opened my personal statement with a sentence along the lines of ‘For years now I’ve been hugely interested in shows such as Law and Order SVU and one character who particularly stood out to me was B.D.Wong’. This instantly sparked interest as the reader would question what the relevance is. Under no circumstances should you begin your personal statement with ‘I want to do this course because...’ or ‘I would be perfect for this course because...’.

The key is to stay modest but sell yourself. Big up your talents, your interests, show that you are an achieving and interesting person.

Online there are so many helpful guides on how to write the perfect personal statement. One I found particularly useful was on the UCAS website. However, mix it up a bit, make it your own, make it you. Avoid generic phrases, comments and so on. Be unique! ß this is a link to the UCAS sheet that I found very helpful when writing my personal statement.

A x

The importance of Freshers Week

Freshers is an exciting time for all university students whether you like partying or getting involved in the day time activities, there is something for everyone. Obviously the partying is a big part of Freshers week(s) but I won’t go into too much detail about that as that is pretty self-explanatory.

The weeks of Freshers is an amazing opportunity to meet new people, help your confidence grow and find out what the university has to offer. During these weeks there are often various bazaar’s ranging from a sports bazaar to a society bazaar to a RAG bazaar. Bazaars are a big must because they show you various clubs you have the opportunity to join from football, to choir, to the hot air balloon society. The variety of societies that are on offer at university is incredible. RAG is at a lot of universities and offer opportunities where you can do a residential to raise money for charity. Im currently looking into a cycle ride from London to Paris which will be amazing! I have also signed up to the lacrosse and singing society.

Getting involved in the activities that Freshers has to offer has been crucial in me making the friends that I have. You are put into situations where you are with a big group of strangers and starting up a conversation with anyone is a great feeling.

A personal favourite part of my Freshers experience has definitely been the Sing Off! This involved each accommodation hall learning various chants about the other halls and then battling it out to find out who the union team chose as the favourite. My accommodation managed to get second place which I’m super happy with but next year we have to win! Activities like this allow you to meet a whole load of people from your accommodation and have a chat, a laugh and a joke around with them. We all had lightening bolts painted on our faces, we all lost our voices and we all had the best night!

Another favourite part for me has been dressing up! Very often Freshers nights out will have a dress code. This year mine ranged from Hawaiian to Monopoly (yeah I struggled with that one…) and I had so much fun doing them! My favourite night of dress up was jungle when I went all out on the face paint and drew leopard spots. The dressing up is a great thing to get involved in, especially if you pally up with your new uni mates and have a laugh dressing up together.

Most universities have a Freshers Ball as well. These are often full of people looking absolutely amazing; lots of free food and headline acts! This year we had fireworks, fun fair rides and Pixie Lott – someone I have been a huge fan of since a young age. This is a really nice event to get all dressed up with your flat mates, have lots of photos together and have an evening to remember.

Finally, during Freshers you have your introductory lectures. A lot of people will tell you to not bother going to these however I found these particularly useful for the main reason that I met a lot of people doing my course and was able to feel a lot more comfortable about starting my degree knowing I would recognise some faces.

A x

My experiences of applying to uni last year

The thought of university is such a daunting and difficult process - you're making decisions that can affect the rest of your life and you're trying to balance what you enjoy and what you're good at. It’s a difficult process so working out the best way to handle to suit you is vital. I didn’t manage it in the most conventional way but it worked best for me so it worked out well.

At the start of year 13 I was convinced I wanted to study music but very rapidly discovered that my real passion lay with psychology. I began by looking at psychology degrees and the panic started to kick in as the grades were pretty much out of reach for me (or so I thought). My teacher advised me to look into joint degrees as they tend to lower the grade requirements and this led me to look into psychology with criminology which was a course I didn't even know existed and realised was perfect for me.

Then came deciding which 5 universities I'd choose. I began by making a list of each of the ones I liked and the requirements. Next, I picked my three favourites that had reasonable grade requirements for me which closely matched my targets. I then picked one of the lower requirement universities as a back-up and then I chose one higher university with hopes that I'd get an offer.

