Top tips for young carers coming to university

Female and Male students in reading town chatting outside the town hall

Hi, my name is Drew. I’m just about to go into my final year of studying Politics and International Relations. My journey as a young carer started when I was 7 years old and coming to university is the only time I don’t have to fulfil my duties as a carer. Being a young carer has given me the experience I need to live my life independently and made the transition to university a lot easier, but I’ve also learned a lot during my time here. 

If you’re reading this and you’re not sure what a young carer is or if you are one, here is a basic definition: A young carer is a young person (typically under 25) that cares for a member of their family due to illness, disability, mental health problems or addiction. This doesn’t always mean looking after their medical needs but can include cleaning, cooking and other household activities that someone your age wouldn’t normally do. Here is some more information about young carers.   

My top 5 tips for coming to university as a young carer: 

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: If you’re still having to carry on your duties as a young carer while you’re at university then that is going to be a tremendous task, so don’t be afraid to ask the university or your local council to see how they can help you. The best places to ask for help are Student Services , your Academic Tutor or the Reading Students’ Union Advice Service . Even if you’re not caring for someone while you’re at university, you should still use these resources to find out what support is available to you. 
  1. Let yourself have fun: Having caring responsibilities can make you grow up pretty damn fast. You had to put others needs before your own and you had to spend a lot of time doing adult things, and that results in you becoming an adult before you’re supposed to be one. Now is your chance to be free and do the things you want to do. I’m not saying go wild, but just live a little and find out who you are. My biggest regret is coming to uni and being stubbornly mature and not enjoying myself. And if you are still caring for someone when you’re not on campus, try finding things you enjoy when you are on campus. 
  1. Figure out who you are: You’ve probably never really had the time to sit down and think about who you are and what things you enjoy doing. The good news is that uni is a great place for self-discovery and a lot of other students are having similar thoughts. Put yourself out of your comfort zone and talk to as many people as you can. Go try as many societies as you can and find the ones you enjoy. Maybe even join a society that puts you out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. 
  1. Help others: I know I’ve spent a lot of time telling you to put yourself first but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help people when they need it. You most likely know how to cook, how to wash up and how to do laundry, but there are plenty of students that haven’t quite figured those things out yet. So, use your knowledge and experience to help them out by showing/teaching them how to do it. Not only is this a nice thing to do, but this can be a great way to make friends. 
  1. Take care of yourself: You might be used to taking care of others, but now is the time to take care of yourself. Being at university can get stressful and overwhelming sometimes and it’s important that you take care of yourself. Find things that you enjoy doing to help you unwind and close yourself off for a bit. I found that going to the gym, reading a book or doing a face mask are great ways to unwind.  Make sure to also check out the Guidance and Support pages on Essentials to find out about the personal support available to you throughout your time at the University of Reading.

These tips are based on my own experience and may not be suitable for every young carer. If you need tailored advice or support then please speak to Student Services , your Academic Tutor or the Reading Students’ Union Advice Service. If you’re not sure where to go then you can ask your STaR Mentor and they will be able to guide you in the right direction. 

Finally, Welcome to the University of Reading! I hope you have a fantastic time and get everything you want out of your university experience. 

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