University of Bath Parents' Blog

A blog for the parents of children looking to apply to university from 2014 onwards

Posts By: steve

Choosing a course

📥  Courses, Open Days

 

Untitled (2)If your child has a passion for a particular subject or has already decided on a specific career path then choosing which subject to study at university should be relatively straightforward. However, if this is not the case then your child will need to do some thorough research into which subject to choose before making any decisions. The National Careers Service, Prospects, and TES Growing Ambitions are all excellent websites which can help students to decide what type of career would be right for them and to find information on which careers are associated with certain subjects. Also, many schools and colleges have dedicated careers advisers who will be able to help answer any questions that your son or daughter may have about choosing between different universities and courses, and how best to pursue a particular career path.

Narrowing down the choices

Once your child has decided on a subject or subjects to study at university, he/she may still be left with a large number of courses to choose between. The easiest ways for students to reduce the number of potential courses is to consider the entry requirements for each course, and to decide how close (or far!) from home that they would like to study. When trying to estimate his/her final grades your child should consider the grades that he/she have previously obtained and speak to teachers about what final grades they feel are realistic. Applicants are able to apply for up to five separate courses via UCAS, and in general it is advisable to apply to courses where the entry requirements are equivalent to or slightly above the applicants predicted grades, with maybe one or two ‘safer’ options which ask for slightly lower grades.

Comparing university courses

When it comes to choosing between courses there is a wealth of information online which can help your child to compare different courses. Both UNISTATS and Which? University publish detailed information on the relative merits of different courses and institutions based on feedback provided by current and previous students, as well as data from sources such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Several national newspapers also publish annual league tables which can be found on their websites- the most prominent are The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Guardian. The results of these league tables should be interpreted carefully however as each uses different criteria, and there is no guarantee that the criteria which are being used to rank universities are the same criteria as those that are important to your child.

Finding out more about individual universities

All universities produce detailed prospectuses which are typically available either online or in print form, and your child should read carefully any prospectuses related to the courses that he/she is considering. University websites will also publish detailed course information online for each of their courses, along with ‘Key Information Set’ (KIS) data which will allow your child to easily compare the relative merits of different courses at different institutions.

Most universities hold open days during the summer months (please see the UCAS website for full details of dates), and these provide an invaluable opportunity for your child to visit universities that he/she may be interested in and will help him/her to make an informed decision about which institutions to apply to. Attending open days will allow your child to get a feel for the university environment, view the various facilities available (students union, accommodation, library etc), and find out about the extracurricular activities, societies, or sports facilities that are offered. Your child will also be able to find out more details on the specific course that he/she is interested in studying by being able to look around the department’s facilities, speak to academic staff and current students, or even participate in a sample lecture.

Please click here to view our article on making the most out of attending university open days.

 

Helping your child to make the most of attending an open day

📥  Open Days

Untitled1In order to make the most out of an open day it is important for your child to plan in advance what he/she would like to get out of the day as open days are very busy and there won’t be time to see and do everything. If possible arrive early- the start of the day will be one of the quietest times and so not only will you hopefully avoid hold ups on the journey to and from the university (something which may be a particular problem at campus universities), but also your child will be more likely to be able to speak in detail to academic staff who may be much busier later in the day.

Planning a visit

When planning an open day visit your child should look at the information that the university provides ahead of the open day (usually online) and decide how best to use his/her time on the day. Some universities require visitors to book for talks or tours in advance and if this is the case then it is worth booking early as certain activities will be especially popular. Your child should also obtain a map of the campus and university buildings and make a note of which facilities (e.g. library, students union, sports facilities etc) he/she wishes to visit, as this will help to make the most of the time on the day.

On the day

One of the most important parts of an open day is the opportunity for your child to visit the department that he/she is interested in applying to, so remember to leave ample time to have a good look around and for your child to speak to the academic staff and current students about the content and structure of the course. The open day may be the only opportunity for you and your child to view the accommodation that is on offer, and so you should try to look at a number of different accommodation options so that you can see the differences (location, catered or non catered, en suite or shared bathroom etc) between the types of accommodation available.

