Friday, 14 January 2011

Parents: how you can help your child apply for university

The last blog post provided some tips for writing the university application personal statement. This is the number one fear for most UCAS applicants, and their parents, but it's only one part of quite a long process through which parents have a key role to play. This post will break down the process into understandable chunks, focussing on the parental role at each stage.

Stage One: Deciding whether university is right for your child
This is, to my mind, the most important stage and one that is often over looked. University is not right for everyone, and for many it will be right after a year or two out of education but not now. As a parent it is all too easy to get caught up in the flow of applying for university places, but the most valuable thing you can do is to talk to your child about how they see their future and help them make the right decision for them.

Stage Two: Selecting the right course for study
So we assume that university is the right way forward for your child. Now comes the part which is easy for some, particularly those following a vocation such as medicine dentistry, engineering or law, but hard for many. Which course to study? Is there a natural interest, in which case it is well worth purusing that. Is there a subject in which your child excels, perhaps that is the obvious route. More likely though is that you and your child will feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of courses available and what they offer. UCAS publish every course at every university, this is the data you will need. It is well worth meeting with a careers advisor either within or outside school at this time and allowing them to help your child to work through the various options that their A-level options lead to.

Stage Three: Shortlisting upto five universities for application
This stage depends to a large extent on stage two, after all you can only go to a university to study film and media if the university offers that course. Once you know which universities offer your course try to write a few lists along the following lines:
- campus or non-campus universities;
- city or town based;
- large or small; within an hour, two hours, or more from home;
- offering halls of residence or not;
- lots of sports/music/drama/clubbing etc activities or not

I was clear when I applied; I didn't want to be too close to home, I wanted to be in a city and I wanted to be able to play my flute in bands. This really did help narrow my choice of universities from over 100 to about 10.

Once you have a shortlist of say 10 I would recommend visiting them. There is no better way to get a feel for a place than visiting, it let's you see where it is in it's town/city, let's you see the students there and allows you to be less daunted if/when you are called for interview. As a parent this is your job; driving or accompanying your child around the country and helping them experience the different universities.

Stage Four: UCAS form and personal statement
The last blog post provides lots of tips on writing the personal statement, and the UCAS form is pretty self explanatory. As a parent it is tempting to want to fill in the form for your child, but please resist the urge. This is a job only the applicant can do, it needs to be their thoughts, their feelings, their desires and their words. Of course you might well be chief checker and editor and no doubt will be making sure it all gets written on time, but let the content be your childs.

Stage Five: Interviews
Not every university will interview every applicant. Some students will be interviewed by every course, some by none; and it is difficult to know which bracket your child will fall into. However it is worth planning for an interview and the first thing that means is you taking your child for a shopping trip to get a smart outfit, a suit or similar. The second thing you can do is to help your child know what they wrote in their personal statement so that it is second nature to them, they can expect to be questioned on what they wrote. The third thing you can do is to reassure your child; interviews are a two way street, helping the course determine if the applicant is right and helping the applicant decide if this is where they would like to spend the next 3 or 4 years.

Stage Six: Selecting preferred course
At the end of all this your child will hopefully have a number of university offers on the table. They may well be asking for different grades, or maybe not. And now it is all down to your child to select which they would like to go to, which did they feel most comfortable at when they visited, which is asking for the most achievable grades, which is the one they want to attend.

It is not easy helping your child think about leaving home and going to university, it is a stressful time for everyone; but by supporting your child and helping them when they want, it can be an amazing experience upon which you embark on the next phase of their life together.

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