I was extremely fortunate to get offers from all five of my universities choices which then led to even more dilemmas as to whether I'd go with the 'reasonable' and 'lower' ones or push myself for my firm/insurance. I managed to make my decision going for a 'reasonable' one as my insurance and then decided I'd push myself with a higher one – which I managed to get in to!
Although universities don't like to shout about it, very regularly if they like you enough to give you an offer, they'll probably let you in with a grade lower than the requirements they gave you. I was actually 2 grades off what I needed but as I obtained an A* in psychology, they accepted me.

My best advice for anyone would be to definitely at least apply to university because having as many options as you can for the September after you finish A Levels is a great comfort to have. I am a prime example of that as I had a potential job lined up, possible work experience and a university offer.
I wasn't even going to apply, then I was sure I wanted a year out and yet now, here I am, sat at my desk at university, happy. Just keep your options open because being indecisive isn't necessarily a bad thing as it can lead you to exactly what you want to do. 

A x

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Getting involved in Freshers Week

Last weekend, arriving at my university, attempting to find my room and get settled, I found the whole experience a bit overwhelming. It was a whirl of emotion, new faces and frantic unpacking. 

So, I guess Freshers Week was the last thing on my mind.

But, being perfectly honest, I would say I wasn’t really looking forward to Freshers Week. Meeting new people and attempting small talk often feels awkward and uncomfortable, at least for me.

That said, I ended up enjoying it more than I would have imagined. What I found quite amazing was how everyone’s tastes were generally catered for: those who wanted to go out could, but there were also options for those who preferred a night in.

Generally, I found that by being myself and being honest about what I wanted to get involved in, I could always find someone else who felt the same way. I was able to choose how much I participated in Freshers and that was certainly welcome.

Without doubt, the Societies’ Fair was one of my highlights of the week. So many opportunities, so many exciting new things to discover; not surprisingly, I signed up for far too much and now will probably spend the year attempting to unsubscribe from stuff like Investment Banking and Ultimate Frisbee (I have no idea how this happened!) But jokes aside, the range of clubs and activities to get involved with was completely staggering. And this meant that I was able to not only carry on with the stuff I already love (music, creative writing), but also try out things that I haven’t yet had the experience of, like Zumba and costume design.

So, although I didn’t really think I’d enjoy Freshers, it was actually a fun experience. And what I discovered also is that it was a great way to meet new people, and if nothing else, it’s nice to now recognise a familiar face or have someone to go to lunch with. The diverse range of people I met was extraordinary: northerners, southerners, internationals, people of all different faiths and backgrounds. By the end of the week, I’d met a lot of interesting people, had some intriguing conversations and started to feel a little more at home in this new environment.

Getting involved turned out to be a lot of fun, and even though I’m now suffering from Freshers Flu (I wish it were just a myth!), I think it was worth it. The adventure is only beginning…

Enia x

Erasmus Diaries: Semester 1, Week 5

October is now arrived and unpacked. With it, the world has made that transition into the golden leaf stage of all things autumnal. My cosy jumpers are now a full-time investment and my essays are in the final editing stage (it feels simultaneously all at once and like an ice age a million years in the making). Week 5 has been long, largely because it is neither here nor there. My work is almost at the point of submitting, I've already had some grades back (all firsts so far) and finals are only a fortnight away. This week has been the go between point where all of them have convened. I can practically hear week 2 gloating to Monday October 1st about the smaller reading pile that existed back then.

But as always, I am enjoying study. It seems to be a way of life for me once I have settled in; So many ideas that I want to get out all at once but instead have to make note of and work through over time. Especially once I had the epiphany around Wednesday that I am capable of formulating my own questions now and can write an academic essay about anything I like at any point, even in the middle of summer. It might seem a silly thing to realise, but for me that was a bit of a revolution. Just knowing that I am capable of producing work to a high standard and sometimes completely on my own outside of class, it makes me feel one step closer to that dream of being a writer I've always had. Sometimes I feel very far away from that dream, as though I have too much to learn to ever fully reach it. But when the words flow, and the editing is fun, it's a reassurance that dreams are possible if we let ourselves believe they are.

