Saturday, 9 July 2016

A university challenge

With college finished for the academic year and the A-level results awaited for eldest son's university place to be confirmed, we have started the choosing process over again with our youngest son.

In discussions at work people have been asking how I found out what to do with the boys, so I thought it might be good to share with you how we have gone about choosing a university.  This has worked for us and you may find all or some of it useful.  Through this post, when I talk about "you" I am referring to both you and your child as this does need to be their decision but they will thank you for your support and guidance (and in the case of our youngest - my focus and organisation skills!!)

Firstly it is never too early to be thinking about university.  If you want to save to help your children through the cost, then start when they are young, but if you read the articles on don't let the cost put you off encouraging your children to attend university.  It is their debt, not yours, and the current government scheme means that they will pay very little each month AFTER graduation, and only once they start earning over £21,000.

I have always encouraged the boys in their career dreams to think what training and education it will require and although their ambitions are now different to when they were 5! going to university has always been part of our discussions for what they want to in the future.

It CAN be important to understand what they think they would like to study when they are taking their GCSE options at school. Our eldest son wanted to be an architect and it wasn't until we looked at what A-levels he would need we realized he really needed to have taken art at GCSE to follow that one through.  It didn't prevent him from following that dream but it did close a few doors to which universities he could choose from.  As it is that dream has changed anyway during his A-level studies!

Now if you want to study something really specialized at university, choosing where to study may be quite easy as it will be wherever they are offering  international Spa management (or whatever your dream might be - but yes that is a degree on offer in the UK).  Fortunately (or not depending on how you look at it) both boys have wanted to do very academic courses offered everywhere.

So the boys decided where in country they would like to study, checked the Guardian university guide for their chosen courses and applied for prospectuses.  They also attended UCAS university day, like a craft fair but with lots of universities selling themselves.  Ours was arranged by college but they can book in directly if not offered.  We read through the course details in all the prospectuses as they arrived and checked the entry requirements.

Then we booked in to lots of Open days.  The one thing to remember is that the UCAS form requires a short list of 5 university choices.  You don't have to have 5 but if you don't give five and then unfortunately don't get any offers you don't get access to the second chance application process.   SO we decided filling in all 5 was the best approach.

Details of when open days are being held can be found on the individual university website but can also be viewed on the UCAS website or  For those of you who know me well you will not be surprised when I say the next thing you need is a spreadsheet!! You need to track when the open days are, if you have pre-registered, registered, received your invite email or need to revisit the website at a later date.  I'll share our spreadsheet in a later post as it covers our whole process.

Applying to Oxford is a bit different and I'll cover that in a separate post, having just completed that one with youngest son.

Once you receive details confirming you are booked on the Open day watch for details about talks you can attend while there.  Some universities just have drop in sessions at set times, some you need to book in advance or when you arrive and some just have information stands.  Do your research and make a plan.  You will only need to attend one finance talk at one university as they will all tell you the same thing but do make sure you pick up information about bursary schemes!  Make time to visit the accommodation, this is where your child is going to live for possible three or four years.  Find out how many years the university offers halls accommodation for.

When we got home we made a note of three good points and three bad points to help with the decision process.  Do this as soon as possible as they do all blend into one after a while (we visited three universities in four days two weeks ago!)

Hopefully you will get an idea as to whether campus university life or a city one is a preference or that it doesn't matter.  However if it does then you made need to cancel some trips and make new plans if your original choice doesn't match you found preference (sorry Coventry Uni but city life just didn't cut it for one son once we started looking so we didn't do that open day!).

The vest piece of advice we were given, while eldest son was still in secondary school was to start the Open Day visits early on and we actually meet a mum and daughter on trip before she had started 6th-form.  That way if you need to visit more you have given yourself plenty of time.

If travelling is not an option for you, due to cost (and it does rack up a cost!) or the chosen university is too far away, try the university website for a virtual tour and look to see if the students produce an alternative prospectus so you get an insight into life as a student.

Then you just need to whittle that lot down to your final 5.  We joked that the whole process feels like the judging process on x-factor, and so at this point we are taking these 5 through to judges houses!!

Fill in the UCAS form - lots of helpful information for parents and students on the UCAS website and support should be abundant through school or college for this bit - and wait for the replies and hopefully the offers to come in.

Eldest son got his form in before they broke up for Christmas (well ahead of the January closing date) and started to see offers coming in quite soon after.

So what's my next post I'll cover choosing the firm and insurance choice (or universities that make the live finals!!)