April 22, 2014, by studentcontributor

First in the family

AmyHi, I’m Amy and I’m a third-year medical student here at the University of Nottingham. I’m not only the first person in my family to go to university, but also the first to move out of the village my family lives in in North Wales! Even though it may sound like a big step, I’d like to use this blog post to tell you about how I managed to handle the application process despite the fact that it felt almost completely alien to both me and my family!

I remember first telling my mum that I wanted to apply to study medicine at university and how worried and shocked she was. She thought that she’d have to pay for me to study, she didn’t like the idea of me moving far away from home and couldn’t imagine how I’d manage to function on my own at the age of eighteen! I can understand why she was so worried – my mum knew nothing about university life apart from what she had saw on TV shows and in films which can often show an unrealistic picture of what university is like. I was also a little bit scared–I didn’t know anyone who had gone to university so I didn’t know where to turn for advice about applying or even just to find out what being at university would be like!


The first thing we needed to find out more about was funding, as this was not only very important for me but also for my mum. Would she really need to pay my tuition fees for me? Would I need a weekend job to fund my education? We spent many hours browsing the internet finding student finance websites, and, to our surprise, discovered that not only will student finance pay the tuition fee directly to the university, but in many cases students can receive maintenance loans and/or non-repayable grants and bursaries to help us pay for everything we need to survive as students! Some universities even offer dedicated grants to students who are the first in their family to attend university. Find out more about funding in Andrea’s post.

Open Days

After I managed to demystify the money situation, the next important step for me was to get my family on site by showing them that student life didn’t just involve beans on toast, parties and messy flats! So I rounded up my family and spent the next few months with our heads buried in prospectuses, travelling up and down the country to as many open days as possible. I feel that this was a really important opportunity for both me and my family. I got a real insight into what university is like by talking to current students, who told me all about what living in university halls is like, how it feels to move away from home and how they deal with the university workload. It also helped to get a feel for the individual universities to see where I would fit in most.

At the same time, my family also found the open days incredibly useful as they heard from staff and students about what life is like for a university student, as well as being able to ask any questions that they may have. If you are in the position that I was in, I would recommend attending as many open days as possible – I felt my family and I really learned about university life together and they even became quite excited about me going to one of the places we had visited!

UCAS Application

Once we completely understood what being at university would involve, the next big challenge loomed over me–the dreaded UCAS application! This involved writing a 4,000-character personal statement along with inputting a lot of details and getting your head round a lot of university jargon that I was completely unfamiliar with. However, I received a lot of help from my college when the time came, who ran UCAS sessions and gave out all the necessary information as most schools or colleges will.

The application process soon came and went, and before I knew it, I had been accepted to study medicine at the University of Nottingham! My family was overjoyed as they really felt like they had been part of the process. Although at the same time my mum was getting quite upset at the idea of me leaving for university as she really felt like I was moving out forever… however it turned out that she had nothing to worry about as most university students get one-month holidays for both Christmas and Easter and around three months of summer holidays – it often felt like I was at home more than I was at uni!

So what would be my message for anyone who would be the first in their family to go to university? Go for it!! Although I was nervous and it felt like a big step, it was definitely worth it. My mum now loves her regular updates from me telling her how I’m getting on with my course and she enjoys the odd ‘holiday’ up to Nottingham every now and again. It can feel like a massive challenge but if you’re brave enough to go for it, you will be rewarded with some amazing experiences, a fantastic chance to learn new skills and knowledge and an opportunity to meet new friends for life. Good luck!

Posted in Equality & DiversityFinancesUncategorizedWidening Participation