Whether you are a teacher or parent, advising students on applying to university and making those all-important decisions about future pathways can often be a challenge. We have worked with thousands of teachers and plenty of parents over the years to offer advice and guidance on how you can support your student. Through reading the articles in APPLY and making the most of the events and opportunities, students can gain an understanding on what they need to do to successfully apply to their first-choice university or secure that all-important job.

Information for Parents

As a parent you’ll no doubt want to support your child’s application to university or apprenticeship as much as you can, but how? We’ve listed a few key areas and important decisions where you might offer guidance and advice.

Higher education, or apprenticeships and school leaver programmes can open many doors to new and exciting opportunities which your son or daughter can benefit from, and there are now plenty of programmes where your child would gain a qualification ‘on the job’ and earn money at the same time.

The University Route

A degree helps a student to develop and refine skills, gain valuable experience in a particular academic field and shows employers that they are a good investment for the future. Going to university can help your child to gain life skills such as independence and maturity, make those all-important life-long friends and to develop their interests through joining clubs and societies. Having said that it is not for everyone, and any notions that it is the only route to success are now outdated. If your child enjoys academic work and is keen to go to university, there will definitely be a course and institution out there for him or her. It’s important to encourage your child to fulfill their potential and aim high, while being realistic about their capabilities and motivation.

The UCAS application allows each applicant to choose five different universities to apply to. It is sensible to apply to a range of universities, with perhaps a ‘top two’ and three ‘fall back’ options. It may also be helpful to speak to the school and ask what kind of support they can offer. If your son or daughter is unsure whether or not they want to go to university, remind them that they can always apply this year and change their mind or defer their course if they want to take a gap year.

Picking the Right Course

It’s very common for students to want to go to university, but we often find that many students have no idea what they want to study! The overriding factor when making their decision should be picking a subject they enjoy – either in school or outside of school. They will have to immerse themselves into this subject for the next three years or more at an advanced level, so just getting a top grade at A-Level or equivalent should not be the only factor. There are hundreds of choices available, included combined honours; degree choices should not be restricted to subjects enjoyed at A-Level, so encourage your student to think about what they enjoy and why.

The UCAS website provides a full list of courses available with their entrance requirements. Universities often have subject-specific open days which can give a better idea of what the course will involve. It’s important to make your child aware that selecting a course doesn’t always mean they are selecting their future career (unless they are studying a vocational course such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, etc.). We meet many students who study a particular course at university, who then go on to work in industries completely unrelated to their degree, but the skills they developed whilst at university allowed them to get to where they are now.

The UCAS Application

UCAS – the University and Colleges Admissions Service – is the centralised body which coordinates all the applications to undergraduate degrees at UK universities.

Every university applicant must apply through UCAS by filling in what is known as the UCAS form. Perhaps the most challenging section of the form is the personal statement, where applicants write about 600 words about their background and their reasons for choosing their course. You can help your child with their personal statement by encouraging them to start working on it over the summer holidays and offering to proof their drafts. Applications open on 1st September. For inspiration, please look at our annotated Personal Statement Library. In APPLY we have a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to writing an outstanding personal statement, with tips on extra-curricular reading and activities, optimum structure and how to write a compelling introduction and conclusion.

A keen interest in the subject is one of the most important deciding factors when admissions tutors offer places. It’s important to read outside of the recommended curriculum books and to be familiar with current affairs, especially within the sector of the subject. Broadsheet newspapers will offer news on all subjects, and The Week offers an overview of all newspapers on a weekly basis. Students wanting to study Economics and finance for example, will find publications like The Economist useful, whilst medics might want to read the New Scientist. Encourage your child to read around their subject might be something that the school can help with, or most universities publish reading lists on their websites.


Not all universities or all subjects require the applicant to come to interview, but if they do you can prepare. It may be the first time your child has ever had an interview and naturally they will be nervous! Take a look at our interview preparation pages in APPLY for tips on how to prepare thoroughly and to remain calm and confident on the day. Reassure your child and talk to them about any (positive) experiences of being interviewed to boost their confidence. You can even do some interview practice with them before the ‘big day’ – you can find sample interview questions in APPLY.

Outcome of the Application

If the outcome of the application should be unsuccessful, it can be very hard for your child – it may be the first time they have ever worked hard towards something and failed. As a parent it will be important to encourage your child to refocus on their academic work to ensure they do the best they can in their exams and coursework.

Remind them that all is not lost – they can always reapply next year, or go through Clearing in August when their exam results are released. Get your son or daughter to have a think about why they didn’t get in and how they can improve their application next year. The skills they have learnt with their application will be useful for job and other university applications in the future. Competition for places is fiercer than ever due to funding cuts and a shortage of spaces.

Worried about Student Finance?

It is essential to do your research into this as many students worry about the financial implications going to university can have on their family, especially with the increased tuition fees in England. Your child will need support and guidance and probably a little help at first with budgeting. The most important thing to convey is that there is a great deal of financial help available such as government loans, scholarships, bursaries, grants and part-time work. Your son or daughter should consider going to university as an investment in their future, one which they will hopefully reap the benefits from once they graduate and enter the job market. Despite the media headlines, students should not be put off applying to higher education because of financial worries, but we suggest investigating the university finance options so your family know exactly what financial help is available. Your son or daughter may also be hesitant to apply to university due to the financial strain on the family, so it will be important to have an honest conversation about what is possible. Martin Lewis, Money sAving Expert has kindly put together his top 5 things that everyone should know about student finance in APPLY.

Alternatives to University

Schools leaver programmes, degree apprenticeships and apprenticeships are the new respectable alternatives for bright students. They enable you to kick-start your career, earn a competitive salary and gain excellent qualifications in a wide range of careers including accountancy, law, construction and finance.

There is no right or wrong choice, nor is one better than the other, but it’s important to find the right fit for you. If you’re certain of the career path you want to take and just want to get on with it, then this route could work well for you. If you have absolutely no idea, then you may want to consider a broader degree course so you can take your time while you figure things out.

You’ll find an 8-page section on the alternatives to university in APPLY, where we discuss the myths surrounding these programmes and the options available. We also have case studies from two people who have chosen to do legal apprenticeships.