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Engaging parents - an adviser viewpoint

This article has been written by an experienced careers adviser.

It highlights the important role that parents can play and how you as advisers working in schools and colleges can really engage and involve parents in students’ decision making. At the end of the article, we have included links to UCAS resources which you can use with your students and their parents.

“When it comes to university entrance, parents are co- explorers and navigators – the child captaining the ship, mum or dad assisting with steering and direction.

Starting early is paramount, often up to two years ahead. The process can seem confusing and complex, even to parents familiar with it. A chart or timeline can be effective. Include space for abundant research before the UCAS schedule kicks in with its key dates and deadlines.

Parents are indispensable in:

  • Flagging up both the bigger picture and the finer details (teenagers often ignore the small print!);

  • Helping students to tackle their UCAS statement well in advance;

  • Keeping tabs on answering university communications before opportunities and offers lapse.

Tip: Suggest exploring the UCAS site early and gradually. Introduce UCAS resources specifically for parents and associated links with other websites.

Why HE? The cost of university and issues around graduate employment can make parents wary. Explain that they are investors, not just via obvious short-term financial outlay, but also in their child’s future. As with any venture, there is no guarantee of success, but the odds are good.

Tip: Show or signpost research which consistently underlines that graduates have better opportunities, higher salaries and a wider range of career routes. Developing academically and personally is another subtext – university offers new horizons, friends, prospects.

Research and reflection Central to narrowing down choices and, later, accepting places. Parents can help their offspring to think pragmatically about skills, strengths, learning style, likely exam grades, emerging career plans and what they hope to gain from further study.

Tip: Advise not getting hung up on university rankings but investigating what individual courses offer. Marry aspiration with realism.

Open days, events and conventions These are quick ways of enhancing knowledge and insight. If time, money or distance prevents attendance, virtual open days or tours are a good substitute. Online or physical, they are essentially promotional exercises. Ensure that parents dig under the marketing gloss!

Tip: Suggest strategic questions (those that their children are unlikely to ask), around accommodation, finance, student support, ratio of places to candidates.

Challenges Well-meaning but over-ambitious parents, especially those inclined to make decisions for their son or daughter. Experience indicates that this fuels student demotivation and, ultimately, disengagement. Provide examples of compromises and alternatives e.g. Postgraduate conversion courses, employers recruiting graduates of any discipline.

Under aspiring parents or those wanting minimal involvement. Reasons behind this: ignorance (even fear) about what higher education entails, financial worries, disapproval of their child’s choices. Your job is to sensitively explore and help resolve these.

Tip: In both cases, try open questions and neutral, non-judgemental language. Supplement with case studies and factual data such as student destination statistics.”

Gill Sharp, Careers Adviser

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This article is from the free online course:

Smart Advice: Broadening Your Students’ Horizons