Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A Parent's Perspective

Sarah is a parent that works at the University of Chester, who has a son that is currently looking into his options for university.  In this blog, Sarah gives us the parent’s perspective on Open Days and provides us with a fascinating insight into how a parent’s priorities can differ slightly from that of the student applying. 

Getting started

As a university employee, I thought I’d be at an advantage helping my son to decide which university to apply for.  How wrong I was.

He already has his own criteria.  He knows which course he wants to study.  He wants to be away from home so he can gain independence, yet be near enough to come home with his washing without embarking on an epic journey.  He prefers the feel of a campus based University rather than one placed within a city.

So, on to the UCAS website he went. He typed his course interest into the course search area and, voila, up popped a multitude of universities offering his course.  He narrowed his options down by distance, campus based universities and entry criteria. At the end of this process he had a list of 6 Universities which fitted the bill. Oh this was going to be easy.


Next task, find out the dates for the Open Days.  All booked and penned into our diaries/phones, this is where the hard work really began for me.  The six hour round trip to one university, whilst tiring, wasn't a problem. Visiting two institutions in one weekend was fine.

Having considered myself not a particularly overprotective mum, the Open Days brought home to me that, next September, life was going to change in a big way.  My son is no longer a child and is going to live somewhere I really won’t be a part of and I won’t be on call in the same way I have been in the last 18 years. This will be a new chapter in not just his, but both of our lives.

My priorities, therefore, changed a little from the ones I thought I had when we first started considering his options for university.  Yes the course is important, but I want him to be safe.  I want him to live somewhere friendly and, due to certain special needs my son has, I want him to have access to excellent support if he requires it.  His priorities somewhat differ and we, I am sure, will have many debates over the coming months leading up to his final two choices being made.  In the end though I know this is his choice and his choice will be final. I know it will be time for me to take a step back.

Fact Finding

We both agree the Open Days have been invaluable.  The impression you build up of a place browsing the internet or watching videos on their web site is OK, but I have found visiting is the only way to gain a true idea of what the university and the course are really like. We both came away with entirely different attitudes towards some.

Every one of the universities will tell you: how friendly the place is; how much the students love the University; and how they are the people best able to turn your slightly awkward teenager into a rounded and successful adult.  There is nothing better, in my opinion though, than using your own intuition as to where you feel your son or daughter will be happiest and, of course, for them to make their own minds up. The only way to do this properly I feel is to visit.

We have been to a total of seven Open Days so far, each one offering similar talks and tours, but all different in style.  Some lavished us with food and drinks, and had enthusiastic student ambassadors at every corner waiting to answer questions. Others left you more to your own devices.  All of them enabled us to get a real feeling of what it would be like to study and live there and in the surrounding areas.

Our first day was a little daunting, but each one that followed had a similar pattern to them. We attended numerous course specific talks as well as talks on accommodation and finance.  The course specific talks were the most important to my son.  His next priority always seemed to be food, mine accommodation and support.  After some ‘discussion’ as to which area to see next with the odd “how embarrassing I was” thrown in for good measure, we moved on and managed to cover everything we needed to from each visit.

The accommodation varied dramatically from place to place and within each place.  Some were so new and stylish that I could have moved in myself.  Some were older and had a more  traditional style of university accommodation which was very basic.  He wants self-catering to be his first choice so I've suggested a cookery course before next September.  My main concerns were proximity and security, however, my son’s top priorities were does the room include WI- FI, how big the food cupboards are and do they lock! Again, only by visiting the accommodation do you get a real feel of what living at the university will be like.  The atmosphere of the place came over strongly and we both felt finding the right balance for him was more important than say how old the building was and how big the rooms were.

‘ umming  and ahing’

Now please forgive me if I sound as if I am completely contradicting myself.  Yes the Open Days are invaluable, but in some ways he is a little more confused as to his final choices, and when he asks my opinion, to be honest, so am I. Although I’d still rather we were confused rather than uninformed, an Open Day visit doesn't necessarily make the decision an easy one.

I have heard various ‘if onlys’:

  • ‘If only this place had accommodation that was on that campus.’
  • ‘I liked the other lecturer from so and so, if only he taught here.’
  • ‘If only the university could move 60 miles up the road.  Three hours is a long journey when you’re sat next to dirty laundry.’

And no amount of visiting and investigating can help with “I’m making these choices, but what if I don’t get an offer?”

He has now chosen his five choices, based on what he found out at the Open Days and will shortly be submitting his UCAS form. We will be visiting all the universities again should he receive an offer from them and if there are more than two offers on the table then he will still have a final and hard decision to make.

Forewarned is forearmed

So what have I learnt from the whole experience?  Well, even if you work at a university and even if you have the most decisive son or daughter, the process of being there to help choose the right place is not an easy one.  This is three or four years of their lives after all and there will always be ‘what if’s’ probably up until the point of enrolment.

My tips for any other parents out there currently going through the same process:

  1. Do your homework on a place
  2. Visit
  3. Don’t embarrass your son or daughter by ruffling their heads
  4. Take a step back, allow them to make the decision and just be on hand if your opinion is asked for. 

The only thing we can really do is help our children to gather up as much information as possible to enable them to make an informed decision.  And, of course, it almost goes without saying, support them throughout the whole process.

Wish me luck!

As highlighted in this blog, it can often be a tough decision trying to decide upon the right university.  Whether you are an applicant or an anxious parent, you will both have a vested interest in ensuring that the right choice is made.  The University of Chester offers you a number of opportunities for visiting our campuses in order to help you make the right choice for you.  

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