How to help your child choose the right university

The tough challenge here is putting aside your preferences as a parent and supporting your child in the choices that are right for them – particularly if they are polar opposites to your own. Don’t forget, it’s natural to feel protective of your children but university provides a good opportunity for them to fly the nest in a protected environment. Here’s some important factors you and your child might want to consider together:

University building with students outside: The Parents' Guide to
How to help your child choose the right university

Teaching and learning

Ancient Universities (such as Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh) have been established over many centuries and tend to offer traditional subjects (Maths, English, languages) taught in a traditional style. By contrast, newer universities (such as Loughborough, York and Suffolk) offer more vocational subjects taught using less traditional methods. Personal learning styles are important to consider. If your child excels when given lots of direction and little autonomy, a more traditional learning environment might help them achieve better results and vice-versa if they perform better when left largely to their own devices. To assess the quality of teaching within a university, consider the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) rating as decided by an independent expert panel including students, academics and employer representatives. Ratings awarded are gold, silver or bronze.

The university and its industry links

Try to find out about the university and its industry links. Strong ties with industry often indicate excellent internship and placement opportunities which is very attractive for post degree employment prospects, especially important if you do not have these links within your own families and contacts.

University size

Like secondary schools, universities can vary enormously in size and the advantages and drawbacks should be considered depending upon your child’s learning styles. Large universities offer a much wider subject choice, alongside greater social opportunities with an astonishing array of clubs that could give your child the chance to learn a wonderful new hobby that lasts a lifetime. Smaller universities cannot compete with this (especially specialist establishments); however, they may offer a greater sense of community and belonging.

Newcastle university campus sunny day: The Parents' Guide to
Newcastle University

Campus or city

The big question here is “to campus or not to campus”. The great advantage of campus universities is that everything is in one place – lectures, accommodation, clubs, laundries, shops etc. They are usually situated just outside or on the borders of larger towns – “a town within a town”. The impression can be that they are safer, offer less distractions and provide a stronger sense of community because, in the main, students tend to stay campus based. City universities offer the same facilities, but they are split up across the town so travelling (sometimes some distance) from one place to another is part and parcel of the package. This provides a closer experience to life in the workplace for most people and it gives students a chance to become fully immersed in the city itself. Whilst approved accommodation may be offered in the first year or two, later in their degree students are often required to find their own accommodation independently. In some cases, universities won’t offer accommodation in halls if the family home is within certain mileage, so it’s worth checking the university website.

Young teenage boy smiling at camera on first day to university: The Parents' Guide to
How to help your child choose the right university

Proximity to home

Flying the nest is more appealing to some than others! This is an important consideration. Attending university is, for most students, the first time they’ve lived away from home. For some, this is exciting and appealing, for others it’s traumatic and challenging. Of course, there are practical implications too. If the university is close to home, it may be possible to avoid accommodation costs, although continuing to live in the family home can dilute the university experience in many ways – although this can be combatted by signing up to plenty of clubs and socials. But as parents it will be different for you too! Your lifestyle will change if your child continues to live at home but is attending university rather than school. Is it important that your child can easily pop home at weekends or will they adjust favourably to only returning during holiday periods?

Rural or city based

Another consideration is whether your child prefers town or country living. A university’s location could drive many of the social activities they offer, so if your child is happiest immersed in the countryside and loves trekking, mountain-climbing and cross-country, they could feel short-changed by being plunged into an urban setting and vice-versa. If your child has a particular passion, it is worth checking out whether the university already has a group focused around this hobby or, if not, how easy it would be to set up. Don’t consider it trivial to focus on pastimes when choosing the right university, happiness is a primary driver for success, and a university’s environment can contribute hugely.

The Parents' Guide to University full edition front cover

Is your child planning on going to university this year?

For more information on the university application process and how you can help them choose the right university, check out The Parents’ Guide to University 2020-2021.

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