The Student Room Group

Teenage son going to uni in couple of year's time.. worried parent..

My son is now in Lower 6th hoping to go to uni in 1.5 years time or possibly after a gap year at the end of his A levels. He's hinted at going across the water (we are in Belfast)...I was anxious at the idea but am coming round to the idea now. He may even get into Oxbridge..

I have many questions:

As a parent what do I need to do? We are not well off. Although I do have some minimal savings I do wish to try to help my son financially when the time comes. He's insisting he doesn't want me to use my savings .. its been 30 years since I went to uni myself and things are bound to have changed. Would he be able to survive? And what help does the government give these days in terms of loans/grants apart from the tuition fee loans?
Also what is the standard procedure if he was looking for student accommodation. How would he find out about potential accommodation? Back in the 90s my dad came with me to England to secure somewhere to live. But even then we couldn't as there was a shortage of student halls...and I ended up being put into a hotel for a week at the start.

How much dearer is being a student in Oxbridge and associated costs?

I cant help but be worried about my son....
Any advice appreciated, thank you.
Original post by Jennybaby
My son is now in Lower 6th hoping to go to uni in 1.5 years time or possibly after a gap year at the end of his A levels. He's hinted at going across the water (we are in Belfast)...I was anxious at the idea but am coming round to the idea now. He may even get into Oxbridge..

I have many questions:

As a parent what do I need to do? We are not well off. Although I do have some minimal savings I do wish to try to help my son financially when the time comes. He's insisting he doesn't want me to use my savings .. its been 30 years since I went to uni myself and things are bound to have changed. Would he be able to survive? And what help does the government give these days in terms of loans/grants apart from the tuition fee loans?
Also what is the standard procedure if he was looking for student accommodation. How would he find out about potential accommodation? Back in the 90s my dad came with me to England to secure somewhere to live. But even then we couldn't as there was a shortage of student halls...and I ended up being put into a hotel for a week at the start.

How much dearer is being a student in Oxbridge and associated costs?

I cant help but be worried about my son....
Any advice appreciated, thank you.


Hey, I totally appreciate your worries as a parent for your son, and I've answered some of your questions below to help put your mind at ease (for context, I graduated from Oxford and I have a solid understanding of the UK university application and enrolment process)

On the financial side, things have changed a bit since you attended university yourself - as you say, nowadays most students take out a loan with the UK government, which covers their tuition fees completely and also comes with a maintenance loan that is calculated based on your household income. Most of the time this maintenance loan will be enough to cover most of the costs associated with renting, but parents will often provide the extra shortfall in cash to make up the students living expenses (this is especially common if you attend a London university, as rental prices are much higher). There are additional funds available from the universities themselves in the form of scholarships (most of the time these are rather small, but they can be quite large if your household income is very low) and also students often find part-time work whilst at university for both cash and experience. Rest assured, even if your family was in dire financial circumstances, your son would still have avenues to get sufficient funding to attend university and live comfortably, and there is always the option to defer your university offer and take a gap year in order to earn some cash, which plenty of students do (I would say however to perhaps not prioritise London if finances are a concern since it is just very expensive, I'm sure that besides Oxbridge, the university experience in NI is similar). As far as getting accommodation goes, first-year students are almost always guaranteed accommodation so no need to worry about this, and then usually students find flatmates to live with in their 2nd and 3rd years (except at Oxbridge where at some colleges you are allowed to rent university accommodation for all 3 years of your course, so that's even better if that's what you're after).

At this stage, your son's main concern should be centered on working hard and achieving the best grades possible, whilst also slowly getting a better understanding of the UK university application process as a whole (especially if he intends on applying to Oxbridge, as the application process is quite specific). There are loads of resources available on this website and others to help with that, and I'd reach out as you have done here again if you do have any questions. As the parent, your foremost concern should be more making sure that your son is happy in school and in a place where he feels he has the resources he needs to do well academically (books, tech equipment, tutors if needed etc.) and in time researches the different courses available at some of the top universities and identifies what he's interested in applying to.

Coming back to finances and Oxbridge, your termly costs include accommodation and catering and it definitely works out to be cheaper than any London university, and perhaps only slightly more expensive than UK universities in the regions, so I would say please don't worry about the financial side of things again when it comes to applying to Oxbridge, the government loan will help to cover the majority of it and financial struggles should not deter your son from applying at all. I can say from first-hand experience that Oxford colleges do really try their very best to take care of you in a way that is unparalleled amongst UK universities, offering extra academic scholarships, hardship funds and so on (and Cambridge is similar in that regard) and so again, simply doing well academically and striving to attend a top university should be your son's main priority, and your own focus more towards supporting him in that.

