Older person's hand and younger person's hand holding one another

Taking the time out to study something you love can be hard for anyone, but for those of your that care for a close friend or family member the dream is unreachable. 

It’s just not that easy to juggle the responsibilities of caring with studying, alongside travelling and even a part time job if you’ve no one else to support you. And with the cost of university steadily rising, where is the money going to come from to pay for it?

However, if you want your own career, for many sectors a university degree is a must, and university gives you the opportunity to meet people with common interests and common goals and space to be yourself away from the home.

What is a Young Adult Carer?

As defined by the Carers Trust, a young adult carer is a young person aged between 14–25 who cares, unpaid, for a family member or friend with an illness or disability, mental health condition or an addiction, who ordinarily would not be able to cope without their support.

Problems facing young careers

Research by the Carers Trust found that half of young adult carers in university were struggling because of their caring role. Although most enjoyed it (79%), over half experience difficulties because of their caring role. Young adult carers are also four times more likely to drop out of university than students without caring roles with 16% being concerned they might have to drop out. 

Furthermore, the Carer’s Allowance that young carers are entitled to is cut when they enter full-time education of more than 21 hours per week or more of classes lectures, seminars and the individual study time. 

So young carers have to balance looking after a loved one and studying with not having the time or the flexibility that other students have for substantial part-time employment. Because of this, there’s the further strain on the finances of young carers where every penny counts. 

How universities can help

Many universities offer support for young carers, however the level of support and type of support is mixed, with some universities being outstanding, and others doing next to nothing. 

If you are considering applying for a university, let them know that you are a young carer and they may be able to help you out during your application process. If you are attending an open day or interview, some universities are available to discuss with you how they might be able to help you during your time studying and what support you might need. This can also give you an idea of what university might be right for you and your needs. 

Once at university, their support team might be able to provide with you a contact, a dedicated member of staff, to support you, for example in applying for finance, liaising with your tutors, and helping you find suitable accommodation if you want to live on campus. 

They might also be able to provide you with a small bursary (which you don’t have to pay back) to help you with your finances.

Some universities might also give you more flexibility in your studying, for example you might be able to take fewer modules in some terms to give you some extra time or extend your degree if you’re struggling to fit everything in. 

Some universities may also have societies where you can meet fellow young carers, or be able to direct you local support groups so you’ve a chance to meet other people in the same position as you. 

Can universities do more?

Unfortunately, universities are generally ill-equipped to deal with young carers. There is no formal support system required by universities to support you, and many don’t know how to deal with the needs of young carers. Additionally, many universities don’t provide any form of additional bursary to help you out, and when they do it’s often not a lot.

How can you help yourself?

If you are looking at going to a specific university tell them about your situation as soon as possible, before you’ve been accepted. If universities understand your responsibilities they will be willing to be flexible, but they can’t help if you haven’t told them your circumstances!

In telling prospective universities you’ll also be able to see how and whether they help, which might also impact your decision of going to that institution and whether it’s the right fit for you. 

If your course is full-time but at any point you study for significantly lower hours than normal, for example because you are exempt from a module, you can talk to your university about  making a case to show that you are not full-time so you’ll be able to receive your Carer’s Allowance.