What To Expect When You’re Expecting…Your Son/Daughter To Go To University

What to expect, when you’re expecting … Your son/daughter to go to university

Not only have I been a university academic (in Australia & Canada) for approaching 25 years, but I am also mother to a daughter who is now in her second year of university and a son who will graduate from high school this year and plans to go straight on to university.

I wrote this blog from my perspectives as mother, professor and employability researcher. My hope is that this blog will address the following questions and others.

  • What do you need to know to help your son/daughter navigate this journey?

  • What is your role as parent?

  • How can you help your son/daughter plan now, so that career success follows university graduation?

  • Will your son/daughter be okay in this next phase of education?

Research clearly shows that university enrolment is a wise decision. Overall, university graduates have higher – quality of life, overall happiness and lifetime earnings. They positively contribute to the nation’s economy and increase knowledge capital, producing notable impact in all facets of life.

However, completing a degree is not an easy undertaking. At many universities worldwide, the first-year dropout rate is close to or above 50 per cent. Student stress is high. In most countries 30 per cent of people have not secured full-time employment four months after graduating from university.

While these figures are alarming, there are many things you (and your sons and daughters) can do to ensure your family is on the positive side of the statistics.

1. Encourage your son or daughter to get involved and connected from Day One and seek a well-rounded experience throughout university

Research studying people who dropped-out in their first year of university and/or completed their first year, but did not come back for a second, shows that they usually have two factors in common. First, they expressed feeling disconnected.

Second (and closely related), they did not feel like they belonged.

It is very important that university students feel connected to the experience, and the most successful way to do this is through joining extra-curricular activities.

Students who play sport or music, participate in drama or dance, and join clubs and student societies tend to experience much greater success in university overall. They stay in school because they feel like they belong there.

Not only is their student experience more rewarding, but so too are their career outcomes. Employers are increasingly vocal that they want “well-rounded” employees.

They expect university graduates to have well-developed ‘soft skills’ and attributes such as proficient communication abilities, problem-solving capabilities, confidence and ability to demonstrate their motivation.

Many parents have to let go of notions that only grades matter. Many employers are now short-listing OUT applicants with the highest university grades (particularly if these students do not have other involvements, memberships and accomplishments to put on their resumes).

Employers say that exclusive focus on study interferes with the positive development that a well-rounded university experience can offer.

2. Encourage your son / daughter to become aware of and use the numerous services and supports offered by universities.

High drop-out rates and severe consequences of student stress have not gone un-noticed or un-actioned by universities. Universities offer a wide variety of services and supports to students.

Students of all kinds are using these services and should not feel any sense of stigma or embarrassment. Students with specific exam stress visit counsellors, as do students with mental health diagnoses.

Students who are at risk of failing visit Student Learning Support Officers (or their equivalent), just as do students who want advice and specific feedback to move from earning B’s or Distinctions to A’s or High Distinctions.

The other service / support that should be accessed early-on (in the student’s first semester) is the University Career Centre. Many students only drop-by the Career Centre in their final semester when they start feeling anxiety about finding a job with graduation looming.

This is really too late. Having informed conversations with Career Experts can help navigate a career-development pathway across the university experience. For example, the University Career Expert may suggest certain courses, networks and extra-curricular activities that increase career prospects and gain employers’ attentions.

Employers highly value internships and work experience and it is the Career Centre that will help make this experience happen for your son or daughter. However, they have to plan early to fit this experience into their degrees.

3. Allow your son / daughter independence and adult rights, freedoms and responsibilities.

This is a hard one for many parents. Highschools made you feel neglectful if you didn’t participate in parent-teacher conferences and keep on-top-of every one of your child’s assignments.

Truthfully, beyond (perhaps) the initial campus-tour, most (if not all) universities do not want parents on-campus or on the phone (except in rare, extreme circumstances such as where your son or daughter’s health or safety is at high risk).

In short, you are cut-off.

However, you can be a supportive guide-on-the-side. Keep communication channels open. Listen. Listen. Listen. Try to keep judgment out of the interchange.

Ask lots of questions, including where (through the university) your son or daughter might access supports. Celebrate his or her successes and be empathetic about his or her struggles. There is so much to learn at university, including what he or she might NOT want to study or pursue as a career. It is common for university students to change their minds about majors and pathways multiple times.

People don’t know what they don’t know. For example, a student might think that it would be prestigious to be a lawyer or doctor, but might find the legal studies boring, or pass-out the first time they see blood in a lab.

Conversely, students may take options (electives) that they had not considered as careers and discover their true passions.

Furthermore, university graduates can have numerous career changes in entirely different industries or with radically different roles and responsibilities. Digital innovation is rapidly changing education and careers, opening-up new possibilities and opportunities at an accelerating rate.

Your role as parent is to show your son or daughter that they have your unconditional love and support. They need to know that you will trust them to find their way and understand that they need to make changes and even mistakes along the way in order to learn.

University is an exciting adventure for our sons and daughters and for us as parents.

What to expect, when you’re expecting …
Your son or daughter to go to university?

Probably, similar to what you discovered after that expected baby was born …

Life is seldom predictable.

Your son or daughter’s developmental journey brings colour to your own life.

And we need to let go, and enjoy the ride.

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