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Researching colleges and universities and all the in-between from the Parents’ Perspective

By: Lindy Orchard

Lindy is a mum of a 16-year-old daughter, and works as a Student Ambassador Coordinator and NSSW Institution Officer at Truro and Penwith College. With her daughter about to enter year 13, Lindy is now at the stage where the family are researching universities and colleges. Discover how a mum prepares for her ‘Dear Daughter’ to go to university, how the family plan for open day visits, subject talks, and campus tours combined with giving lifts to friends, shopping trips, and free pasties, in this real-life parent blog post…

The announcement of the university open day…

So, it is late Monday evening and my Dear Daughter (we will refer to her as DD) walks into the sitting room and announces that she has had an email from the University of Plymouth, and the open day is on Wednesday.

I mean, I knew it was coming up, we have been talking about her university options since she went to college and I remember the first time she mentioned it. My first thoughts were “Uni! That’s not for another two years, is it?” and then she explained in her ‘you know nothing’ tone that the tutor told them they need to be looking at unis now (in year 12), and planning visits because they need to have their applications in before Christmas 2022 when she’ll be in year 13 (the actual closing date is early January 2023, but her college gets them in early).

Preparing for higher education

As a mum I thought I was prepared for this, my DD moving on to Higher Education. We have discussed degrees and her choices since she was in primary school, talking through what courses she would like to study. Over the years, this has ranged from wanting to be a Vet at aged 9 (because they earn lots of money) to a whole host of other wild and varied options to her current choice of psychology because she wants to help people.

Despite all this past discussion, it feels too fast. I think to myself, when and how did she even find out about the open days? It turns out, there are websites that list all the open days coming up such as the NSSW Events and Activities page and the Uni Taster Days search facility.

I digress, my DD forwards me the email about the open day at Plymouth. It includes a pdf booklet to plan the day and a link to a QR code for her to register when she gets there.  Thinking about the coordination of the day, the first little thing she had not thought about was she was going to get there. On a normal day, with all things going well, I could have put her on a train however, this open day was in the middle of the train strikes and, even if the trains were running, there is no guarantee they will be on time.

Luckily, her father and I could take time from work to drive her. When we discuss this, she announces that her friend needs to go too and asks can we pick them up on route! With it only adding an extra 40 minutes to the drive, how could we refuse?

Planning the open day schedule

So fast forward to the Tuesday evening – the night before the open day – I ask my DD if she has everything ready, we check the drive time and confirm we need to leave the house by 6:45am to then pick up her friend, park, and get to University of Plymouth for 9:30am.

This starts the round of questions about why we needed to be there that early, and my DD announces that she and her mate were planning on spending the afternoon in Plymouth shopping!

I now realise that she has not even opened the programme of events the university has sent through, nor looked at any of the talks running, let alone planned what she needed to do for the day! I take a deep breath and in my most patient tone suggest that we print off the programme and take a look at things.

On my second attempt at getting the pdf to print, and at a size I could read, we sit down and leaf through this 15-page document. We get a highlighter and mark all the talks and subjects she is interested in because, although her heart is currently set on psychology, she may consider doing a ‘with’ subject such as psychology with sociology.

We end up with a lengthy list including subject talks and Q&A drop-ins, campus tours, student life talks, student budgeting, careers and employability, funding, a city tour, personal statement support, study, and work abroad plus accommodation services – all things we think might be useful and interesting.

Me being me, I put together a spreadsheet to try to work out which clash, and how to get to everything. Most talks had multiple options on timings which helped, but there was still too much to be able to do it all. We went back through the list and removed anything we felt was not essential or that we already knew about. This included things like the funding as my DD had already received the session at college from NSSW outreach team who were really helpful. We were left with two subject talks, the student life talk, the budgeting talk, accommodation, and the tour of the campus and of the city.

We still could not fit it all in so decided to keep our options open as we knew we could come back on another open day if we needed to. After about 2 hours of planning, we feel comfortable and confident that we can get the important things covered at the open day.  My DD was then on the phone with her friend who is coming with us to find out what she has or hasn’t planned!

The day of the visit

Up early the next morning, thermos cups of tea in hand, we bundle into the car on a day that is going to be an absolute scorcher!  We pick up DDs friend and get to Plymouth and park only a few minutes behind schedule, walking up towards the Uni to find the obvious route onto campus blocked by building works.

We wander around the edge of the campus looking for routes in and after a few hundred meters find a gaggle of student ambassadors on a stand being helpful and pointing us in the right direction.  Top Tip – at any open day or event, if you are lost or don’t know what to do, ask one of the Student Ambassadors, as they were so helpful and can give the best hints and tips on everything around the university, from where to get the cheapest coffee to the best halls, how to make friends, budgeting and study tips.

We get to registration, a busy noisy hall with what felt like hundreds of people milling around, I have a mild panic of ‘what are we meant to do now’ and then I saw a Student Ambassador with a paddle which said ‘Next Please’! My DD and her friend showed the Ambassador their QR codes and were handed a ‘goodie bag’ which included vouchers for a free pasty for lunch.  At this point over the speaker, we heard the announcement for our first talk, and we were gently herded towards a lecture theatre.

The day was spent running between talks and sitting in the sun trying to process what we had heard.  Sitting and drinking another free tea, eating free pasties and trying to encourage DD to explore by herself.

Reflecting on the open day

Highlights of the day were seeing my DDs face when she saw the accommodation and her trying to work out if her sound system would fit in the room.

It was also enlightening to see my DDs face when she was in a Psychology subject talk where, for the first time in a long time, I saw her spark with interest and wonder. The lecturer was able to completely engage her and encouraged good group participation in a busy lecture hall. DD even volunteered an answer – I was always worried she would be lost in a crowd.

We also got the opportunity to talk with some of the lecturers on the course, my DD went and chatted comfortably with the senior somebody of something whilst her father and I were gently steered toward more free tea, coffee and pasties.

After a busy day, where we got lots of questions answered and which gave us a lot to think about, we slowly bundled ourselves back into the car and started the drive home. It is at this point my DD announces that the Marjon open day is on Saturday and can her boyfriend come with us as his parents can’t take him…

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