Open Day checklist

When attending a university open day we would recommend that your child ensures that he/she:

  • Visits the academic department that he/she is interested in and attends any relevant talks and tours
  • Views as many accommodation options as possible
  • Visits the Students Union stand or building in order to find out more information about the range of societies and activities available
  • Visits the Student Finance/Funding stand or building to find out about any scholarships or bursaries that are available, and how to apply for them
  • Visits the library (students will spend a lot of time at the library!)
  • Visits any sports or arts facilities that they may be interested in
  • Takes the time to visit the local area to get a feel for the wider environment and what is on offer locally
  • Talks to as many staff and current students as possible about course content and life at the university
  • Talks to Admissions about entry requirements and personal statements

As a parent we would recommend that you:

  • Attend any parents’ talks
  • Attend any finance talks
  • Visit the funding stand to find out more about student loans and grants (especially any funding support which is specific to the institution)
  • Visit the security talk/stand for more information on safety and student well being while studying and living away from home

 

Finding work experience and voluntary work

📥  Application, Careers, Employability

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Gaining a work experience placement, whether it is paid or unpaid, may be invaluable in helping to strengthen your child’s university application by showing real commitment to, and experience of, his/her chosen subject of study. What’s more, work experience provides direct experience of what a career in a chosen subject would actually be like, and so will help to ensure that your child is making the right long term decision.

For some HE courses, such as Pharmacy or Social Work, work experience may be an essential part of the entry requirements. Your child should be looking carefully at the information provided by universities about the entry requirements for his/her chosen courses, to find out whether work experience is necessary, and if so, what type of work experience is expected.

Being persistent in finding work experience

Some organisations- particularly large blue chip and public sector organisations- will advertise work experience posts, and so your child may be able to find opportunities by looking within the careers sections of the relevant websites. A good starting point to find out further details about work placements, and to search for current placements, is the Target Jobs website. Prospects also have a website which offers the ability to search for work placement opportunities. Remember that competition for work experience, particularly if paid, will be high and so it is important that your child applies as early as possible and takes the time to make his/her application as strong as it can be.

Even if an organisation is not advertising any opportunities they may still be willing to provide work experience, especially if unpaid and for a limited period, to students who approach them directly. This could be a particularly good way to find local work experience with smaller organisations. Personal contacts and networking can also be an excellent way to find work experience placements- family members, family friends, parents of your child’s friends, and teachers may all be able to put your child in touch with someone who could offer him/her a work experience placement, or even offer them a placement themselves! If you and your child do not have any relevant contacts, encourage your child to approach companies and individuals directly. Many companies are willing to take on students for work experience if approached in a professional and enthusiastic way: encourage your child to write letters, emails or even use social media like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn as a way in!

If your child cannot find work experience that is directly related to his/her chosen subject, they may still be able to find work experience that would help to enhance transferable skills or knowledge which will be relevant to that subject. For example, if your child wishes to study a degree related to accounting but has been unable to find work experience with an accountancy firm, then he/she could consider applying for work experience with an insurance firm which would still enable him/her to develop skills which are relevant to accountancy- for example, working with applied mathematics and data analysis.

Remember that any work experience placement, irrespective of whether it is directly related to his/her chosen field of study, will allow your child to demonstrate in his/her personal statement and in any university admissions interviews that he/she is hardworking, motivated, and willing to learn new things- all of which are very important personal attributes that admissions officers will look favourably on!

Voluntary work

An alternative to paid work experience is voluntary work, which can be undertaken either in the UK or abroad. Voluntary work will provide your child with new experiences that can be made reference to in his/her university application, and will again help to demonstrate positive personal attributes in his/her personal statement- for example being socially conscious, hard working, and open to new experiences.

