Advice for parents on supporting your child’s university choices

“I feel so useless since I didn’t go to university myself, so how do I know what to advise him/her?”
“It’s all changed since I went to university.”

If either of these comments ring true with you, the chances are you might be feeling in need of some guidance and advice on helping your son or daughter to make their university choices, and believe us when we say, you are not alone.

Choosing a university is an important decision that could affect your child’s future significantly and whilst they are given plenty of advice from their school or college, there are also lots of things that you can do to help them in this decision making process. Parental guidance can play a vital role in helping them to make sound choices as you know them better than their teachers do.

Choosing what to study
Of course the decisions start long before sixth form. If your son or daughter has an idea of what they might like to do in the future then you need to make sure that their A’level choices, or even in some cases GCSE choices will not mean that they will not be able to follow that particular path. For example, students who want to study Computer Science will need to take Maths at A’level and not ICT as you could well assume.

If they do not know what they want to do in the future, or even what they want to study, you need to help them explore the options a bit more. Why not do something as simple as sit down and go through an A to Z of careers, reading them out one at a time and seeing if they fancy it or not. It might not be a very technical approach, but it will certainly identify what they don’t want to do and you may even find some patterns or similarities in the things they think sound quite interesting. This exercise may help to focus on the subjects that might be useful and if there are similar types of work you may be able to draw up a short list of subjects to study.

What you must bear in mind is that studying a subject at university is demanding and requires a lot of self drive and independent work. If your child is studying a subject for the sake of it and doesn’t have a genuine interest in the subject, they will find university a long hard slog. Loving what they are studying will help students to do well and stay motivated so it is important to try not to influence your child in to choosing a subject you think would be better for them.

Which University?
Once your child has settled on a course of study, you can then start to look at the different universities. There are many influencing factors to consider when choosing which universities to apply to and together you can research the different options before making any choices.
The first place to look is Here you can search for different courses and find out which universities offer the courses your son or daughter is interested in. If they are still unsure what to study, there is also an interests questionnaire they can take, which might give them some more ideas.
If your child has chosen a very specific course, then you may find that their choices are already limited by the institutions that offer this course, but for more general subjects such as the core academic subjects, the choice could be overwhelming, so how do you start to whittle it down?

1. Entry requirements
Each university will have its different entry requirements and you will have an idea of what your son or daughter is expected to achieve in the A ‘levels. Students are able to apply to five universities and it is advisable to pick one “ambitious” choice, three attainable ones and one back up, or insurance choice, which they should be able to achieve comfortably. Take a look at the entry requirements for different universities and you will know whether they are out of reach or realistic choices for your child

2. Location
It may be that your child would prefer to be in a particular part of the country, maybe not too far from home, or even staying at home, or perhaps as far away as possible from you! They may decide they want to be down south or up north and that already reduces the choices you have to work with. Secondly the type of university may influence their choice. There is a big difference between living on a campus university in a provincial town to attending a city university in London, Birmingham or Manchester. Which would suit your child better? Would they like the comfort of a safe environment or the excitement of a cosmopolitan city? It is also worth taking in to consideration the differences in the cost of living for different locations.

3. Get a feel for the place
Each university offers its own unique atmosphere and environment. You can attend open days before applying to universities as well as afterwards and by visiting a few different ones, you will start to get a feel for the ones your child likes and feels comfortable with and those they don’t like. Parents are always welcome at open days. Make sure to take a look at the accommodation while you’re there too, as this does vary enormously from one university to the other and could also affect how they feel about living there. Don’t forget that each course will be slightly different at each university with different options, so get your son or daughter to chat to representatives from their chosen subject department while you’re there and make sure that the options available will suit them.
Student life also varies enormously from one university to the other. Does your child enjoy sports, night life; perhaps they have more a cultural inclination towards theatre and the arts. Talk to students who show you round and find out what it is that students do in their spare time. What are the clubs and societies and do they cater for your child’s particular interests? The extra curricula activities play a large part in the university experience and so it is also important to consider these when making choices.

4. Financial considerations
The cost of tuition fees at each university is set by the university itself and can vary from one to the other for what can appear to be the same course. Make sure you compare the costs and content of each course your child is interested in as well as the accommodation costs and cost of living in each town or city. Living in London and travelling on the tube will cost a lot more than living in other cities in the north of England such as Manchester or Sheffield and of course than living in a more remote university such as St Andrews. More and more universities are also now offering scholarships, grants and bursaries to help students with their funding. It is also worth investigating what alternative funding opportunities are available for students at each university, as this may enable them to reduce their student debt. You can read our Complete Guide to the Cost of University for more information.

5. League tables
Some people will argue that too much emphasis is placed on league tables, but the truth is people do pay attention to them. Many universities will tell you as you go to visit them that they do not like the league tables as they vary depending on the criteria applied and they are not really a true reflection of the university, and then in the next sentence they will proclaim how well they fare in one league table or another. It is definitely worth investigating how your choices fare in the league tables as well as the national student survey ( ) for student satisfaction. Graduate employability is also worth considering, as ultimately the aim of going to university is to get a better job. Having said all that, we would not recommend basing your choices purely on the league tables, which is why we have put it fifth, after all our other considerations.

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