Cast a wide net when deciding the next step

16/12/2020 - 14:00


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The pandemic has increased the usual tensions of year 12, and that’s before leavers settle on a tertiary course and institution.

Cast a wide net when deciding the next step
It’s important the university’s facilities meet your child’s needs. Photo: Stockphoto

The imminent arrival of Western Australian Certificate of Education results for year 12 students will bring with it a mix of nervousness and excitement for many households.

COVID-19 has ensured a tough final year of secondary schooling for year 12s, amplifying the traditional end-of-year tension that leaves many students feeling impatient, overwhelmed, excited, scared and emotional.

Those headed to university will soon find out whether they have been accepted by the institution of their choice to study their preferred course.

For some, the nervousness will remain right up until the first lecture in 2021, amid niggling doubts whether they chose the right university and even the right course.

It is why the Tertiary Admissions Service Centre, which makes offers of places on behalf of WA’s public universities, has ‘change of preferences’ dates built into its calendar.

It is also why university staff in WA, and indeed interstate, will be on hand to deal with hundreds of enquiries from those students who have received course offers.

With their school days behind them, many students struggle with their original preferences, not least because the support they once received from teachers and career counsellors is all but gone.

The time has come for parents to step up and be ready to offer critical and often life-changing advice to fill the void left by school leaders, teachers, and career counsellors.

While providing that support might seem daunting, there is an element of common sense about the advice that might be provided.

Most parents will likely quickly turn to university rankings. But rankings never tell the full story, and with a plethora of league tables on offer, exactly which league tables can be relied upon?

There are rankings about teaching effectiveness, graduation satisfaction, research intensity, the employment rates of graduates, and much more.

Using rankings as a guide makes sense. But parents should also turn to other sources to form a more complete picture of what is on offer at a particular institution.

For starters, dissuade your child from sticking to a university simply because most of their friends are headed there. Encourage your child to put career or life plans ahead of school friendships, at least in this instance.

Ask your child to look beyond the overall reputation of a particular university and assess the profile of the course on offer. A university’s reputation does not guarantee individual career success.

If the structure of the course and specific units of study hold appeal and ignite a sense of passion in your child, take that as a good sign.

Most importantly, drill down to how a course is taught and whether the range of learning experiences on offer aligns with your child’s learning style. Try to help your child understand how a combination of lectures, tutorials, research projects, simulations, internships, practicals and capstone projects might meet their needs.

Also look for the way the course is connected with industry or professional groups. Those connections will speak volumes when it comes to the relevancy of course content and graduate employment opportunities.

For example, many courses today offer work-integrated learning, which provides students with on-the-job experience while they pursue their studies.

More controversially, when it comes to university courses with a vocational bent, try to assess whether the teaching team has an appropriate mix of academic qualifications and industry experience.

If you are studying media and communications, for example, have at least some of the lecturers worked in the field? In the case of teaching, have some of the staff taught in schools? And in business, have lecturers held key roles in commerce?

At the end of the day, a blend of academic qualifications and industry or professional experience across those who will deliver a particular course of study is likely to provide the best possible educational experience for your young adult.

Use your own networks, too, to see if you can work with your child to locate current or recently graduated students to enable them to speak directly with others about their experiences at the institution and studying a particular course.

Hearing about a university experience from a current or former student is invaluable and often provides much more insight than reading a brochure.

Encourage your child to visit their university of choice.

Taking a look at the classrooms and the equipment available is an important step towards making the final decision. While that might not be possible for interstate universities, going online to check out images and videos, or even participating in a virtual tour, might be a suitable alternative.

And as the university experience evolves, consider what flexible options are available.

Some universities may still require full on-campus attendance, while others will offer virtual classrooms. For many adults, flexibility is increasingly becoming a key decider when it comes to selecting a place to study.

For a young adult, choosing a university is an important and difficult decision. A parent in the know can provide invaluable support to ensure a positive outcome for all.

• Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer at the Australian Institute of Management WA


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