Helping prepare your child for university

Students and members of the public sat in deck chairs at University

Tips for parents and carers

From understanding student loans and applications, to their first day

University is an opportunity for your child to be independent, but it’s only natural to want to support them – even if they don’t tell you they need your help.

After all, the step up from school or college to university is a big one, especially if they move away from home. And it can be overwhelming – from creating an outstanding Personal Statement and application and the nail-biting wait until results day, to remembering everything they need to start uni.

While you probably don’t want to do everything for them, you can play a vital role in guiding them.

So, where do you begin?

This guide covers everything you need to know to prepare your child for university. We’ve presented it as a timeline, starting when your child is in Year 11, so you know what you need to think about and when.

Year 11

September–June (2–3 years to go)

Choosing post-GCSE subjects

When your child is 15 or 16, it might feel too early to think about university.

But, this is when they decide what to do after their GCSEs. And, while many university courses are flexible about what qualifications your child needs, others need them to take specific awards or subjects. So the decisions they make in Year 11 could impact what they study at university.

A useful approach is for them to choose subjects they’re good at and enjoy studying. This will likely lead them on to a university course that suits them.

They could also take a look at university websites or the UCAS course listings to find degree courses that interest them. Then check the entry requirements to see what qualifications and subjects they need and what careers each course could lead to.

Teachers and school career advisors are a valuable source of advice too.

Above all, don’t let them worry about making the perfect decision – they won’t choose a university course for at least 2 years and a lot could change in that time.

Browse our courses

Finance and applications

At this stage, it’s also useful for you and your child to familiarise yourselves with the application process, tuitions fees, and student loans, and other sources of student finance so you know what to expect.

Year 12

October–June (2 years to go)

Researching universities and courses

Once your child has settled into sixth form or college, it’s a good time for them to think about university courses again so they still have plenty of time to research their next steps.

Again, the UCAS website and university websites are a good starting point. Your child can also go to a UCAS Exhibition or UK University Search Fair, where they get to speak to admissions and teaching staff from Higher Education providers from across the country and explore their courses. They can get an idea of what grades they need to achieve and what extracurricular activities will help their application stand out from other students.

Your child’s school or college will likely organise a trip to your nearest event. If not, you can find events and register on the UCAS and UK University Search websites.

Making sense of course awards

When you research courses, you’ll see that undergraduate courses come with different awards – for example BA, BSc, HND, LLM – based on the subject and amount of credits your child can study on the course.

See our awards explained page for guidance on the different awards and qualifications your child can choose at university.

Entry requirements

When your child applies for a Bachelor’s degree or other undergraduate courses, they need to check they’ll meet the entry requirements. You’ll see entry requirements for our courses on each course page.

We use the UCAS Tariff point system to show entry requirements for most of our undergraduate courses. This assigns points to qualifications students can study after the age of 16. The higher the grade, the more points your child gets.

Find out more about entry requirements and the UCAS Tariff point system on our entry requirements page.

June (15 months to go)

Open days

By now, you and your child probably have a shortlist of universities to visit. The best way to see them is on an open day, which most universities hold from June to December.

University open days usually follow a similar format. On our Open Days, you can speak with lecturers and current students and tour course facilities, the city, the campus and halls of residence.

Your child can also get information on how to fund their studies, how to apply and what personal and learning support is available when they join us. Plus, how we can help them prepare for a successful career after their course.

Come to an Open Day

Personal Statement planning

Now is also a good time for your child to start planning their Personal Statement so they have plenty of time to create a statement to wow potential universities.

The Personal Statement is the part of their application where they show their chosen universities why they'll make a great student. It also helps them think about their choice of course and their reasons for applying, so they know they’ve made the right decision.

For expert advice and feedback on their Personal Statement, your child can come to a Personal Statement Workshop on one of our Open Days.

Enhancing their CV

When they plan their Personal Statement, they may want to think about how they can develop their skills further by volunteering or getting work experience.

Even a part-time job will help them build skills in areas such as time management, team working and communication. This enhances their CV and gives them examples to highlight in their Personal Statement.

Year 13

September–January (8–12 months to go)

Submitting their application

Your child can submit their UCAS application from September in the year before they start their course, but most students aim to submit it nearer the UCAS deadline. This is 15 January (or 15 October for some courses in medicine and all courses at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge).

If your child’s school or college is submitting their application for them, they may have to finish their application slightly earlier to give their school or college time to add a reference.

