How to help your child choose a university
By Annie Graham,
Parental support can make the transition from school to university a great deal smoother. For many, however, even knowing where to begin the search for a suitable university can seem daunting – especially if it is your first child that is making the leap. Here are a few suggestions that may help you decide where to start.
Ask for advice
There are so many aspects of choosing a university to consider that it can be very reassuring to speak to people ‘in the know’. A good place to start would be your child’s head of sixth form, or college tutors. They will have recent experience of the UCAS application process and beyond, and will know how your child works in an educational environment. They will also be likely to have an understanding of what kind of person your child is, and thus will be able to suggest the kind of set-up that may suit them. Aside from this, speak to friends and/or family members who have gone through this before, as well as any lecturers and current students you may meet at open days.
Spend time with your child discussing what is important to you both and weighing up your priorities. Location might be a good place to start; distance from home is an important topic to raise – do they want to be as far away as humanly possible, or near enough to jump on a train last minute? Do you want to be able to visit easily, or are you happy to leave them to their own devices until the holidays? Social life, and course are of course things to consider too – what will your child want to gain from these things, and what will suit them?
This can come from many places – speaking to people, as discussed above, can help. There is so much information to be accessed online, however! Our website and university profiles provide a wide range of guidance on anything and everything ‘university’. From this broad starting point, you can narrow your search down and focus on the particular qualities of individual universities and the courses they offer. Universities’ own websites will offer masses of course-specific information, as well as pages dedicated to accommodation – another aspect of this new step that can seem daunting. Many sites even boast virtual room tours. And get your children to check out the universities they are interested in on social media.
The absolute only way you will know what to think of a university is to see it first hand. Visit as many as you can. Then visit again! You may be surprised at how much your feelings can change on second viewing. Gut instinct is invaluable at this stage – you will know if somewhere feels right, as illogical as that may sound. It’s so important you attend open days with your child - they will benefit from your advice, whether they admit it or not. It can be helpful to visit local areas too, as this can lead to a broader picture of the kind of lifestyle your child could expect in each place. Help them to consider whether they feel they would be happy there; if they would prefer to have a campus in the centre of a town, or out in the country; and how easy it will be for them to access local amenities, for example.
The most important thing to say here is, if your child wants to go to university, don’t let the thought of the cost put you (or them) off. Try not to worry about the fees – yes, they are big, but the topics of student finance, loans and tuition fees are surrounded by scaremongering. Unless you are wealthy enough to be able to do so without worry, do not try and finance your child’s life at university yourself; they will be eligible for various loans (including one to cover tuition fees, and a maintenance loan that will help with day to day living).
While, admittedly, every student is going to leave university with a rather large amount of money to repay, this will be taken out of their earnings in very insignificant amounts each month. Every student at the moment is facing the same. Another reason university open days are valuable at this stage is that they hold talks on extra topics such as finance, where the finer details will be explained to you and your child in a way that is understandable and relevant. Money expert, Martin Lewis’ website is also worth referring to for a realistic look at how to approach the costs of university.
Help in tackling ‘the big move’ is available in many forms, but it is important not to be blinded by the facts and figures. Always stay mindful of your instincts – above all, university should be a step your child takes that will feel comfortable (for them and you!). Once you have gathered all the information you need, utilise this to ensure they end up somewhere that will best suit them as a person. This can be a big step; try and make it as steady as possible for everyone involved.