Over the weekend my mum came to visit, and it was funny to see her reaction to how much things have changed for me here. It me feel oddly proud of my achievements so far to be able to show her around a city that is now the back of my hand, where on her last visit we had wandered around equally lost as one another. It was also quite the adventure getting to pretend to be a tourist in what is at present my home. As part of my study abroad, we got given tickets to head out on a journey via one of Amsterdam's many different canal boats before the end of holiday season in November. Despite the rain which greeted us on Saturday morning, this still ended up being a worthwhile trip. From the water, Amsterdam looks entirely different. I always knew the sea levels were higher than that of the land, but from the canal you can see it far more prominently. Plus, we had an awesome tour guide who told us lots of fun facts. Such as the sheer number of bikes which accumulate at the bottom of the canal on a weekly basis! These are certainly things I will try to work into my Dutch history essays at some point if I get the chance.

Mum also brought me a few small things from home, including chocolate (the one thing I can't really get here in the Netherlands because of my nut allergy) envelopes and a notebook that looks like an Oreo. Whilst the biscuit book frequently makes me hungry when checking my to do list throughout the day, the new stationery is as ever a motivator to keep drafting. Though at present, working on the Rowling essay is proving incredibly exciting. Because it is a history research paper, I've been able to fuse my literary knowledge with entirely different aspects of academic writing that I haven't had as much opportunity to do prior to now. There's so much to say regarding her impact on the modern day, that my third chapter has ended up overflowing and that is always a good sign. It means that whittling it down takes skilled carpentry opposed to shoving wedges of wood into what might essentially become a metaphorical piece of Swiss cheese. At present my focus has shifted from the final, final editing to my 15-minute presentation next Wednesday (I'll be the first in my class to do this).

There are two stages to presentations in this course, which means I have a presentation next week covering the main body of my work followed by a conclusive presentation about my findings in the last week before the October break. So for instance, what questions do I still have? Did I answer my thesis and did I prove my initial hypothesis correct? What has been the overall sum of my findings? What questions are there remaining for others researchers to pursue? and so on. Public speaking is always fun, but the build up to it always has my heart beating itself into one infinitely tied semibreve. Getting to talk about Rowling and all of my research will be an exciting opportunity to test out my lecturing skills. I want people to go away from what I have to say with new ideas about Rowling and her work, and with me having given them some form of information they did not know beforehand.

Outside of class at the moment I am reading Autumn by Ali Smith which is an absolutely spectacular book. I only started reading it a few days ago and it was so engaging right from the first sentence that I've raced through it quicker than I would have liked. I think that an immediate re-read is necessary in order to savour it as it should be. It's been described by the Guardian as 'the first post-Brexit novel' but despite the serious undertone that it has, more than anything it's a book for anyone who enjoys detailed literature. It's the story of Elisabeth and David and how they have a friendship through which they consistently debate, well... everything. There was one incredibly effective point where David was re-telling the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears where he added in Goldilocks vandalising one of the walls with spray paint. There was then an ensuing conversation in which Elisabeth puzzled over (considering the whole story was fictional) whether the spray paint can was any less true than the original story. Definitely intriguing food for thought about fiction and truth. Plus, Ali Smith writes everything so enticingly. If I was living in a book universe, it would be one of hers.

So in a nutshell, my week has consisted of pretending to be a tourist with my mum, researching, writing, revising, reading and attempting not to eat my new notebook. As far as weeks go, I'd say it's been one of the more relaxed. For yes there are things to be stressed about, but maintaining balance between everything is at present proving quite possible. This week I also achieved a few other things that I want to share with you. First of all, I have had several further posts published with the magazine The Student Pocket Guide. My favoruite (Dear Millennials - A Love Letter) can be found if you click on the image below. It's a response to the negative criticism Millennials get as a generation when the reality is, it is our creativity and forward-thinking nature as a whole that is so promising, vibrant and positive for our planet.

You can read it here.

