The Leap

What is the Leap?

The Leap is the transition from school to university and can be a mix of anticipation, excitement and anxiety.

We have spoken to parents and prospective students across the UK to find out what they need and expect from student life. We also draw from our own experience and a panel of recognised experts to pull together insights and recommendations to give students the best chance to make a positive start.

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81% of applicants are excited about going to university

61% of applicants feel anxious about going to university

Reality Check, 2017. Unite & Higher Education Policy Institute

Great Expectations

Although most students adapt to the realities of university life, the excitement and freedom that university life promises often obscures the more challenging realities of living independently for the first time.

Anyone at any stage can feel vulnerable in a new environment, and for young people leaving home for the first time this can be particularly challenging. The change in routine, getting used to new housemates and the removal of potential boundaries associated with home life can all be contributing factors. Laura Hannah, Education and Wellbeing lead, Brook

Getting Ready for The Leap

Expectations about university life don't always match the realities, but sometimes the easiest way to better prepare is to talk about it. Parents are good at preparing their children for practicalities like how to cook and clean, but fewer students and parents have conversations about sensitive topics.


9% Of students (fewer than one in ten) say their higher education experience closely matches their prior expectations.

Reality Check, 2017. Unite & Higher Education Policy Institute

Most teenagers aged 16-19 who expect to go to university say their parents haven't offered advice about sensitive topics:

77%haven't been given advice on sex or mental health

72%haven't been given advice on relationships

66%haven't been given advice on drugs

58%haven't been given advice on alcohol

YouthSight Poll for Unite Students, 2018

Social life and relationships

The harsh realities of finding your place amongst hundreds of strangers and the tricky realities of testing your personal boundaries aren't so commonly thought about.

For most, this expectation vs. reality gap may mean no more than a bumpy start to the first term. For some, the pressures that go hand in hand with the multitude of new social experiences can be demoralising and draining.

At a social level, students need to develop empathy skills, become comfortable in social interaction situations and in how to perform in public situations. Above all they need to acquire good conversation skills. Dr Harry Barry, Author of Anxiety and Panic: How to reshape your anxious mind and brain

Looking After the Pennies

For first year students, starting university also means starting a new life with an unprecedented degree of financial power and freedom. With student loans fresh in, it's all too easy to blow the budget on taxis, takeaways and 'recreational activities', not realising that the fast dwindling cash is supposed to last for the first term, not just the first month.

Parents can play a significant role in helping students leaving home to better understand and therefore manage their finances at university. This includes honest, open and realistic conversations about money, learning to manage expectations and also ensuring students know where to go for further help, advice and guidance. Anita Bailey, NASMA
University might feel like a chaotic experience, especially in the first term Laura Hannah, Education and Wellbeing lead, Brook

Wellness and Resilience

Change can be unsettling, and moving away from home for the first time is a major life event that can provoke a dizzying mix of contradictory emotions. Undoubtedly, it's an incredibly exciting and joyous time for students, but there is also a lot of anxiety around the logistics of this move.

Learn More About The Leap

Going to university is a huge transition for students, which opens up a whole world of possibilities. Whilst this is deemed as an enthralling opportunity, it can also be very daunting for students who are often not prepared for this lifestyle change. Tim Bodenham, Founder, BAM Student Marketing

Supporting students to make The Leap

To support young people, Unite Students have used their insight and student resilience research to develop Leapskills, a programme through which we can help to better prepare prospective students and young people for living away from home. Drawing on video content and a digital game, it introduces a number of student life scenarios to provoke group discussion on conflict resolution, problem solving and gives a general insight into shared living. We have run these workshops with over 1000 young people across the UK and tested it with teachers. Overwhelmingly, young people report feeling better prepared for moving away from home after completing the workshop.