Supporting your child through their university application
The university application process can be daunting for a teenager – but it can be just as overwhelming for parents who although want to be supportive, aren’t entirely sure how the process works.
Where to start
If your son or daughter is applying to university, then the official UCAS application process will begin in the autumn when they are in Year 13. However, it’s worth starting to think about things a little earlier than this, as you will need time to discuss their options i.e. what careers are they interested in, what courses are on offer to support this and where they’d like to study.
If your teenager has ambitions of a particular career, then it’s likely they’ll need to study a specific degree to help them achieve it. You can help them to research which universities offer these courses – search on the UCAS website, view course details on individual websites and request some prospectuses.
Even if they haven’t fully decided on a career yet, this shouldn’t stop them from pursuing a course that they are passionate about. Parental encouragement is key here – it can be all too easy to dismiss your child’s desire to study something that might not lead to an obvious profession; instead focus on the knowledge and skills that will be developed and could open up a whole host of opportunities.
Attending an open day
One of the most vital things you can do as a supportive parent is to attend a university open day together. This will give your teenager the chance to experience a taster of what university life is like and whether it will suit them, and it will also help to put your mind at rest that your little darling will be in a safe environment when they fly the nest!
Try not to take over the visit yourself – having you there can help with their confidence but the questions should be asked by your son or daughter. Of course you can prompt them if you think they’ve forgotten something important and there’s no shame in being the official note taker for the day! Some universities will hold separate sessions for parents so whilst the teenagers are off on a campus tour and checking out the facilities, you can ask as many questions as you like without embarrassing them!
Helping with the application
The application process has changed significantly in recent times so it’ll probably bear no resemblance to your own application all those years ago. These days, it’s all done online via UCAS so it’s worth familiarising yourself with their website, and most importantly all the various dates and deadlines so you can remind your son or daughter at the time. The final deadline for the majority of university courses is January 15, but it’s worth noting that for some specific courses, the deadlines are much earlier than this.
The key section, and perhaps one of the most challenging, is the personal statement. Whilst you can encourage them to discuss their ideas with you, it’s important for parents to recognise that the statement should be written independently. Don’t be one of those parents who does their kids homework for them – sit back and let them express themselves, their own personality needs to shine through here. But DO offer to read it through it and check it once they’ve drafted it. Passion and determination count for a lot, but so do good spelling and grammar.
Once the application form has been submitted then everyone needs to sit tight and wait for the offers to come in. If your child receives any unconditional offers, then they are in a very enviable position of simply choosing their preferred one. If a university offers your child a conditional place, then securing this will usually depend on the outcome of their grades so offering support during exam time is crucial.
If your son or daughter hasn’t received any offers, didn’t receive the grades they were expecting or were too late to apply through the usual channels, then clearing is their final option. Clearing allows applicants to approach universities directly for a place, on courses that still have availability.
University admissions teams generally prefer to speak to the applicant rather than parents or tutors so let them make the phone call themselves. It can be a very stressful time, so as a parent the best thing you can do is encourage your child to remain calm and stay positive. Universities want to fill their places so there is a very good chance that your son or daughter may still end up studying their preferred subject, but there may be some small compromises to make.
The most important thing is that as a family you are all happy with the final decision and you can support your son and daughter as they move onto their next, exciting stage of life.