Case study

Senior student support officer — Carl Lightbown

We spoke to Carl, senior support officer at the University of Bolton about the services his team provides to students, as well as some of the most frequently asked questions at the start of term

Why did you decide to work in student support?

It may sound a familiar answer, however, I wanted to make a difference for students and help to create, manage and deliver a wonderful experience for them.

Going to university is an exciting time and process, but there are many things that can cause worry and stress among students. If we can help alleviate those worries and concerns, we can make a telling difference and that brings a real feel-good factor.

On a personal level, it also plays to my individual strengths and people skills.

Tell us about some of the services your team provides and describe a typical day.

More often than not, we find our team offering support on matters such as academic advice, enrolment, induction, welcome information, ID cards, financial help and support, admin guidance on DBS applications and accommodation matters.

We are the first port of call, in terms of general signposting, friendly support and can offer more specific guidance if required.

It's about making sure that staff rotas are all clear and that every member of the team knows their role and duties for the day. The latter means we have the capacity to meet the demand that might be coming our way. Only then can we offer an efficient service for our students.

The day itself will involve responding to walk-ins, drop-in sessions and booked appointments, as well as phone calls and emails.

Our tasks could involve issuing ID cards, producing official letters, document checks (DBS), offering appropriate finance advice and general wise counsel.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

The daily challenge of supporting our team and the students. It is true to say that each day brings a range of new challenges to navigate. Essentially, it's never dull, and the constant need to deliver the very best student service keeps us all on our toes and motivated.

We all want our students to squeeze every last drop from their university experience, and if we can help just a little in this respect, that's motivation enough.

What are the main challenges?

Managing the heavy volume at certain points of the academic year, such as enrolment and induction (mainly in September and January). During these times footfall and demand can be extremely high, and it's a constant challenge to maintain a high level of service.

Further to that, each day can bring fresh challenges, as many students can have complex queries and may even be unsure themselves what to ask or who to speak to. Essentially, that's where we come in as a team, looking to make sure we can get to the bottom of any issue as swiftly as possible.

How do you typically plan for freshers' week?

We liaise closely with the students' union and student life teams respectively, so that we can offer a clear, varied and appropriate combination of IAG service, coupled with a range of activities to engage and welcome all new students.

Crucially, we look to make sure our messages and signposting are clear and informative, and that we have relevant staff numbers to meet demand.

The activities will aim to engage the students and help them feel at home and make friends, while our IAG services will look to inform, guide and reassure our students.

What are some of the most common questions freshers come to you with at the start of term?

  • How do I enrol?
  • When and where is my induction?
  • How do I get my ID card?
  • Where will I get my timetable from?
  • How can I access key services?
  • When will my funding clear?
  • How can I apply for extra funding support?

This is not an exhaustive list, of course, and we can face all manner of queries and questions during freshers' week/induction.

We are mainly answering questions on enrolment and induction matters, as well as signposting freshers to their relevant tutors and departments.

In what ways can you assist students who come to you with mental health concerns?

Again, it's about using our experience of being able to liaise with our support teams and services. We work very closely and collegiately with the life lounge team, who offer a wonderful, confidential and professional support service, especially to those students who might be struggling with mental health matters.

The team are well-versed in knowing when their services are required, who to engage with and when, as well as offering both generic signposting and more specific support when needed.

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