Leaving home entails a range of emotions, says student Felicity Oswald. Her father Andrew agrees

Waiting to go up on the stage and collect my degree I was a hot, sweaty mess. The gown was far too large for my shoulders, and my hood was repeatedly falling to the ground. By the end of the afternoon, my hair, which that morning had been expertly straightened, was frizzed into a "do" reminiscent of Scary Spice or Anita Dobson. All in all not the perfect look for my big day. But whether I wanted it to arrive or not, the day was here. No longer was I merely Felicity Oswald. I had become Felicity Oswald BSc. And university was now over. Life as I had known it for the past three years was over.

Waiting to go up on the stage and collect my degree I was a hot, sweaty mess. The gown was far too large for my shoulders, and my hood was repeatedly falling to the ground. By the end of the afternoon, my hair, which that morning had been expertly straightened, was frizzed into a "do" reminiscent of Scary Spice or Anita Dobson. All in all not the perfect look for my big day. But whether I wanted it to arrive or not, the day was here. No longer was I merely Felicity Oswald. I had become Felicity Oswald BSc. And university was now over. Life as I had known it for the past three years was over.

Thinking back, Autumn 2001 seems a long time ago, both in world politics and in my life. But, as the world was still in shock from the events of 11 September, I was driven along the M4 to my new life at the University of Bath. It seems like a lifetime ago, but I well remember feeling sick with worry.

I'd said goodbye to my old school friends, cuddled every pet in the menagerie that I call my family home, and bought so much Waitrose food that I swear shares in the John Lewis Partnership must have risen when the markets opened the following Monday (I obviously thought that everyone in the West Country lived on Victoria Sponges from the local WI).

The closer we got to Junction 18, the more foreign it felt, but looking in all the cars around me I realised I was not alone. Every other car was packed to the brim with computers, duvets and brand-spanking new pots and pans. A definite sign that someone is a fresher is unused pans, but what the parents of these first years rarely know is that the pans will stay that way until about November by which time the student will finally become sick of Pot Noodles and give in to "real" cooking.

I arrived at my university halls to be met by my 12 new housemates. I have only one sister, so the idea of sharing living space, toilets and showers with this many people was incredibly daunting. If I had wanted to live in the Big Brother house, I would after all have applied to Endemol, not UCAS.

Having said goodbye to the tearful parents, we all sat around the kitchen table and attempted to make small talk. Where are you from? What degree are you studying? At the time it felt like I was sitting around this table with aliens. They all looked normal enough, but the awkward silences between inane questions were deafening. It was time to pull out my trump card, the giant gooey chocolate cake that I had brought with me. In any normal world this would have served as the perfect icebreaker. But, apparently, in our kitchen this was the equivalent of suggesting that each person walk out of a pub toilet with their skirt tucked into their knickers. In other words my suggestion was met with stony silence and stares of condemnation.

At this point, my heart began to pound. These people must be freaks: they'd said no to chocolate cake and now hated me for even suggesting it. It wasn't like I'd offered a plate of mashed potato to the dieters at an Atkins' convention. These people were students, what was wrong with them? I wanted to run after my parents and live at home forever, to live with normal people who ate chocolate. Finally one of the boys took a piece, his hunger and public school confidence getting the better of him, and on his cue the others followed suit. With that the ice was broken.

Despite incidents like this I did make really great friends at Bath who will certainly be friends for life. Looking back, it was the fun times that made the bad times bearable. Your friends become your family at university, and if they can't cheer you up after a bad mark or a fight with a boy/girlfriend, then who can? It is definitely worth investing time in such friendships, as they will see you through thick and thin.

Many parents reading this will be shocked that I have barely mentioned the academic aspect of university. And, of course, my degree was the reason I was there. If you were to ask most people why they go to university, I'm sure many would say things like, "to get a better job". However, with more and more people going to university this is a hard argument to sustain.

There are fewer graduate jobs than there were three or five years ago, and more graduates applying for these, so the competition is fierce. It is no longer the case that a university degree will guarantee you a £20,000 a year job in London. So, you should want more from your time at your chosen institution. Whether you are a hippy and desire "self-exploration", or you are after a life similar to those on Club Reps, with seemingly limitless drinking, dancing and (dare I say it while the parents are reading) sex, everyone wants something other than their degree. But the question soon-to-be students should ask themselves is "will this second aim help me get a better degree?" If the answer is no, then maybe university is not for you. Maybe it's time to send off some applications to San Antonio or Aiya Napa.

Personally, I have loved university; my course, my friends and my surroundings have all made the experience worthwhile. I'm not saying that uni is a bed of roses - because it isn't. There is reading to do, lectures to attend, professors to be scared of and exams to cram for. But what the last three years has taught me has made all of this bearable.

I now know that I can survive in a room full of strangers without crawling into a ball; I can hold my own in a debate on a variety of topics worthy of Question Time and those not so worthy (like whether Gwyneth and Chris should have called their baby girl Apple). And I can, if necessary, spend all night in the library so long as I have a bag of Minstrels. Perhaps most importantly, I now know that a good choccie cake can provide an excellent icebreaker and relaxant. Maybe my BSc will help the world one day when I am asked to help out in Middle East peace talks, along with my gooey Entenmann's cake.

Finally, I hear the curious among you wonder what is this young lady going to do with her life and her Bachelors degree? Get a job? Travel the world? No and No! The answer is that I am going to do a Masters degree. Well, come on - who wants to leave university just yet?

Parent View: 'Your first concern is safety. Happiness you view as a bonus'

Andrew Oswald

When your child goes to university, life moves on another notch on its giant wheel. Something clicks open; something clicks shut. I found the experience both satisfying and scary. Seeing the empty bedroom was a real psychological shock - and not just because I had never before seen it tidy.

Yes, as a parent you do tend to worry. You are also, of course, incredibly proud of a child as she makes her way upon the blustery waters outside home.

The first thing that concerns you as a parent is that your daughter or son will actually be safe. Happiness you view as a bonus. Felicity went to a green campus university, so on the first issue that was a help to me. Plus I had relatively few worries about Felicity making friends, because she has always seemed good at that. Hence the happiness bit seemed achievable, and so it proved, with a little chocolate help.

Nevertheless, there were moments of concern, and I would tell any parent to leave a little breathing space, if at all possible, in your routines to allow for emergencies.

The next thing on your mind is whether the child will actually pass the blinking course. I was pretty confident Felicity would get on successfully. She always had before. Even so, it was a relief for everyone when her early marks turned out to be good.

For me, and probably every other parent, the regular pace of life is hectic. That helps: there are lots of distractions after the nest is empty of teenage hatchlings. Although maybe I am more hard-hearted than other parents, or perhaps I had got used to things because her elder sister also did a degree, or maybe because I work in a university, I did not sit around all the time worrying about my youngest daughter.

Has Felicity changed? Not fundamentally. But I would say all the traits that were there before have been sharpened. University has made her more of a debater. She seems better informed. She seems more confident. She seems more analytical. She seems (even) more impervious to my finely honed arguments.

Money matters have mattered. Although I feel I earn a decent salary, it definitely puts a dent in your budget. I thought I had planned well ahead, but even so it was noticeable that money disappeared speedily, and there is probably no way around that.

Do I have any further tips for mums and dads of new undergraduates? I underestimated how home can be affected when a child leaves for university. I should have thought that possibility through in advance a bit more. Apart from that, I feel I ought to have visited Felicity more on campus. Make sure you take them out to dinner every now and then during each term would be my suggestion.

Felicity is her own woman. It's easy to be proud of having a bachelor (of science) in the family.

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