They can still submit their application after the UCAS deadline, but they could miss out on their chosen course because it could fill up or the entry requirements could change. Submitting their application by these dates also ensures they get a decision from all universities more quickly, which means they can focus on doing their best in their exams.

The most difficult bit of their application is the Personal Statement, which by now they’ve hopefully been planning for a few months. You can support them with their Personal Statement by giving them feedback and helping check their final version before they submit it. You can also encourage them to get help from their college or school.

Applying for student finance (including student loans)

Your child can apply for student finance up to 9 months before the start of their course – they don’t need to wait until they have offers. It’s best to have everything completed as soon as possible so there’s no delay in receiving funding when they start.

February–May (4–7 months to go)

Getting offers

Some universities will get back to your child with a decision on their application quickly, while others will take a few months. It all depends on the university and the course. If your child applied by January 15, universities must let them know whether they’re offering them a place by early May.

When your child applies to join us, we aim to update them on their application within 2 weeks. If we offer them a place, we invite them to an Applicant Experience Day where they take part in taster lectures and meet staff and their potential classmates.

We also send them details of how to apply for a room in halls. We guarantee a room in halls to all new, full-time undergraduate students starting in September or October 2019 who make us their first-choice university.

Accepting offers

Once they’ve got a decision on all the courses they applied for, there’s no need to rush to choose which offers to accept – they get at least a month to decide.

Our accepting an offer page explains the different types of offer and how to accept or decline them.

Applying for more courses

If your child didn’t use all 5 choices on their UCAS application, they can apply for more courses through UCAS until the end of June.

If they used all 5 choices, they might be able to apply for more courses using UCAS Extra. This starts at the end of February and runs until July.

Exam support

Remember, your child will likely be preparing for and taking their exams while all this is going on. They may feel overwhelmed.

To help them, make sure they have somewhere comfortable to revise, free from distractions, and remind them to eat well, get enough sleep and make time for exercise.

Let them know you’re there to support them and encourage them to talk to you about any worries they have.

July (2 months to go)

Immunisations

The quiet period before your child gets their exam results is a good time for them to check with their GP that their vaccinations are up to date.

University students who haven’t been vaccinated have a higher risk of meningitis and mumps than the rest of the population because they have close contact with lots of other students.

August (4 weeks to go)

Getting their exam results

Unless your child has an unconditional offer, they need to get their exam results before their chosen university confirms their place.

UCAS usually sends results direct to universities as soon as they’re available. So your child likely won’t need to notify their chosen universities of their results.

It’s probably best for your child to be in the country on the day they get their exam results, especially if they’re worried they might not have done so well. That way they can easily speak to universities about their results if they need to.

When they don’t get the results they wanted

We know it’s disappointing if your child doesn’t get the results they needed for their first-choice or insurance course. But try not to worry as their chosen university may still be able to accept them.

If not, they can find a course in Clearing, which gives your child another opportunity to find the best course and university for them.

Clearing opens in July but your child can’t apply for another course until their results are confirmed in mid-August. You can support them during Clearing by helping them to research possible course options and get ready to phone universities.

September (1–2 weeks to go)

Preparing for arrival at university

Once your child has confirmed their place at university, it’s time to help them prepare for their arrival.

Our joining the university page highlights everything they need to do before they get here and after they arrive. You can familiarise yourself with the checklist to make sure they don’t forget anything crucial.

Importantly, we recommend they bring enough money to see them through their first week, just in case their maintenance loan is delayed.

If they’re moving into self-catering accommodation, you might want to make sure they take enough food to cover their first few days as well staple cupboard ingredients that will come in handy, such as cooking oil, seasoning, tinned tomatoes and flour.

September and beyond

When your child leaves home for the first time, it’s natural to experience a mix of emotions. You might be proud and excited for them, yet sad or worried too. They probably have mixed feelings too.

Give them a few weeks to settle in before you visit or expect them to come home. And don’t worry too much if they don’t get back to you straight away when you contact them – they’re likely to be very busy in their first few weeks as they make new friends and get used to university life.

Helping prepare your child for university – recap

Year 11

  • Help them choose post-GCSE subjects
  • Explore student finance options
  • Understand the application process

Year 12

  • Help them research universities and courses
  • Understand course awards and entry requirements
  • Go to university open days
  • Help them plan their UCAS Personal statement

Year 13

  • Support them with their UCAS application
  • Help them apply for student finance
  • Help them decide which offers to accept
  • Support them with their exams
  • Support them when they get their exam results
  • Help prepare them for their arrival at University
  • Give them time to settle into life at University

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