Estranged students

What is an estranged student? 

At Heriot-Watt an estranged student is defined as a young person under the age of 25 at the start of their Heriot-Watt programme who no longer has the support of their family. This might mean biological or adoptive parents or wider family members who have been responsible for supporting you in the past. Estrangement is due to a complete and ongoing breakdown in the relationship which has led to ceased contact and a withdrawal of financial and emotional support.

This doesn’t include:

  • If you are estranged from one parent/carer but still maintain contact with another
  • If you have moved to Scotland from another country for the purposes of education
  • If you have been bereaved.

If you’ve had any one-off contact with your parents or legal guardians while you’ve been estranged we’ll consider this on a case by case basis.

If you aren’t estranged and are struggling with family or bereavement issues you can still receive support - contact

If you have had any one-off contact with your parents or legal guardians while you  have been estranged, we will look at this on a case by case basis.

If you are if they are unsure if this applies to you, you can discuss this further, so please contact

Stand Alone Pledge logo

The Stand Alone Pledge 

The University has signed the Stand Alone Pledge to continually improve the support for current and future Heriot-Watt students who experience estrangement at any time while at University.

An estranged student's experience

Support provided by the University makes a real difference, as one estranged student now in 5th year told us:

The support I've received from Student Wellbeing Services while at Heriot-Watt (both financially and emotionally) has been fundamental in my continuing in Higher Education. I've found that the Wellbeing Services perfectly fill the gap that a family usually would. This is demonstrated by the many bursaries offered, the frequent check-ins throughout the semester and holidays, and overall being a great place to turn to whenever you need someone to talk to with regards to personal or university troubles. All in all, the entire team genuinely care and go above and beyond to deliver any support they can. Thank you!

Disclosing you are an estranged student

Heriot-Watt is committed to giving access and opportunities to people who are estranged, and we recognise estranged students as one of our widening participation (WP) student groups.  By telling us you are estranged we can provide access to a range of advice, guidance and support to help you succeed at university.  Please be reassured that any information you tell us will be dealt with confidentially. 

You can let us know you are estranged during the application stage by ticking the box on your UCAS application, emailing, by ticking the box during your enrolment or at any point during your studies by emailing

Advice and support from your dedicated point of contact

We offer a named point of contact to support you throughout your time at university: 

Edinburgh campus 
Emma Smail, Student Wellbeing and Transition Advisor, 

Scottish Borders campus 
Gillian McLaughlin, Student Advisor, 

Additionally, our Student Success Advisors can provide advice from a recent graduate perspective on all aspects of student life:   

Edinburgh Campus: 

Scottish Borders Campus: 

You can also make appointments with Student Success Advisors through the myHWU Portal to discuss any concerns or difficulties you are having at university. 

Every student has a member of academic staff allocated to them as a personal tutor who will be a key source of advice, guidance and support during your time at Heriot-Watt. 

Ongoing Support  

We will provide ongoing advice and support throughout your studies. We will contact you regularly via email to ensure you are kept up to date during your studies. We will also offer you the opportunity to chat with us via video call, email, telephone or in person meetings. 

Financial support

Heriot-Watt Access Bursary

Prior to starting their studies with us undergraduate students can apply for the Heriot-Watt Access Bursary which if successful provides £1000 extra financial support to help students from widening participation backgrounds with living costs.

Heriot-Watt Expenses Bursary

The Heriot-Watt Expenses Bursary offers eligible undergraduate students up to £525 to help cover the cost of attending university. This could be to purchase a laptop, pay for WiFi access or travel expenses.

Hardship Funds 

Students carers are given priority access to hardship and emergency funding from the Student Union Advice Hub if needed.

A Student Guide to Financial Support at Heriot-Watt

External funding 

Estranged Student Support   

The Student Award Agency Scotland (SAAS) provide bursaries that are available to estranged students. You can see more information about financial support available and who is eligible on the SAAS website. 

Other student finance agencies may also have support specifically for students who are estranged. Make sure you check what you are entitled to. 


Estranged students are eligible for a guaranteed offer of year-round accommodation on or off campus for the duration of their studies. Please see our accommodation guarantee for full details. 

Visit the accommodation webpage for more information.  

Please email (Edinburgh Campus) or (Scottish Borders Campus) when you apply for accommodation so we can discuss the options available to you. 

Preparing for university

Get Ready for Success 

Student carers are encouraged to participate in Get Ready for Success, a three day event that takes place prior to Welcome Week which helps participants prepare for starting at Heriot-Watt. 

Pre-Entry Support Meeting 

New students will be invited to a one-to-one meeting with their named point of contact over summer to help ensure you have all the information and support you will need while studying with us.  

If you feel that you should have been contacted to arrange a meeting and haven’t received any communication, you can reach out to  

Ask a Student Success Advisor 

Ask a Student Success Advisor is a one-to-one email based support service available to students who have either an Unconditional Firm (UF) or Conditional Firm (CF) offer of a place at Heriot-Watt. It is an opportunity to ask a Student Success Advisor by email any questions you may have before beginning University. 

Health and wellbeing

Student Wellbeing Services  

Student Wellbeing Services aim to provide a range of support, guidance and activities and advice to help students be their best and get the most out of their University experience.   

Safety and Security  

Safeguarding Services and support is available 24/7 on campus, and students have access to our SafeZone app. We also have an on-campus Residence Life team who provide activities and support to help ensure you feel welcome and settled if you are staying in halls of residence. 

The Active Student Programme  

This programme is designed to support you back into exercising or to start exercising in the gym with an aim to improve your mental health and wellbeing. Places are limited and require a referral from a member of the wellbeing team. The active student programme is a 12 week programme.

If you are referred you are given a free 12 week Oriam membership. You also receive an initial consultation, followed by a 6 week review and then a 12 week review. You are supported to set some long (12 week) and short (6 week) goals. If you are interested in finding out more please email Emma Smail, Student Wellbeing and Transition Officer (Edinburgh Campus) or Gillian McLaughlin, Student Advisor (Scottish Borders Campus). 

External resources

Stand Alone - An advice centre for students who have no contact with their family. Where you can find information about support, financing your studies and accommodation options as an estranged student.  

EaCES Handbook – A site created by estranged students to summarise all the advice and information available to support students in higher and further education and to share lived experiences. 

This is Us (community) - An online space to bring together estranged and care experienced students and recent graduates in the UK. The idea is to connect and build student-led spaces, so that we can feel a greater sense of connection and belonging. 

Support with graduation costs

Heriot-Watt students who are care experienced or estranged can apply for support with graduation costs.  If your application is successful, we will award you £150 towards graduation costs. For example, you may choose to use this award for guest tickets, gown hire and/or photographs.  Please contact for further information.

Winter break support

Heriot Watt students who are care experienced or estranged will receive communications about support available over the winter break.   If you opt in we will also send you a card and/or a small gift.  Please contact for further information.


This Semester we will be running a student meet up in the Student Wellbeing Centre on Wednesday 6 March 2024 from 11.00-13.00. This will be an informal event and a great opportunity to talk to fellow students and support staff. We will provide hot drinks and snacks and will have some optional craft activities. Feel free to come for all or some of the event, it would be great to see you there!

The Student Success Advisors are running a great programme of Wellbeing Events this semester.   Please take a look at the full list of events, all are free, and you are welcome to attend any or all.

Key information