I also finally finished working on my first original song. It's called You Are Ending (dedicated to my grand-dad) and it's been about 5 years in the making. By this I mean, I've had the ideas in my head and just never said them out loud before now. But sitting down at the piano to practice for some upcoming auditions, it kind of just ended up coming into being. Sometimes things require a lot of editing, but sometimes they just... are. This was one of those projects. I'm so so proud of it and I hope you like it too. To quote another person's original song in an ironic context (Tim Minchin would approve) 'It's not perfect, but it's mine'. Doei!

Thank-you for reading. How is your October going so far? How are you finding deadline season? 

Oxbridge Application Tips

The early UCAS deadline for Oxbridge applications is fast approaching. For those of you who are considering applying to these universities, work will now be well underway regarding your personal statements, academic portfolio and finding suitable references. Representing yourself through so few words is one of the biggest challenges you will have faced throughout your sixth form experience so far, hence it is natural to feel overwhelmed and a little stressed by it all. Fear not – whilst the deadline is approaching, there is still more than enough time for you to complete everything necessary. It’s all in your approach.
As far as your personal statement goes, make sure that you have a clear structure as you read over everything. If someone were skim reading this, would they be able to pick out your key ideas from the topic sentences at the beginning of paragraphs? Is there an interesting range and evident fluency to your writing? Do you stand out from the words on the page? These are all questions you should be asking in the process of editing to ensure that information is as concise and communicative as possible. Whilst it is challenging to achieve in such a limited number of words and characters, that challenge does not have to be a negative one. After you have completed the initial drafts, all consequent work you do is only going to better this representation you have built around yourself. Think of it as a Sudoku puzzle; You’re just looking for the right words to slot into place.
On the other hand, you also have your academic essays and/or work process examples. Most likely you have again, already completed these at this stage. However, make sure that you do keep glancing over and making minor edits for the entirety of the period you have left before submission. You never know, you might develop a slightly different idea on how to represent one particular section of your essay which could make it sound far more evidenced overall than it did previously. If you are writing on the subject you are most passionate about, this should be the easy part which proves a welcome break from talking about yourself in the personal statement. Turn to your zoological/musical/literary/historical/mathematical thesis ideas whenever things are starting to slog, and it will remind you why this is all worth it.

Finally, make sure you are keeping organised. Keep a list of things to do every day and work your way through the most important tasks first. It’s not only super useful, it’s also a great way to put into practice personal scheduling as will be required when you reach university. Plan things out in advance to avoid the stress in the long run. Small bouts of stress now will prevent a build-up of it later, meaning that you will be able to avoid the insomnia and work to a better standard now. Remember to breathe, keep thinking positive and working hard, and before you know it it’ll be half term – time for a well-earned rest. Best of luck!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Acting My Age

Going to University in my 50’s to study Drama was a big decision. Massive, huge, colossal…. you get my drift. Yet making that decision was curiously abstract, based on a love of performance art, boredom with my job and the desire to do something for fun rather than profit. Launching the idea with my friends and adult children was interesting to say the least. My children in particular tested it to destruction, in the belief that I was having a mid-life crisis. My friends were shocked but not altogether surprised. Happily, they are all hugely supportive now that I am here.

Starting University was a major event. A change of identity from NHS Director to undergraduate student, a change in lifestyle, a new environment, new technology (hello, virtual learning environment….) and more. After the first day, I felt shell shocked. What had I been thinking? How on earth was I going to relate to fellow students who are younger than my children? Who could I realistically form close friendships with? People assumed that I was a member of the faculty, or a postgraduate student. All this amid the whirlwind experience that is Fresher’s week. My coping strategy included doing everything that I was advised to do, such as joining societies, finding my way around the campus, familiarising myself with Blackboard (my University’s virtual learning environment), exploring the library and attending every welcome meeting and event that I thought would be useful.

