How to help your children apply for university

Making decisions about further education can be exciting and stressful for students, but what about the parents? Russ Thorne reveals the dos and don’ts 

Russ Thorne
in association with University of the West of England
Tuesday 22 December 2015 16:24 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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Students have over 150 institutions to choose from when applying to university. As a parent or carer, the first thing you can do to help them make that choice is be prepared yourself. “This time of year is particularly stressful for learners,” says Katie Jenkins, director of future students at the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE Bristol). “Knowing what the process is in advance will hugely support your son or daughter and make sure they make the right decision for themselves.”

Jenkins suggests visiting the UCAS website, which offers practical advice on its parents and guardians page, as well as the sites of any universities on the shortlist. It’s also helpful to attend open days if you can. “Seeing how your child reacts to the environment, the programme leaders and the facilities will give you keen insight into whether it would be a good fit for them” says Jenkins.

Throughout the process you can guide your prospective student towards an informed decision by making sure they find out the information they need. Encourage questions about contact time with tutors and work placements, but also social activities and leisure facilities – university is as much about the experience as the degree.

Perhaps inevitably, this means walking the line between offering advice and meddling. “Pointing out the positives and negatives of being close to home or asking students to consider whether they are hoping for an urban or rural student life is helpful,” says Dr Claire Hookham Williams, director of student experience at Hull University Business School. “But it’s also good to be as impartial as possible. That way they can choose their own university experience and take charge of their future.”

Of course, while it’s vital your would-be undergraduate is in the driving seat, sometimes a judicious nudge is required. Stella Harkness encouraged her 16-year-old daughter, Maddie, to go to a public lecture on criminology at the University of Hull, and says that although it took a little persuasion, it was worth the effort. “After 15 minutes I could tell she was really listening. It was uplifting for both of us – it gave us hope that there is a subject that she would be really happy to study at uni.”

Monitoring and maintaining happiness is a key consideration. Matthew Usher is UK student recruitment manager at Bournemouth University and says that your role is partly about reassurance. “That might even mean reminding students of why they loved a subject, university or career when the going gets tough.”

But perhaps the biggest, most challenging thing you can do to help is to step back from the final decision. “It’s hard to let students make such a big decision on their own,” Usher says. “But it needs to come from the heart. Every university wants to make sure a student feels sure of their choice when they arrive and has a great experience to follow.”

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