How to Help Your Child Make the Most of Uni Open Days

Tips for parents of teenagers approaching the final years of school. By Helen Green.

Parents, I am sure, you are looking forward to your teenager enthusiastically sharing with you their planned subject choices and career aspirations, welcoming the prospect of spending quality time together on campus enjoying open days.

Back to reality. Having volunteered as a staff adviser at more university open days than I care to remember, here are a few tips aimed primarily at local students in years 10 and 11 looking to study undergraduate courses. They might help you and your teenager make the most of attending open days.

Be Informed – Research Prospective Study Courses Beforehand

Don’t visit all university open days in Melbourne. You will be overwhelmed, let alone your teenager. Pick a few, keeping in mind the breadth of courses offered, your child’s preferences, proximity to transport, fees, suitability, reputation and so on.  Hone your search and you might just be able to visit a couple of campuses in one day and feel productive.

Together with your teenager (ideally!), make a list of the faculties/schools you would like to visit and jot down some questions you’d like answered that are not available online.

Online university open day schedules are worth investigating if available. Pay particular attention to the timing of presentations from academic course directors, careers staff, sample lectures/classes, practical activities in action.

Bring your Teenager into the Picture

Some secondary students would prefer you stay at home. They would rather attend with friends or on their own.  Great – just encourage them to do some research and prepare useful questions prior to attending.

If attending with your child, encourage them to take some ownership and speak directly to staff and current students. It is about their future, not yours.

Remove the Pressure

In my experience, many young people are overwhelmed by the career choices available. The thought of ‘choosing’ their future career at 15 or 16 is confronting. As parents or guardians, we should remember that this generation of adolescents can expect to have several careers throughout their working lives, with some adopting work arrangements we’d have not thought possible and embarking on careers not invented yet, especially in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This is just the start of their journey.

Remind them that they are attending Open Days to get a feel for tertiary life and what courses are currently available. Focus on the fun parts too, such as clubs and societies, sport facilities and so on. They don’t have to select their course preferences on open day and learning what they don’t like and rather like, will help narrow the search. Be guided by their interests and strengths.

Open days arguably put the hard work of studying at school into perspective for many secondary school students.

Ask Questions

Engage with current students, course directors and faculty staff. In my experience, the students wearing colourful Open Day tops handing out balloons at the front door of the faculty and taking ‘building tours’  are a terrific resource, as are recent graduates.

Why not ask the students what they do/do not enjoy about the course, their future career/study plans, what they like about life on campus. As a parent, I would be interested in knowing what support is offered to students, such as study help, counselling, disability support, careers assistance, library resources and student employment.

If you see any academic course directors or faculty career advisers on your travels, grab them for a chat as they will be well placed to answer many important questions.

Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATAR) are indicative only and subject to change, often based on supply and demand. Be realistic when assessing courses though remind your child that their ATAR score does not define them and that alternate pathways to their preferred career(s) are often possible.

Uncover the Important Details

  • What are the current course entry requirements, prerequisite subjects, contact hours and the like?
  • What are the career outcomes for the program?
  • Is graduate employment data available for the course? Is demand for the occupation likely to be steady  and/or increase or decline?
  • Does the degree include work integrated learning – placements, internship programs, mentoring? This really adds value.
  • Is the course accredited with relevant industry bodies or in the process of being?
  • Are there alternate study pathways for entry into the course (including through TAFE)?
  • What options exist for double degrees, transfers between similar courses, postgraduate study options?

After open days have finished, your child might need to revisit their VCE subject choices or tertiary preferences in consultation with their teachers and ideally a careers professional.

Have fun. Make the most of university open days. I will be traipsing along for the ride – this time as a parent.

Helen Green is a qualified careers consultant, with more than two decades working in senior education and career program management roles. She most recently worked at Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, as the School’s Career Programs Consultant. She now runs her own careers consulting practice and has two teenage children.


Main image courtesy of Swinburne University of Technology.