Working with unemployed grads and post-grads for a couple of years, 3 points stick with me:

  • If you’re not from a background where networking plays a part in social advancement, then you need to learn guerilla networking
  • Kids need encouragement to express themselves fully. One computing science MSc had shied away from mentioning the games he’d made at the risk of sounding stereotypical. They demonstrated vivid creativity and when he started to enthuse about them, his personality shone. Being more fully himself at an interview got him a job with a computing giant.
  • The hardest kids to help place were often perfectly nice, but not fully immersed in their subject of study and with no sense of wanting to probe deeper and deeper into it. You didn’t feel they’d get sufficiently inside a problem to solve it.

Something people often overlook when they’re thinking of subject choices and universities, I think, is that your kid could be absolutely brilliant at anything. And that finding this ‘anything’ – your flow, your buzz, your being in the zone – is the key to working your socks off, and living something approaching a happy and productive life. It could be anything from diesel engine maintenance to haiku poetry.

And the evil paradox of parenting, is that while we want to protect our little darlings and hold them close and dear, we also need to prepare them to go off and be independent citizens, self-sufficient and assertive. We want the world to treat them well, and for us to feel proud of who we’ve produced. Powerfully and often unconsciously, we won’t want them to repeat our mistakes.

All these conflicting emotions come to the fore when confronted with unexpectedly bad – or good – exam results…  Just how ambitious should you be for your kid and how much should you attend to what they really really want?

And each university will have systems and cultures, while our kids will have their tribes: an indie loving hipster may hate a collegiate system in a trad uni, and the wearing of gowns and flowers for exams maybe, while an art-house movie-loving biology student may find fewer tribe members on a science dominated campus.

Parents and students are now paying customers of universities; but that doesn’t mean that because you’re paying you’re guaranteed a stellar and lucrative career as a city solicitor – when secretly you want to be Sue Perkins or Jenson Button.

So summing all this up, I’d suggest:

  • Remember the subject isn’t the be-all and end-all. Most departments will have flexibility to change.
  • What you see in great marketing is not what you necessarily get. Campuses have a vibe. Drop everything and visit the prospective uni. Can your kid picture themselves there? ( I’ve found boys  respond well to a prospect of girls from Fulham, intent on studying Art History )
  • On many courses,  your little darling may have well under 20 contact hours a week. That means there is a heck of a lot of time to hang out with peers, who will be highly influential in your little darling’s experiments with adulthood and encourage them to the library, or otherwise. What would attract these peers to the uni?
  • Career patterns have changed and it’s anticipated that this generation will have 7 or 8 different job transitions. They can expect to be learning for the duration

Ps. As well as helpful people at the individual universities and clearing, The Student Room is useful.

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