Discussing tertiary education with your child

If your child is coming up to their final years of secondary school, you may be wondering when you should begin discussing their post-school options — and how. To make the conversation a little easier, we’ve provided five tips to ensure that this is a smooth process for both you and your child.

  • Start the discussion early: Although there’s no ideal time to begin discussing courses and careers, your child will usually be required to begin choosing ‘electives’ in Year 9 and senior secondary subjects in Year 10, so it is important that they have started thinking about their options by this time. Many university courses have subject prerequisites, such as mathematics for engineering and biology for medicine, so in some cases these selections will dictate what they can study beyond school. It is up to you and your child how involved you become in the selection process — whether this be attending open days and career adviser seminars with them, keeping an eye out for suitable courses or simply lending an ear and providing some advice as they make their decisions.  
     
  • Ask your child about their interests and career goals: It’s likely that your child will have a number of interests and possibly more than one career goal in mind, particularly if they are at the very start of their research process. But it’s also possible that they haven’t considered a definite career path at all — after all, this decision can be hard enough for adults. To help the process along, you might want to ask your child about what they are interested in and encourage them to think about how they may be able to translate their interests into a career. Whether this is an informal chat or a sit-down discussion is up to you. You can start with simple questions, such as whether they want a job in which they can be creative or whether they see themselves working within a more analytic or scientific role. Job Guide’s Types of Work Chart is a good place to start.
  • Investigate pathways and alternatives: It’s easy for your child to set their sights on a specific career, course or institution, so it’s important that they research all their options. For example, if they are hoping to gain entry into a particularly competitive course or one that has strict academic requirements, you might want to encourage them to put some thought into alternatives should they not gain a place in their preferred course. This may include starting out with a lower-level qualification (such as a diploma in their field before progressing to a bachelor degree), applying to a lower-demand institution for a similar course or completing a related degree before pursuing their specialisation through postgraduate study.
     
  • Explore all available resources: There is a huge number of resources available to secondary students considering tertiary education. This includes institution websites and course handbooks (the latter of which are available online as well as on campus and by post), job and career websites such as the Australian Government’s Job Guide, as well as course and institution resources such as The Good Universities Guide. Institution open days are also great opportunity for your child to speak to academic staff and current students, as well as getting a feel for what life will be like as a tertiary student. It might be helpful to encourage your child to use all the resources available to them and point out any they might not have considered.
     
  • Encourage your child to speak to their career adviser: Remind your child that their career adviser is there to help and will be able to assist them to explore their post-school options, whether they’re hoping to go onto tertiary study, begin full-time work or take a gap year. Career advisers can help with any number of things, from choosing Year 11 and 12 subjects and researching tertiary institutions and courses to selecting course preferences and exploring pathway options. Another idea is to arrange for your child to speak to someone in the industry or a family member who works in the field they are considering.

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