Aspiring lawyer opens up on life as an ‘estranged’ law student

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By Legal Cheek on

Durham undergrad Niall Hignett reflects on the challenges of navigating uni without parental support

An aspiring lawyer has shared his experiences as an “estranged” law student, juggling academic commitments, financial challenges and loneliness.

Niall Hignett, a final-year law student at Durham University, has shed light on the lives of the approximately 10,000 estranged students in the UK, explaining that these students have little or no contact with their parents while pursuing higher education.

Writing for the Metro website, the Durham undergrad shares that his journey began by selling his 18-year-old Renault Clio to give himself a modest cash boost. He explained, “I didn’t need the car anymore because I wasn’t driving back home”.

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Amidst the typical law student challenges of a heavy workload and expensive textbooks, Hignett needed to find housing deposits, pay for a guarantor scheme, and fund rent and food, all without “the bank of mum and dad”.

Despite receiving the highest government loan, the funds didn’t come close to covering his costs, he explains. “I spent more time serving drinks than I did in lectures or seminars in that first year of university.”

“It’s not just covering living costs that I was worried about,” says Hignett. “Without the obvious back-up plan to return home, I needed to create a financial safety net for myself. That meant earning as much as possible, and spending as little as possible. For example, I haven’t ever been to an expensive ball or college formal — or even bought one of those Hogwarts-esque gowns. Thankfully, the posh-boy aesthetic wouldn’t suit me anyway — but it’s isolating nonetheless.”

It isn’t just financial concerns that plague estranged students, however. “Seeing other students able to enjoy the experience, and engage more with their degree, was isolating,” says Hignett.

In particular, it was the Christmas break where “feelings of isolation peaked”. Having considered dropping out, and taking a hiatus for a year to earn some extra money working as an election organiser, Hignett returned to Durham in September 2023 to continue his legal studies.

Now on track to finish his degree, and having undertaken placements at a range of firms including Bates Wells and DLA Piper, Hignett credited the “incredible student group” the Estranged and Care Experienced Network.

The group, comprised of current estranged and care experienced students in the UK and Ireland, offer guidance on the basics of applying for higher education and practical advice on financial support, employment, and relationships.

Struggling with stress or anxiety? Contact LawCare via its helpline or live chat.

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