Karen Lomas
March 20, 2023

Careers Advice for parents supporting your child in 1st Year of University

If you are a parent of a student starting uni in 2023, you will be wondering whether there is anything you can be doing to support your child.

It will feel like only a short time ago that you were taking your child to school to join Prep, or transitioning up to secondary school. Suddenly year 12 is over and everyone survived that quite a hectic year – the school year that everyone talks about. But what about the first year of Uni? Isn’t this transition from school to university just as big a step? Is it not fair to say that at 18 years of age, your child might still feel nervous about starting something new?

Semester 1 of Year 1 at university or any other higher education institution is a period of enormous adjustment. Your child may be moving into student accommodation, so leaving home for the first time. Even if they are not moving out of the family home there’s a lot to think about. For example:

Post-Covid Confusion

I am working with a lot of 19 to 21-year-olds at the moment. So many self-report that they are Anxious to a greater or lesser degree. Many are giving themselves a 2/5 for several of the items on my 12-item Career Adapt-Ability Scale (Savicas, adapted by MacIlveen). The items of concern to them (and to me on their behalf) are regarding:

Preparing for the future

Becoming aware of the educational and vocational choices that I must make

Making decisions by myself

Counting on Myself

I always spend time talking to them about how they have responded to the questionnaires/activities that I set for school-age and tertiary-level young adults. Their answers are important clues as to their career confidence and career clarity. It’s a great idea for a new tertiary student, commencing this year, to make a strong start. This is because they can be sure to understand the language of the tertiary sector, the rules within the course for which they have accepted their offer, and all of the options that exist within the course over the duration. Without this early preparation, they can find themselves in their graduating year, not at all happy with where they are, what they’re doing and where to go next.

The Early ConsiderationsSpecialist Versus Comprehensive courses

Does your student child/young adult know whether they have to choose some of their subjects, or units of study, for their first year?

Some Specialist courses have several Core Units. A Specialist course is one where some key subjects are essential for a particular profession. For example, if your child knows they definitely want to work in Education, they might study for an Education course – Associate Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, etc. Core units are therefore required as key elements of the entire course.

In year one, several, or even all of the units of study are fixed in stone – non-negotiable. Even so, there are both Lectures and Tutorials to attend and so lots to fit into the week. Some universities provide lectures a few times across the week and maybe even ‘after-hours’ so that there are choices of times to attend. This works well for working and mature-age students.

Students need to go into their university student portal and request which lecture times they prefer. Tutorials are also typically scheduled several times across the week because these are designed to be small group sessions. Again, choosing a preferred day and time is important. That’s because some tutorial times might clash with other subject lectures. Or your child might have a part-time job and so not have as much flexibility as others. Students must log in early to nominate their tutorial times as they fill up quickly.

Comprehensive courses, such as a broad Arts, Business, or Science course may have some core or prescribed units of study. But there are often not as many core or prescribed subjects. This is because in a comprehensive course, students are able to choose from lists of Major and Minor streams and so in the first semester of the first year they can try a few different units and then begin to specialise later.

This is where many students that I am working with at the moment are getting very stressed about – they may have several core units towards a Major on their transcript, but have decided that they don’t in fact enjoy that Major and don’t want to continue. Sometimes they tell me they would rather drop out of their course, than carry on. This is a big decision when they have already spent 2 or 3 years at university and have used up a lot of their student loan.

Be Prepared – Find Support

Going unprepared into anything at all is daunting, not least starting a tertiary course. Once week one of semester 1 is underway, it’s all systems go. Your child will have several lectures and tutorials and they will immediately be writing up a lot of notes and reading a huge amount of content. They may begin to feel that they’re in a gallop of a pace that is taking them incredibly quickly on a path to who-knows-where. Typically, there isn’t nearly the same level of support at university as there is in school and it is often quite hard to know where to go to find answers to questions.

Your child is by now, assumed to be an adult and capable of working things out for themselves. But that doesn’t stop you, their parents, from providing some scaffolding around your children. You may remember your teen self in their shoes, so you’ll know that it’s hard to ask for help when everyone around you seems really busy with their own stuff. But if you find the ‘language’ and the rules of university confusing, then we can be of help too. So much has changed in recent years, with respect to the tertiary sector and we are well-versed in all of this. Also, if you are, like me, a migrant from another country, you may find the language of the entire education system (see the media regarding the ATAR, for example – more of that in my next blog).

As a member of CICA, the Australian Council of Career Development, Karen receives constant updates and briefings from the tertiary providers. It is also required to offer best-practice coaching support, through ongoing professional training. Supporting young students is what I love doing, so please reach out to me if you have any questions.

Contact us via our website contact page, to find out more about supporting your child in their transition to higher education university courses.

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