I hope this eases some of your worries but please don't hesitate to drop me a message if you have any follow-up questions :smile:

P.S. I should add that I'm not from Nothern Ireland and so I'm not aware of any specific NI funding options etc. that might be available, but I'm sure someone else can shed light on that.
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by Jennybaby
My son is now in Lower 6th hoping to go to uni in 1.5 years time or possibly after a gap year at the end of his A levels. He's hinted at going across the water (we are in Belfast)...I was anxious at the idea but am coming round to the idea now. He may even get into Oxbridge..

I have many questions:

As a parent what do I need to do? We are not well off. Although I do have some minimal savings I do wish to try to help my son financially when the time comes. He's insisting he doesn't want me to use my savings .. its been 30 years since I went to uni myself and things are bound to have changed. Would he be able to survive? And what help does the government give these days in terms of loans/grants apart from the tuition fee loans?
Also what is the standard procedure if he was looking for student accommodation. How would he find out about potential accommodation? Back in the 90s my dad came with me to England to secure somewhere to live. But even then we couldn't as there was a shortage of student halls...and I ended up being put into a hotel for a week at the start.

How much dearer is being a student in Oxbridge and associated costs?

I cant help but be worried about my son....
Any advice appreciated, thank you.

Okay, Let me ease it for you.

When he eventually does apply to university, advise him to apply to Oxbridge but also to some closer universities e.g. Queen's University Belfast or maybe even areas with a low cost of living (typically northern UK)
Maintenance loans are a great tool to help him survive but given that he is intelligent and has high aspirations, I think he could potentially get a part-time job through uni related to his chosen uni course so that could aid him in cost of living and instead of doing a 52 week tenancy in accommodation, he could do a 40 week and go home for the holidays.
The government offers student loans for university degrees and maintenance loans for living expenses whilst the student is at university.
The standard is that when he starts to receive offers on UCAS, the UCAS hub will show accommodation properties and he can browse them through there and he might be able to if he ever decides to go to an open day.

I can only imagine the worry but this is coming from a person with parents who don't want them leave the city - I wouldn't worry until the time comes and I wouldn't worry - in todays government, there is a lot of financial aid and given that your son appears to be intelligent, he can apply for/get scholarships and grants for living costs or even to pay his tuition fees so he may be well off.

The costs of attending Oxbridge depends on the student, some students use online resources (which tend to be cheaper) and some use physical, some use technological devices and some don't - it really is a spectrum.


Hope this helps and feel free to ask any more questions!
SFE Tuition Fee Loans


So assuming they are eligible for SFE funding (which I'm not actually sure - they might need to go through SFNI) then normally students get a maintenance loan and tuition fee loan. The tuition fee loan just covers exactly the cost of the tuition fees (which despite the slimy Tories claim that the increased tuition fees from 2010 wouldn't become the "norm" and unis were able to charge less, the standard at all UK unis I'm aware of except the OU is to charge the max tuition fee cost of ~£9250 a year currently, but may rise with inflation). and is paid directly to the uni, so from the student/parent's perspective you just need to sign on the dotted line and SFE do the rest for that one.

An important thing to note is that entitlement for full time tuition fee loans is not infinite - the calculation is "length of degree + 1 year - number of years of prior study in HE". Practically speaking this makes no difference except noting that students get a "gift year" (the +1 year) which covers a possible resit year or allows a student to still be fully funded after a change of course if they change in first year (thereafter, the entitlement wouldn't cover the full course and things start getting complicated). Generally isn't an issue, but if it does become a factor then it's a big consideration. So generally - make sure you pick the right course, and it's better to take one or several gap years to figure that out if you aren't sure!

SFE Maintenance Loans


For the maintenance loan, it is paid into the student's bank account in three disbursements over the course of the academic year - don't expect the full amount to be dropped in there at the start of term. It's 33/33/34% I believe, and the dates are essentially the start of term, early January, and then sometime around March-ish (usually seems to come in towards the end of the spring break). There is a basic level of maintenance loan and then depending on the student's household income (which if they're under 25 and not married, is normally the parental household income) they may be eligible for higher amounts which are means tested.

Note also that usually SFE initially assess all students for the minimum loan amount, then will continue assessing students for the higher means tested amounts if eligible. So if they apply and get a letter from SFE showing a lower amount than expected, don't immediately panic, as it's likely they just did the "first pass" and then will continue assessing. The reason for this is to ensure all students have something when term starts ideally, and then they will as noted update retrospectively any increases as needed if eligible (and disburse any "missing" amount from a prior disbursement shortly thereafter, with the subsequent disbursements being at the usual amount on the expected dates).

