By Chloe Pomfret
3 years ago, I was homeless. The prospect of getting back into education, let alone going to university, seemed like an impossible one. I’d received underwhelming exam results, and had to re-sit my English GCSE whilst homeless, just to be accepted into college and start my A-Levels. With no family encouragement, financially supporting myself and living alone, I faced my hardest challenge yet. Despite it all, I got back on my feet, and I made it here… all the way to Oxford!
As an estranged student, we find ourselves in a unique situation. There isn’t much awareness about what estrangement means and before being estranged myself, I’d never even heard of the word. UCAS doesn’t even have a place on the application form for us to declare ourselves as estranged. Now I’ve gotten through the first term, there’s a few things I wish I’d known beforehand. Financially, emotionally, and socially, there’s so much I’ve learnt and there is an abundance of support Oxford can offer you.
My first obstacle was Fresher’s Week. Meeting lots of people who had their families helping them move in, and to spend their time exploring the city with, whilst I was there alone such an isolating experience. However, once this passes, you will meet some of the most incredible people! I participated in the Opportunity Oxford residential and the people I met on this are friends I consider my family. I joined societies, like the University’s Labour Club, and for all the times I felt alone, there was an event or social I could go along to, sharing my passion for politics with others.
There is no denying the difficulty that comes along with getting your Oxford offer- not having family to celebrate the success with, no support planning how you’ll move in, having to shop for the uni essentials alone. However, one promise I can make is that you will find people to call your own. Recently, there’s been a society set up, OxCAE, for any care experienced, adopted, or estranged students to meet others with similar experiences and get together, especially during vacation when many of us won’t have a home to go back to. Additionally, your college and/or the University offer free counselling, which is something I certainly appreciated through this term. Oxford can seem isolating, but it is a place for everyone, with a warm and welcoming community here.
Secondly, the biggest worry of any estranged student is finances. I spent my years living alone funding myself and my situation had given me one advantage over my peers. I knew how to budget, do a food shop, cook for myself, how to save money with my beloved Clubcard and scout out reduced aisle items. Student Finance considers estranged students’ income only, meaning that many of us will qualify for the maximum student loan. Oxford also offers a non-repayable estranged bursary (CEESB) of up to £3,000 a year, which I claimed to help cover the costs during vacation. Furthermore, the Crankstart Scholarship is offered to students with a household income of £27,500 or less with the maximum being £5,500 plus a travel bursary per year, none of which needs to be paid back. Not every student’s circumstances mean they can officially declare themselves as estranged, so your college and the wider University has a Hardship Fund which you can claim to support you financially if this is the case.
Being estranged means we face huge obstacles to enjoying our university experience. Nonetheless, there is support for us to access and this is improving over time. Never in a million years did I think my application to any university, let alone Oxford would be a successful one, yet here I am. It has been stressful, and upsetting, but my experiences have prepared me in a way no other could be prepared. It has taught me many valuable life lessons which I carry with me.
To any estranged students reading this, I hope you are proud of how far you have come, your journey has only just begun!