University Courses: How To Help Your Child To Choose

For many 16 and 17 year olds, choosing a university course will be one of the most consequential and significant decisions they have ever made. With so many options on the cards (there are more than 50,000 undergraduate courses on offer in the UK, according to UCAS), the choice can seem intimidating. 

Unsurprisingly, therefore, teens are likely to reach out to a parent for guidance.  

How can you best support them in making a decision which will affect not only the next three years of their life, but potentially their whole future

We’ve asked a University Admissions Officer and former Head of Sixth Form to put together a roadmap designed to aid parents and their children in selecting the right university course. 

Read on to learn more about the steps to take in order to ensure a successful and rewarding choice is made. 

What are the options? 

The first step in choosing a course is to narrow down the options

This can be done by taking your child’s A Level subjects into account (or IB subjects, or equivalent international qualifications), and their received or predicted grades

Many university courses require applicants to have taken a specific combination of subjects during their final two years of school, and some also have a minimum grade requirement

The Uni Guide website has a collection of subject guides which are a great starting point for narrowing down the options, as they include the application requirements. There is also a function for searching for possible courses using your predicted grades. 

Think beyond the curriculum

When it comes to choosing a university course, remember that the subject does not have to be one which your child has already studied at school! 

The beauty of university studies in the UK is that students are given the opportunity to explore new disciplines and academic fields – so even if your teen claims to ‘hate’ all of their school subjects, this is no reason for them to be put off applying to university. 

Examples of possible courses include Criminology, Anthropology, Costume Design and Physiotherapy

If you want to learn more about alternative courses, check out our dedicated blog post here, or just spend some time browsing the options on the UCAS website. 

Attend a Virtual Open Day

In 2020, it’s not going to be possible to visit a university’s on-campus Open Day to learn more about the courses on offer. 

However, this does not mean that choices must be limited!

Many UK Universities are running online ‘Virtual Open Days’, at which students and their families can explore the different course options, speak to current students, ask questions to admissions officers and ‘attend’ sample lectures. 

If you want to read our complete guide to attending a Virtual Open Day, you’ll find it here

Try before deciding

Did you know that there are many free introductory courses available online, provided by top UK universities?

It can be hard to choose a course when you don’t really know what it’s going to be like, so encourage your child to ‘try before they buy’ and explore a short online course over the summer holidays. 

OpenLearn (the free platform from the Open University) has a fantastic collection of short courses – just search for the ‘Introductory’ level options. 

Many universities  including Sheffield and Essex, also have free introductory courses available on their websites. Parents might even be tempted to try these too! 

If your child is wavering over a certain subject, it’s a good idea to get them to speak to a current student of that course so that they can ask questions and get an honest opinion. Try using the UCAS ‘Unibuddy’ system to get in touch with someone suitable.

Consider the added extras

Many university courses (not just language courses) include the opportunity for students to spend a year studying abroad

Others include an optional (or sometimes compulsory) work placement. 

If these are options which your child would be keen to pursue, make sure to check what’s on offer by looking at the course specification page on each university website. 

Remember that the same course can look quite different at each different university, so don’t assume that just because a ‘Year in Industry’ is offered at one provider that it will be the same across the board.

Think about long term aspirations 

If, after all of the above steps, your child is still struggling to make a choice, try helping them to consider their long-term aspirations. 

If they have a particular career in mind, they may need to take a certain course in order to succeed. Sometimes this is obvious – doctors, dentists, engineers and vets, for example, need to follow clear paths at university. 

However, did you know that if your child has a dream of becoming a graphic designer, a music therapist, a journalist or even an astronaut, there are tailored courses to help them achieve exactly that? Encourage your child to do as much independent online research as possible in order to find inspiration and ideas. 

However, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day it is their life, and if they are finding it hard to get enthusiastic about any of the options it might be that university is not right for them. Why not try exploring these alternatives to university study instead? 

Any further questions for our higher education experts? Ask away!

Please get in touch via our social media channels – @SaveMyExams on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you’re looking for further advice and support with university applications, head to our blog: