How to help your child choose the right university course

With over 30,000 courses available the right course for your child is out there – it just might be tricky to find! There is plenty of information about university courses available so it’s worth researching diligently before making choices, rather than students relying on “my teacher recommends it”, “my parents took it”, or “I like the university”.

Choosing the right university qualification:

Teenage boy sitting in lecture at university making notes: The Parents' Guide to
Choosing the right university qualification

With so many university courses to choose from, knowing what to study can be a challenging process. Begin by helping your child choose the right type of undergraduate qualification. Bachelors degrees are the most popular undergraduate route into higher education and may be the obvious choice, but it is still worth spending some time researching alternative options.

Bachelors degree Usually three or four years long, these can be single subject, dual subject (dual or joint honours) or several subjects (combined honours). Typically there’s a quantity that everyone studies – the core – and then options to specialise by taking different modules. Some bachelors offer sandwich courses, which means an additional year in a work placement as part of the degree.

Bachelor of Arts or Science? The major difference between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelors of Science degree (BS or BSc) lies in the subject chosen for study (i.e. more science focused or arts focused). For some subjects, this classification may differ between universities, such as economics and psychology. In this case, a BSc in economics or psychology is normally more suitable for students with an aptitude for maths and scientific study compared to their BA equivalents.

Foundation degrees Not to be confused with foundation years, foundation degrees last two years and offer an alternative if a pupil hasn’t reached the grade for a degree course, doesn’t want to commit to three or more years at university, or prefers more vocational study. They can be “topped up” with a final year to equate to a bachelors degree.

Teenage boy at university making art with virtual goggles: The Parents' Guide to
How to help your child choose the right university?

Degree of bachelor level apprenticeship This is a comparatively new university offering, allowing students taking an apprenticeship to gain a bachelors (or masters) qualification by both working and studying at university part time. Higher National Certificates (HNCs) or Diploma (HNDs) The Certificate takes one year and is equivalent to a first year degree course, whilst the diploma takes two years and is equivalent to the first two years of a degree course. Both can be topped up to a full degree by extending the course or joining a degree course at a later stage. The benefit here is to be able to study for a degree in stages.

Teenage girl at university studying engineering holding laptop: The Parents' Guide to
Helping your child choose the right subject area

Helping your child choose the right subject area:

There is plenty of information about university courses available, and whilst it's up to your child to do the research, as parents you can help guide them by checking that the courses they shortlist fit their personality. For example, a child that likes to be active and enjoys practical studies and getting involved is likely to do better on a course that has plenty of experiential learning rather than one that is largely based around lectures and seminars. Thinking of favourite subject choices is a good way to narrow focus, but don’t forget many of the subjects offered at degree level aren’t covered in sixth form options, so don’t let your child restrict themselves to only considering topics they’ve already studied. Of course, if they are already set on a certain career path, their choice of degree may be obvious, which can be helpful. If not, some thought and reflection on things they enjoy that might apply to the workplace can give direction so some research on jobs might help streamline options by providing guidance on routes into industry.

Here are some suggestions for things to consider when helping your child choose the right university course:

Is your child academic or practical?

  • Do they enjoy being in the classroom?

  • Do they enjoy learning in a studio or outside?

  • Do they enjoy writing essays and researching topics or do they prefer to make and produce things?

What school subjects does your child enjoy?

  • Is there a particular part of a school subject they have enjoyed?

  • Do they have a natural flair for a subject?

  • If they enjoy more than one subject, are there any common themes?

What are your child’s hobbies?

  • Is your child particularly passionate about any music, sport or art related activities?

  • Does your child have any strong personality traits?

  • Try to think outside the box – does your child have a particular interest in current affairs? Gaming? Helping others?

Has your child expressed interest in a particular career?

  • Try to think of subjects that will help them pursue this career without narrowing their options too much if they change their mind at a later stage.

The Parents' Guide to university full edition front cover

Is your child applying to university this year?

For more information on how you can help your child choose the right university course, check out The Parents’ Guide to University 2020-2021.

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