Two weeks on and I have experienced a range of attitudes and reactions, from being welcomed to being pointedly ignored. And it is ok. For all of us this is a time of huge adjustment and everyone reacts differently. The trick is to not worry about what people are thinking and in particular not to project your own fears onto them. That funny look someone gave you is almost certainly down to too many late nights and their vulnerability in a new and confusing landscape. It really isn’t personal.
One of the biggest challenges has been stopping myself from trying to mother people who are missing their home and parents, and who are adjusting to life in Halls of Residence. I am told that it is best to stand back a little and be there if needed, avoiding any temptation to either act as a substitute parent or attempt to relive my youth in nightclubs and bars. In other words, it is fine to act my age and wait for the surprise at my presence on an undergraduate course to give way to acceptance.

The Mature Student Society has introduced me to new friends, the faculty are hugely supportive, and I have the luxury of going back to my own home every night. My children and my friends are there for me when needed.  What’s more, I love my subject and it is what I came here to study. The final bonus is that in University drama productions I have an advantage in terms of auditioning for roles as an older adult. I can act my age.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Five ways to cut the cost of a year abroad

Top-up funding – plus everyday money saving – means a year abroad can be an affordable way to see the world and study while you’re at it.

1. Claim extra funding

There’s a bit of extra funding on offer for UK students who study part of a degree abroad. If you’re eligible for the Maintenance Loan, you could get a larger loan plus a travel grant while you’re away. Both are means tested – so how much you get depends on household earnings – but the grant doesn’t have to be repaid.
If your course is eligible, the extra funding options should pop up in your Student Finance account. It’s also worth checking with your uni and the exchange programme for any other support, scholarships and grants going.

2. Get foreign cash for free

When you use a bank card to withdraw money or pay for stuff in the UK, you don’t expect to be charged for the privilege – yet use your card abroad and ATM fees and foreign currency charges can kick in, making every transaction more expensive.

Prepaid currency cards work just like regular bank cards, but have to be kept topped up with cash (a bit like a PAYG sim): that means less chance of overspending or piling up debt. Where they really shine is in getting you the best exchange rates, without added commission charges or fees – that could save you a few quid every day, and make your currency stretch a little further. Some cards come with apps that make it a doddle to check your balance, track your spending and top up your limit, making them pretty handy home and away.

3. Don’t ditch UK banking

Packing your regular bank debit and credit cards is good back-up – just know they’re not always cheapest for everyday spending overseas. You may even find a local bank account more useful for getting accommodation or employment (so take your paperwork with you).

That said, once you get a decent UK student bank account, keep hold of it! Having a 0% overdraft if you need emergency cash while you’re away beats other borrowing hands down (because it’s free!). Make sure you can access your account online or on your phone, and keep cash in it to cover ongoing bills back home (remember to cancel or freeze any you won’t use while you’re away).

4. Live like a local

Making an effort to integrate always pays. Not only will you feel more at home (and less homesick) sooner, it can save you money, too:

·         Learn the language. Even a few phrases can help you get around, get help, and ask for   discounts or better prices.
·         Embrace local delicacies and home-grown brands: they’re often far cheaper than tracking   down imported faves.
·         Live with a local family rather than renting private accommodation – ask if your exchange   programme can hook you up.
·         Don’t stick with the guidebook: find your own faves and join local groups. And get an ISIC   card, an international version of the NUS student discount.
·         If students at your host uni get perks like free travel, check if you can too!
·         You can now use your mobile in Europe at the same rates as you pay in the UK. Still see   what’s on offer locally (especially if you’re going further afield): it could be cheaper to get a   sim when you get there. If you’re on limited data or funds, look for free wifi and use   messaging apps to call locally/back home for nothing.

5. Plan ahead

Planning – and saving – ahead is the best way to slash your costs on any kind of enterprise, but it especially makes sense for a year abroad. Tickets are cheaper the further in advance you snap them up, plus you’ll have more time to check out all the options, and get the relevant discounts in place. Don’t just think one way, though: budget for trips back to the UK, as well as things to do once you’re back – it’s a solid way to stave off homesickness, and gives you something to look forward to.

If your usual budget style is to close your eyes and hope for the best, a year out is a great time to level up your money skills, as you’ll be more motivated to track your spending and stick to limits. Sketch out a plan, then use the tips on this page to get more value. Give it a go!

Guest blog written by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student - the UK's largest student money advice site.

