Updated: Aug 5
How do you guide your child effectively when it comes to degrees and subject choices?
Exams are nearly done, and the summer holidays beckon. But while the holidays are a chance to unwind and relax, for many young people there are some serious decisions to be thinking about: GCSE options, A level options, degree and university choices. As a parent, it can be achingly hard to watch your child struggle with some of the biggest decisions of their lives so far, wanting to help but not wanting to seem overbearing or controlling. So how can you best offer advice and support?
Firstly, do offer it! You may want to show that you respect your child’s capacity to make important life decisions, and it’s especially discouraging if you’ve tried to initiate conversations about subject options and career goals to be greeted with monosyllables and evasive answers. But I remember being slightly inundated with my options, and very grateful to adults who knew me and were happy to talk through my choices with me. Teenagers are suddenly rocketed from being treated like children who need to raise their hands to speak and ask permission to use the bathroom, to competent adults expected to know how to make really important decisions, and schools can sometimes give very little transition time. So the opportunity to sit down, ask basic questions, and start to sketch out some options, could be very gratefully received.
If your child has some kind of idea about where they are looking to go or what they are looking to do, then help researching might be very much appreciated. There are cities and universities that your children may have never heard of, and your knowledge about which places are respected for which subjects may come in handy when trying to narrow down options. Similarly, several of the subjects on offer, whether at GCSE, A level, or university, might be brand new to your child, and they could really use your help in understanding exactly what Business Studies is and how it differs to Economics. If you know already, that’s great, but if not, then your help in looking up, finding, and interpreting the information could be really useful. Equally, if your child is struggling to understand what their grades mean (particularly with the new 1-9 GCSE grading system), then this short guide can help you interpret them.
If your child is getting stressed because they have no idea what they want to be or do, then they can start feeling self-deprecating and miserable. Sitting down with them and working through their talents, abilities, and passions can be incredibly affirming, as can encouraging them to study what they enjoy. I had no clear career path in mind when I was choosing A Levels, so my parents encouraged me to choose subjects that worked to my strengths in areas I enjoyed, and it all worked out well.
There’s also a hard balance to strike between studying subjects that you love and that make you want to go to class every day, and studying subjects that will further a sensible career. As a parent, being able to balance the longing to see your child happy and enjoying school, and the desire to see your child set up in a stable career, can be just as difficult! Hard as it may be, if your child desperately wants a career in a typically insecure or hard to acquire job (i.e. performing, art, academia…), then repeatedly and forcefully telling them why it’s a terrible and risky idea will probably only push them towards it. Chances are, they’ll realise for themselves as time goes on that there are more realistic career options. And if their hearts are still set on it after seeing how hard it can be, then they will value their parents’ support and encouragement more than any quantities of well-meant advice.
Whatever conversations you have around subject and university choices, the most important thing is to listen – and to be open to the possibility that what worked for you may not work for your child, whether because of personality differences, or the ever-changing world of work. And while you may be sure that your child has wanted to be a vet ever since they were five, there’s the possibility that they’ve got a burning new passion that they’ve been waiting desperately for an opening to tell you about. Discussions about subjects, universities, and careers, are an amazing opportunity to show your child that you’re on their side and ready to support them in their choices, and can be a great step on the journey towards an adult friendship as well as a parent/child relationship.
Blog Post Crafted by Rebecca
Subjects Taught: English, Maths, 7+, 11+
Background: Rebecca is one of our most popular tutors, with a degree in English from the University of Cambridge and hundreds of hours of private tuition experience in 7+, 11+, English and Maths. She is also an assessor for Titanium Tutors, observing the mock lessons taught by potential tutors and deciding whether or not they meet the high standards of the agency.