Overcoming estrangement at university

Published

Credit: Samantha Macrae

Samantha Macrae
Writer

Samantha Macrae shares her experience of adjusting to student life while estranged from her parents

For many, a relationship with biological parents is something that is often taken for granted and thought of as the norm. I became estranged from my parents when I was 16, having been forced out of my family home following a further breakdown in our relationship. Fortunately, I was taken in by my grandparents which allowed me to finish high school. However, the transition proved to be difficult and the months leading up to the move had been incredibly traumatic. The first few months with my grandparents were also challenging, filled with intense feelings of isolation and a lack of exposure to others going through the same problems which made it difficult to navigate through the situation at a young age. This resulted in further tension and strained the relationship I had with my grandparents.

Throughout school, I had always hoped that I would go to university. When my family situation began to break down during my fifth year of high school, I began to question if I would be able to reach my full potential and achieve the grades necessitated by my ambition. This view was only reinforced by unsupportive social workers, informing me that I would sooner see the inside of a prison cell than the classroom of a university. For me, the underestimation of my ability by those partially responsible for my care only made me more determined to prove people wrong. When I sat my Highers I achieved five As, with the prospect of studying at university well within my grasp.

As a recently estranged young person and a first-generation university student, applying to study was an incredibly daunting process. I was unsure about how I was going to finance my studies without family support. My school was also uncertain about how I should articulate my situation to universities. As such, I emailed the five institutions that I planned to apply to, outlining my situation and asking for advice about how to progress. This is when I came into contact with Dr Daniel Keenan from the University of Glasgow.

Dr Keenan provides one to one support where needed for estranged students and those who have experienced care, both during the application stage and whilst studying at the university. For me, this was an invaluable source of help which made the process easier. Without such a high level of support I would definitely not be studying here today. I received a lot of advice and guidance prior to arriving at university which really aided me in this transition, such as help applying for SAAS and bursaries. This was incredibly useful as I didn’t have parents to rely on for help and support in doing this.

By far the most notable difficulty I faced was trying to secure a privately rented flat. This is not straightforward for any student with countless viewings, payments and rejections all contributing to flat searching being incredibly stressful. For me, the hardest part was finding a guarantor. For most students, a parent would put their name down for this, however for many international students, those with parents who rent, and estranged students, this is near impossible. My own situation rested on a former teacher putting her name down to act as my guarantor, something I realise is unavailable to most.

I live with my grandparents when I am not at university; both of whom are retired and therefore unable to act as guarantors. This was an extremely upsetting and isolating time for me as it set me apart from my peers and I began to recognise how different my family situation made me. Having lived at a total of six different addresses since I was 16 years old, I was desperate to gain secure accommodation. The feeling of stability and security that I have experienced since moving into my flat a few months ago is truly indescribable.

I have come to recognise the ways in which my estrangement has fuelled me with an intense drive to better myself and be successful both in education and my future. My situation gives me a very unique outlook on the world and allows me to appreciate things that many take for granted, such as my remaining family and friends, my place in education, and the roof over my head. Since leaving my family home I have achieved things that I never thought could be possible. My hope is that by sharing my story with others, I will help to improve the outcomes for people in similar positions arriving to study at the university. I am extremely grateful for all the help and support I have received during my journey which has been invaluable to me.

If you are arriving at university as a care-experienced or estranged student, we’ve gathered a list of resources where you can find more information and support:

To speak to someone about the support available, you can contact Dr Keenan below:

Dr Dan Keenan
Care-experienced & Estranged Student Support Coordinator
Widening Participation
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 0141 330 4022

The University works closely with Stand Alone, an organisation that advocates for estranged students, and has signed the “Stand Alone Pledge” as an institution. You can find further information and resources on their website below: https://www.standalone.org.uk/students/

For specific advice on navigating student finances as an estranged student, visit:

https://www.standalone.org.uk/guides/student-guide/

The Corporate Parenting Plan outlines the ways in which the University fulfill their legal responsibilities to care-experienced students (the same provision is extended to any applicant or student that is estranged from their family, even if they are not care-experienced). You can read through the plan here:

https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_550726_en.pdf

The University’s search engine helps you to find available scholarships and funding opportunities:

https://www.gla.ac.uk/scholarships/

The financial aid directory contains further advice, featuring a FAQ section and information on bursaries that students may be eligible for:

https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/registry/finance/funds/