Should Parents Go to University Open Days?

Should Parents Go to University Open Days?
By C Hoppe
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As the university open day 'silly season' once again begins, and campuses prepare to open their doors for prospective 2016 students,  the UK's Guardian newspaper asks the timely question: "Should Parents Go to University Open Days?"

While attending open days with your child may have become the norm (academics say around 90 percent of parents now 'tag-along'), it is in fact, a very recent trend. However, with many parents in the UAE planning to accompany their children to this year's open days, we thought it a good idea to jump on the debate with teachers, academics, parents and students themselves...


Should You or Shouldn't You?

University admissions tutor, ‘Kabze’ notes, “quite a number of potential students are accompanied by parents to open days but I think the students who come on their own probably find out more about the university - although many parents evidently enjoy the experience and are interested in how the university works.”

For those who do wish to accompany their child, she says, “some universities offer separate activities for parents - and there would probably be no need for you to stay with your son or daughter throughout the open day. In particular, she or he might be happier speaking to academic staff on her/his own.”

She goes on to recommend, “find a place where she/he feels happy and at home, and that the course feels right for her/him, and that she/he feels confident in being there…open days are, among other things, marketing opportunities for universities so your daughter/son will need to cut through the surface glitter to work out what the universities are actually about. For the record, I didn't accompany my daughter to any open days and just accompanied my son to one and stayed out of the way when he talked to an academic). Both have now graduated and I think they both made the right choices although, as their parent, I naturally worried about them a lot,” she concludes.


The Financials

While many parents feel the significant financial investment in their child’s education means they can, and indeed are entitled to attend the open day, many remain adamant that irrespective of how much money you intend to spend on your child’s education, it doesn't give you any financial claim to intrude on their space.

However, cash spent on a university degree is still an important investment decision, and in reality how many eighteen year-olds have the world experience to see the ‘complete picture?’

BridgetMacKenz makes a valid point, “I don't remember any parent accompanying myself or my peers to open days or interviews for university (in the 1980s). Maybe this is because there wasn't much of a financial element to the decision, as most of us would be receiving full grants, free tuition and housing benefit. We were simply going to make a personal decision, and to have a conversation with the lecturers about our interests and abilities.”

For many UAE based parents, the costs are even higher, with international tuition fees and regular flights home inflating costs exponentially.

Possibly the most sensible compromise for parents concerned about the financial aspects of their 'university- investment' is to ask beforehand about any ‘parent meetings’ which are available during many university open days allowing them to find out more about grants, loans, accommodation costs, etc.


Supporting Your Child

UAE based students choosing tertiary education in the UK will be faced with not only the prospect of leaving home for the very first time, but also living an exceedingly long way away from their parents and dealing with an entirely new environment.

Respondent ‘Lasswade’ says, “discuss what your applicant son/daughter wants to get out of the visit with them…make lists of questions. Do some pre-visit online investigation together. If you are going a distance, it is worth staying for a night or two and having a look around the town or city as well. The sheer amount of time travelling there and back might turn out to be an important factor.”

“You might like to check out how good the welfare support is, what help is offered for students with problems and how students can ask for any help they need. Almost all students need help at one point or another in their degree courses, even if it's just because they have flu when a deadline arrives - and that's when your son/daughter may ask you for help. If the university has good support systems and you can find your way round them (e.g. by directing him/her to the correct phone number or web page) you will do a great deal to support him/her - and this may be even more vital to his/her future than the financial support you give him/her. One useful thing you might do is attend an open day together at a university he or she doesn't wish to attend so that you can consider together what universities offer and how open days operate,” points out Kazbe.


Let Your Child Do the Talking

Rodder55 says, “I'm an academic myself, it's depressing to be at open days when parents ask all the questions while their offspring - the actual applicants - stand meekly beside them. And, at the risk of stereotyping, it's far more often the daughters that stand silently than the sons - another reason for allowing your son or daughter to go on their own.”

An academic at a popular Russell Group university who regularly helps out on open days, advises, “give her/him a lift there, then let her/him loose while she/he goes round and asks the questions. Often there are specific tours: don't go on them with her/him! Grab a cup of tea and be the person she/he will return to with whatever information she/he has picked up. Stuff that she/he is enthusiastic about is probably stuff she/he wants to study.
There is nothing worse from my position being confronted with a silent potential candidate whose parents answer all my questions. In return, the parents questions tend to be of the sort of "what are the job prospects", "what can you do with a degree in X", all of which I will be happy to answer, but aren't actually important for getting onto the course. What we want is someone who is: a) able to do our degree course: a combination of grades and potential. (b) ...and this is the important bit: interested in the subject area, so they will actually want to study."

The academic goes on to say, “often with parents there, potential students don't tend to play to these two areas but rather to the parents concerns. They will enjoy many freedoms as students, and one is the right to manage their own learning, and this ultimately comes from doing the right course for the right student, and to do this they need to make a well informed decision for themselves.”


Keeping Yourself Busy

If you do intend on going, there are many things you can do to keep busy, think about fact-finding and helping, without being that overbearing parent which makes both your child and their future lecturers cringe.

Explore the city/town where the university is located, and find out accommodation options, part-time job vacancies and the overall feel of the place.

Lasswade also notes, “A visit is a good chance to find out just how much the accommodation is and the likelihood of getting into university flats after the first year (unlikely in many cases as these are increasingly targeted at international students).”

“Find out about Erasmus exchanges and whether or not the marks would count and if it even might result in having to repeat a year. (We found the Erasmus year cost us less than at the home Russell group university because the university accommodation in the Netherlands was so much cheaper.)”

“Find out what the research specialisms are in the subject department concerned. (We found that only some physics departments have expertise in particle physics.) Find out what options are open to change subject (e.g. switching from economics to history after the first year - this kind of switching is more common in Scottish universities).”

And, if you do still feel you should go, why not take the advice of this academic, “the most important person for us to chat to is the future student. I remember one young man with a slight stammer who asked me many detailed questions about the course - only at the end of our conversation did I notice him going off to his mum who'd been at the other side of the room. If only more parents would let their offspring do the talking.”

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