Student parents: what support is available?
Going to uni alongside raising a child can seem daunting, but there's lots of support available to help you through. Here's an overview of the financial assistance that may be available to you as a student parent, as well as university services to look ou
Financial support for student parents
This allows you to claim back 85% of your childcare costs for children under 15, up to a maximum of £148.75 a week if you have one child; £255 if you have two or more children (rising to up to £150.23 and £257.55 respectively for courses starting in 2014/15). Because it's a grant, it won't need to be paid back.
You'll have to fill in a form in advance with an estimate of what your childcare will cost, and then take a second form to your childcare providers so they can confirm how much you actually spent. The grant only covers Ofsted-registered childcare, so you can't use it for informal babysitting. Eligibility information and application forms are on the Gov.uk website.
Parents' Learning Allowance
This is a lump sum for full-time student parents that you can spend however you want. It's worth up to £1,508 (rising to up to £1,523 for courses starting in 2014/15), depending on your income, and doesn't have to be paid back. Again, head to the Gov.uk website for more information.
Access to Learning Fund
If you find yourself in financial trouble, you may be able to get help from the Access to Learning Fund, which is there to help students (in England) who might otherwise have to drop out.Although it's not specifically for parents, you will often be a priority. You could be given a grant, or a loan that you have to pay back. Your university's student services department will be able to tell you more and help you apply.
Most students don't qualify for benefits, but if you're a single parent or your partner is also a student, that can change. You may be able to claim:
Housing Benefit or Local Housing Allowance
Council Tax Benefit.
If you have a child, you are automatically considered an 'independent student'. This means that your parents' income won't affect the loans and grants with you get, no matter how old you are or whether you are living with them.
Special support grant
Normally, the amount of maintenance loan you receive goes down as the maintenance grant you get goes up. However, if you're a single parent, you might get the special support grant instead of the maintenance grant. All this means is that your grant won't affect how much loan you get, so you receive more money overall.
Facilities and support you can expect at university
Most universities have childcare centres available for students with children. These may be more conveniently located than other options. However, places are limited, and there is lots of demand, especially as university staff use these facilities too. Try to contact the nursery well before you start your course to secure a place.
Many universities have societies where student parents can get together. This can be great for finding people to socialise or study with who will understand your schedule and provide a support network.
Someone to talk to
University counselling services, pastoral staff and the students' union are there to support you if it all gets too much. These services are confidential, but they may be able to support you in talking to tutors about things like deadline extensions.
Many universities have site health centres, which may be more convenient than other practices in the area. However, while some offer services like childhood immunisation, others don't, so make sure you investigate what is available.
What to look for when you apply
What other students say
Some things about a university won't be in the prospectus. Other student parents will be able to tell you things like how understanding lecturers are of the extra pressures. Ask at an open day or try and contact the university's parents' society.
Facilities on offer
Look carefully at facilities the university offers – not just 'is there a nursery?', but 'how big is it?', 'where is it located?' and 'what are the opening hours?'.
Universities offer extra bursaries on top of the main finance package. Make sure you investigate what's available when researching courses.
Top tips from student parents