Note that if the student is living with parents they get a reduced maintenance loan in all cases, and if they are studying at a uni in London they get an increased loan in all cases. Students studying on a course regularly offered as distance learning (i.e. not courses normally taught in person that were taught online during COVID) are usually not eligible for a maintenance loan unless they qualify due to having a disability preventing them attending an in person course. There is a calculator on the gov.uk website for estimating a student's maintenance loan amount which should give an indication.

Accommodation


Student accommodation is normally advertised on uni websites and unis will usually send relevant material to offer holders after they make an offer. Note that not all unis guarantee on-site accommodation for first year - some unis in recent years have had to offer accommodation somewhat further out due to having more students than expected. It's rare to have nowhere though unless you apply through clearing, and there are lots of private student halls that have been built in many cities (e.g. UNITE) - these are often somewhat more expensive than uni owned student halls though. Usually there is a choice of catered (i.e. you pay for food as part of the overall rent/costs which is eaten in a sort of cafeteria thing) or self-catered (you just pay for the room and buy and prepare your own food - normally student accommodation has kitchens which have all the usual trappings).

Oxbridge doesn't necessarily cost any more than other unis. They also tend to have more (and more generous) grants than other unis (normally means tested). There is variation among colleges as to how much rent costs though so something to look into when deciding which college to apply to. Note though that essentially all Oxbridge colleges I think are "catered" and normally you need to pay for the meals either as part of the battel (the bill for all lodging costs) or use a topped up meal card or similar. I gather kitchenette facilities are often limited so I don't think one can rely on planning to buy and cook all their meals at Oxford even if at a college where this isn't built into the accommodation costs.

Note that typically halls residence is only guaranteed in first year at most unis, and the expectation is after first year students will move out into the private rental market (usually living with friends/coursemates/etc, although sometimes just with other random students looking to fill a room in their private rental if someone left early/went on a year abroad/etc). Costs and availability obviously vary widely. Most colleges at Oxford and Cambridge offer accommodation for most of the course though (some at Oxford are only able to offer it for 1st and 3rd year, and many at both will have students in 2nd and sometimes 3rd year living at satellite sites of college owned accommodation that are not within the college grounds itself).

Other Sources of Funding


Also there aren't any government sponsored grants/bursaries anymore except for students on certain allied health professions courses (where there is I think a ~£5000pa bursary), and medicine (maybe dentistry as well, not 100% certain) students in year(s) 5/6 of their course. All of the above SFE loans have to be paid back, although in practice with the way that the repayment model is structured, this is essentially a non-issue and once they leave uni it just becomes functionally a tax (it's virtually impossible to default on the loan unless you are actively evading making payments by leaving the country and not advising SFE of this or by working as a self-employed worker/contractor and not declaring your income accurately/at all).

However individual unis will usually have some additional grants/bursaries available (which don't need to be paid back) - when I was going through these a couple years ago it pretty much worked out that the approximate league table rankings roughly equated to how generous they were (Oxbridge had the best schemes, followed by LSE, UCL, and then a range of other generally well regarded unis which had some funding). I'd note that most of these are £2000pa or less, and are means tested usually (I think the only merit-based awards I saw were from Scottish unis).

There may also be smaller awards available - book awards, travel awards and so on - which tend to be departmental (or for Oxbridge, college) based. These are usually in the realm of a couple hundred pounds at most. A handful of unis have musical scholarships (e.g. choral/organ scholarships), although usually these are quite modest (I think organ scholarhips at Oxbridge are fairly generous but not sure outside that); there may be a couple sporting ones as well although since I'm not a sportsperson I never bothered much to look into that :tongue:


Spoiler

(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by Jennybaby
My son is now in Lower 6th hoping to go to uni in 1.5 years time or possibly after a gap year at the end of his A levels. He's hinted at going across the water (we are in Belfast)...I was anxious at the idea but am coming round to the idea now. He may even get into Oxbridge..

I have many questions:

As a parent what do I need to do? We are not well off. Although I do have some minimal savings I do wish to try to help my son financially when the time comes. He's insisting he doesn't want me to use my savings .. its been 30 years since I went to uni myself and things are bound to have changed. Would he be able to survive? And what help does the government give these days in terms of loans/grants apart from the tuition fee loans?
Also what is the standard procedure if he was looking for student accommodation. How would he find out about potential accommodation? Back in the 90s my dad came with me to England to secure somewhere to live. But even then we couldn't as there was a shortage of student halls...and I ended up being put into a hotel for a week at the start.

How much dearer is being a student in Oxbridge and associated costs?

I cant help but be worried about my son....
Any advice appreciated, thank you.


I would think there will be Parent Evenings for Year 12 and information evenings about UCAS. University websites have lots of information .. has his school talked to him about Oxbridge? We've laready started to approach people we feel could be possible applicants. His choice of university will be driven by his interests, his preferences re place to study and his predicted grades.

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