How to write a personal statement

A personal statement is what sets up an accurate portrayal of your character to universities. It’s one of the most important things you need to do, and it’s one of the things that your application relies on, but it’s not too difficult to make it perfect.

You don’t need to pour every single thing that’s on your mind into those 4000 words, but it’s a good way of discussing where you are in your knowledge of your subject, where you want to take that knowledge and any past experiences you have had. And believe me, when you’re passionate about a subject, 47 lines is not enough to tell them everything.

A few tips for what to write about include:

Why you chose to apply for that particular course.
Write about your interests, what you love about the subject you’re studying. If you want to study Biology, go on about your dream to study plant life in the Amazon Rainforest. If you’re studying Photography, talk about your love for the endless possibilities that Photography can provide you with. The possibilities are endless with this paragraph. If you’re passionate enough to apply for a course at university, you’re passionate enough to write about why you love it.

Why are you interested in the subject
Maybe don’t go on about how you’ve always dreamed of going to Manchester because of the amazing takeaways. Talk about your interest for the subject, how you’ll stay invested in the course despite the struggles and the stresses of a professional environment. Talk about the different facets to your course. If you’re studying Psychology, don’t just talk about one aspect of it. Open your mind, explain how much you’d like to understand every approach, every different way of understanding one thing, (though some of them can be quite bizarre).

Why you are suitable for the course
Prove to them that you won’t spend the entire course lying on the couch eating popcorn and skipping lectures. Prove that you’re interested, tell them what you can offer. Let them know if you have an open mind, if you’re willing to accept alternate theories and processes. University is experimental, and they want someone that can keep up with it. Talk about different qualities you have. Were you a prefect in high school? Let them know your roles and responsibilities that will help you on the course. Were you in a band or a sports team? Let them know that you can work in a team and follow along with the ideas of others. All of these qualities build you as a person and as a potential candidate.

Do your current courses or areas of study relate to your chosen course?
Now, I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here, but applying to a French Language degree might not be the best thing to do if you’ve never even spoken the language before. (Though if you do that, I admire your spirit and wish you the best of luck). Make sure you at least know the basics of what you’re planning to study. Even though you’re going to learn, you at least need a base knowledge of what you want to study, and they are going to want to know what you already know. Talk about what modules you have studied. If you’re studying Art, tell them what mediums you have worked with, what artists you are inspired by. Tell them what you know, but keep it truthful. Don’t go talking about how you worked on the Empire State Building in an architecture class. Your tutors will assure them that what you’re saying is wrong. (Unless you did actually work on the Empire State Building. If you did, talk about that. That’s interesting.)

Have you taken part in any other activities that demonstrate your interest in the course?
Have you taken part in a football workshop with the Barcelona Football Team? Have you visited galleries and artist talks from prestigious artists? Have you worked with Professor Brian Cox? You don’t need to have done any of these, but anything relating to your course that you have previous experience with, for example playing in an orchestra if you’re doing a Music degree or volunteering at a youth theatre group if you’re doing Drama or  Performing Arts. All of these examples show that you are dedicated to the course and you will thrive once the course is over if you decide to turn it into a career.

Skills and Achievements
Have you won a Nobel Prize? Have you won a trophy for being an outstanding rugby player at your local team? Have you had any responsibilities in and around college or school. This can range from being on the school or college council to popping around with a biscuit tray at your school’s parent’s evening. Anything helps, and anything shows that you’re willing to help others. Think about things that you’re proud of. Universities want to know that you’re not just a carbon copy of the next person, that you have real thoughts, real feelings and real pride in the things that you do. If they think you’re an interesting person, they’ll have much more consideration for you. Tell them what makes you unique.

A personal statement is important. Be yourself, but be careful with adding jokes and quotes, don’t be offensive in any way. People have different senses of humour. It’s an official document, but it doesn’t have to be too posh. Just be yourself and don’t worry if your first draft isn’t perfect. Just go to your tutor for help, and they’ll help to guide you in the right direction. Use UCAS templates and informational videos to help you in writing your personal statement, because you only get one shot.