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Choices at 18

How can I help my child choose the right university and the right course?

Going to university is a great opportunity and as a parent, you want to make sure that your child makes the right decision about what they study and where they study. Each year a number of students do drop out of university for a range of reasons and all parents want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to their child.

Careerpilot has a lot of information to help your child choose a course and a university, you can find it in the HE at 18+ section.

Open days are important

For a parent/carer wanting to help their child choose their course and university, there are a number of things that you can do to help.

Encourage your child to really do their research. The level of research needed often takes far longer than the student realises. Starting to think about their plans could begin as early as Term 3 or 4 in Year 12. Open Days at universities take place throughout the year, but there is a peak season in Terms 5 and 6 and after the summer break, when they will be in Y13. Some Open Days need to be booked. You can find out when open days are taking place on university websites or on the Open Days website.

It may be that your child would like you to go with them to the Open Days or they may feel happy to go alone. Encourage them to plan their day, as there is often so much on offer that it can feel quite overwhelming when they arrive on the day. It may be possible to book online for some of the more popular activities – for example, everyone wants to have a look at the accommodation and this could involve a walk or a short bus trip away from campus. Suggest that they sit in on the sample lectures especially if they are finding it difficult to choose between subjects. An Open Day is the opportunity for the university to impress your child, so encourage them to reflect on what they thought was good about the university and what they were less impressed with. They need to consider the whole package on offer – from the course to the accommodation, the clubs and societies, sporting facilities and their employability record - and more!

If you get the opportunity to go along, find out from your child what they would like your role to be – it may be that they want you to challenge the course tutor with  questions, especially if they are being evasive with information on what happens to the students after the course. Of course, they may just want you there as the chauffeur who doesn’t ask any questions!

Open Days can be expensive, but they are important. If it is not possible to go, take a look at the virtual tours and Open Day videos on the UCAS website

Help with choosing a course

If they are struggling to make a decision about where and what to study, there is a list of useful websites on Careerpilot to help and they may find ukcoursefinder a good starting point. 

Students often think that they need to have decided what they want to do for a career and pick a degree subject relevant to this. Some students are ready to make a decision at 17 or 18 about their career choice, but many are not. You can reassure them that many students arrive at university with no clear career plan, but with a desire to study a specific subject. Whilst they are at university these students develop their career ideas through their academic study, their work experience and extra curricular activities and then decide what it is they want to do.

Many professional and managerial opportunities are open to students with any degree subject, although, of course, if your child has a career in mind, they should check the requirements by using the job profiles in the Careerpilot Job Sectors.


Choosing the best university for them, rather than a 'good' university

Don’t let them get bogged down by trying to work out what is a ‘good’ university – perhaps they need to consider which is the best university for THEM. This means taking into account location, fees, how they feel about the place, do they feel they will fit in - as well as information about the course.

Results day - adjustment and clearing

If results are better than expected they will be eligible for Adjustment which might mean they can choose a different university or course requiring higher grades.

If results are not as good as they hoped they will be eligible for Clearing, so they can look for a course requiring lower grades than their first choice,

Either way, try to encourage them to take their time and not be rushed into any rash decisions.

If grades are not as high as expected, there is always next year, they could maybe do a few resits to improve grades and take the time to think carefully about their next step. For some students this may well be the better option. Careerpilot has a section on what to do on A Level results day.

More information:

Which uni has some useful articles on choosing courses.

UCAS has this article with lots of useful information for you including 10 Top Tips as well as a Parent’s Guide which you can download.

The Unistats website compares different courses from different unis and provides a lot of information about costs, etc.

A site for adults wanting to get back into learning

Take a look