Top tips on getting your kids ready for uni for the first time

11th September 2023

Making sure your kids are ready for university for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. With so much to plan and prepare for, it can be hard to know where to start.


Worry not. To help you get a handle on things, we’ve put together the ultimate university checklist for parents of first-time uni students. From packing essentials to financial advice, here’s everything you need to know and do.


Before: top tips for getting them ready

Essential things to do

Register for university and courses

Before your child sets off, it’s likely they’ll need to register for both university and their course.


This is usually an online process which involves, among other things, setting up a student account, verifying their ID and applying for a student card.


Set up a student bank account

Most high street banks offer special student accounts. Typically benefits include an interest-free overdraft, cash rewards and travel discounts.


Shop around for the best, paying particular attention to the overdraft terms.


Confirm accommodation

You will need to confirm student accommodation with your child’s university, which you’ll generally do online.


Once everything is confirmed, print off a copy of the contract and have this to hand for moving day.


If you’re dropping your child off, confirm the arrival time and familiarise yourself with the drop-off process ahead of leaving.


Deliver a crash course in cooking

Get your kids up to speed with the absolute basics of cooking. It’ll set them up not just for university but for life.


Keep it simple and pick a few straightforward recipes like curries, oven bakes and pasta dishes.


Cook these together before they head off and share your recipes with them via email or their notes app.


Sort out insurance

Check if contents insurance is provided by the university halls. It is in most cases but good to double check.


Items used outside of accommodation – for example, laptops or phones – may require extra insurance.


Set up a travel Railcard

With a 16-25 Railcard, your child can enjoy 1/3 off rail fares. Whether they’re heading to and from university, visiting friends, going on holiday or coming back home, a Railcard makes easy work of it.


It’s a greener way of travelling, too!


Help with the job search

For many youngsters, a part-time job is an important part of university life. It brings in extra cash, encourages independence and helps them develop new life skills.


Get on the job search early using sites such as Save the Student, Indeed Flex and Student Job.


Help them draft a CV, too. This will be a lifelong activity!


Essential things to take

The key to success is to pack smartly: less is always more. Here are the absolute essentials your child will need.


You can break down clothing into 3 key categories: everyday, formal and gym wear.


For everyday activities, think t-shirts, shorts, jeans, jumpers, and jackets and coats (ranging from a waterproof jacket to a winter coat).


They’ll also need at least a week's worth of underwear and socks, as well as gloves, a hat and a scarf.


Formal clothes will make sure they have options for special occasions, celebrations and events. At least one smart dress or suit, with a couple of options for tops, shirts and accessories, will do.


For the gym, pack just the essentials: gym trainers, training gear and related accessories.



The following are key to good hygiene: toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, shower gel, soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, hand sanitiser, moisturiser and spare loo roll (yes, really).


Beyond that, you’re looking at more cosmetic items, which your child will no doubt take the lead on.


Health and pharmacy supplies

With pharmacy supplies, it’s best to be prepared for all scenarios. Pack paracetamol, ibuprofen, antihistamine, cough medicine, sanitary pads, tampons, antiseptic cream and plasters.


Towels and bedding

Keep this to a minimum. For towels, 2 large, 2 medium and 2 hand towels will be more than enough. For bedding, all they’ll need is a midweight duvet, a spare blanket, 2 sets of sheets, 2 sets of pillowcases and 2 sets of duvet covers.



Check in advance to see what is already provided and then adapt the following list in response.


Essentials include a medium frying pan, 2 small pots, microwavable tupperware, cutlery (2 sets), crockery (2 mugs, 2 plates and 2 bowls), a wooden spoon, grater, peeler, multi-use sharp knife, ladle, 2 tea towels, oven gloves, and a chopping board.



The basic suite of technology these days features a laptop, smartphone, headphones, USB stick, external hard drive, chargers (including a portable one), desktop printer, extension leads and multiplug adapters.



Even in the digital age, stationery remains a necessity for university life. Make sure they pack pens, pencils, highlighter pens, post-it notes and a couple of notepads.


Managing finances

Make a budget

With the current cost of living crisis having a huge impact on all aspects of life, financial responsibility is more important than ever.


Have an upfront chat about money before they leave, making them aware of the likely and ongoing costs and expenses they’ll face.


Once you know how much your child’s maintenance grant will be – and when it will be paid – help them make and manage a weekly budget.


And get them to set up direct debits and standing orders for big things like student accommodation – it’s one less thing to worry about.


Research student discounts

Students get a variety of discounts at many high street shops. For example, the NUS Extra (TOTUM) card slashes prices at Asda, Halfords, Apple and many more. Online retailers like Amazon also offer similar discounts.


Railcards work in a similar way, offering discounts on train travel. With a 16–25 Railcard, your child is looking at savings of up to £189 a year.


Consider an allowance

With costs spiralling, you may want to provide your child with a monthly allowance.


Again, sit down with them beforehand and explain what the money should be used for, when it’ll be deposited and how much they will receive each month.


During: advice for when they’re at university

Home life

Offer advice on living independently for the first time. Take them through various responsibilities, such as cooking, cleaning, being safe, socialising and enjoying their own space and company.


Food and drink

There are 4 key areas to cover when it comes to food and drink: planning meals, buying food, storing food and sharing food.


With planning, encourage them to plan around 3 or 4 meals a week. This will help them budget, eat healthily and save money.


When it comes to buying food, get them into the habit of shopping around for the best deals online and in person. While there are lots of budget supermarkets to choose from, there may also be cheaper local alternatives.


With food storage, cover the basics. Explain the value of having spare tins, keeping dry food in the house and freezing leftovers.


Finally, with sharing food, highlight how cooking with others is a great way of socialising. It’s a money saver, too.


Social life

Encourage your child to join a society or sports club. This is a quick, easy way to make friends, meet people with similar interests or explore new activities and experiences.


Within the first week, most universities host a fair where students can see which clubs are on offer and sign up. Find out when this is and encourage them to go.


Student life

You’ll probably know your child’s studying habits by now, but this is an opportunity to go over best practices.


For example, remind them of the importance of being organised, making plans, not leaving things to the last minute, and being confident in seeking out support when it’s needed.


Health and wellbeing

University is often the first time that kids begin to have more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.


Give them a head start by ensuring they sign up at a GP and dentist, make them aware of university support resources for mental and physical health, stress the importance of staying active and healthy, and underscore the importance of drinking responsibly.


After: how to be there from afar

Finding the right balance is key to supporting your child during their first year of university.


While you’ll want them to know you’re always there, you also need to respect their newfound freedom and independence.


In the first few weeks, the odd call or text is probably all they’ll have time for. That’s OK. It’s to be expected.


Once they’re settled, make a plan for regular video calls, catch-ups and return visits (which, with a Railcard, is easier and more affordable than ever).


Finally, even though the university experience is a positive one, feeling sad about your child leaving home is natural.


Just remember, this is their time to grow and develop as a person. They’ll be back home for a visit before you know it!


Take advantage of big discounts and great savings now with a 16–25 Railcard.