Within the UK there are likely to be opportunities for your child to volunteer in areas which are related to his/her subject choice. For example, psychology applicants could volunteer to work with mental health charities, retirement homes, or local playgroups, law applicants could volunteer to work for civil rights or legal support organisations, and politics applicants could volunteer to work with a local or national political party. Alternatively, if your child has a particular musical, artistic or sporting ability then he/she could volunteer to teach young people new skills. A good website to start looking for UK based voluntary work is the volunteers section of Gov.uk

Many students choose to volunteer abroad in order to gain work experience whilst travelling to different regions. Some of the key areas of voluntary work abroad include providing support to individuals in developing countries (for example by teaching or supporting medical services), helping with community building projects in remote or underdeveloped areas, and supporting environmental management and conservation.

If your child chooses to consider voluntary work abroad then he/she should research the organisation that is organising the project carefully, and should ensure that if asked to pay any money then they understand what it is for and who it will go to. Your child should also check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to ensure that it is safe to travel to the region(s) that they intend to visit.

 

Making the most of a work experience placement

📥  Application, Careers, Employability

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If your child is fortunate enough to gain a work experience placement (please click here for information on finding work experience) then it is important that he/she ensures they make the most of the opportunity. Whilst being the most junior person will almost certainly ensure that your child will have to make the odd cup of tea, there is a lot that your child can do in order to make sure that the organisation provides him/her with a valuable experience, which will help to strengthen both his/her university application and future job applications.

Applying

When applying for work experience, it is important that your child states clearly what specific experience he/she is hoping to gain- this could be of a particular job role, or of particular functional areas of the organisation. For example, a student applying for work experience at a law firm may be specifically interested in gaining experience of criminal and contract law, while a business student applying to a consultancy firm may be specifically interested in gaining experience of the finance and sales functions. While there is no guarantee that an organisation will be able to accommodate all of your child’s wishes, they will be a lot more likely to provide relevant experience if your child specifically asks for it!

Maximising the opportunity

Once your child has started his/her placement they should ensure that they make a note of the skills and experience that are gained. While it is great if your child is able to gain skills which are directly relevant to his/her chosen subject or career path, it is also important to make a note of any transferable skills that have been developed as these can be particularly valuable when applying for jobs in future. Key transferable skills include team work, problem solving, communication skills, and the ability to work under pressure. Your child should record which transferable skills have been developed and how they were used during the work experience placement, as well as making a note of any specific tasks that have been completed during the work placement.

Throughout the duration of the placement it is important that your child ensures that he/she takes any opportunities that present themselves (for example being asked to attend meetings or watch a presentation) and that when interacting with members of the organisation he/she is always enthusiastic and asks plenty of questions. By presenting himself/herself in a positive and engaging manner your child will find it easier to gain credibility and to develop a real understanding of the organisation and its activities.

If not already suggested your child should request a review meeting with the individual responsible for his/her placement, to take place around half way through the placement (or perhaps sooner if it is a particularly short placement). This will allow your child to take on board any feedback based on his/her performance so far, and also to shape the future direction of the placement. If the feedback from the company is positive then your child will be in a good position to ask for extra responsibilities, exposure to another area of the business, or even to extend the period of his/her placement. If the feedback highlights any areas of concern then there is no need to panic- by receiving feedback during the placement rather than at the end of it, your child will have the opportunity to address any issues and to make the most out of the rest of his/her time with the organisation.

Gaining a reference

It is very important that at the end of the work placement your child requests a reference from the organisation which outlines the responsibilities that he/she held during the work placement, as well as the skills or abilities that your child demonstrated and developed during his/her placement. While your child will be able to request a reference in future, by doing so at the end of his/her placement the employer will be much more likely to write a detailed and accurate reference which will be valuable when your child is seeking his/her first job as a graduate.

Please note, we will be posting an article in August on how to write about a work experience placement in a personal statement