Should you bring the parents?

Is it a good idea for parents accompany their children to college open days?

 

Is it mortifying to bring mum to the open day? Would it be a social disaster to be seen with your dad?

Not so much, say some students. Ben Smith, a first-year student at UCC, had no problem bringing his mother to the open day a few years ago. Jane Hayes-Nally, a fifth-year student and the former president of the Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU), says that bringing a parent along may help some students stay focused.

Dr John McGinnity, head of admissions at Maynooth University, says that students make up 99 per cent of visitors on Friday’s open day but that parents and guardians account for between 30 and 40 per cent of visitors when open day is held on a Saturday.

“Parents or guardians should not make a decision for their child but they can be a welcome and supportive voice,” says McGinnity.

“Sometimes parents see it as a household decision because there are financial and logistical implications including around accommodation. It is different for every family unit but, often, the applicant and their parents or guardians look at their separate schedules and then go off in their own directions, perhaps meeting up for some of the talks.”

There has been a 40 per cent increase in demand for college counselling services over the past 10 years, and the transition to third level can be tough. Most third levels now have good transition and support programmes in place but parents and guardians, understandably, want to know about them – particularly if their child is any way vulnerable or has suffered with mental health problems. They’re keen to hear what will happen if the student is struggling and not settling in.

Parents and guardians also want to find out if there will be a year abroad or work placement as part of the degree and what this might involve. They also tend to ask about the drop-out rate on courses and the pathways to postgraduate study and work.

They ask about the SUSI grant and whether their child might be eligible, as well as whether they have the right Leaving Cert subjects to be eligible for the course.

“We might think that applicants want to work through all of that themselves, but parents and guardians have an interest in it too and further discussions will take often place in the car or on the train home,” says McGinnity. “It is important, however, that the applicant has done their own research, using the skills they have been learning since TY, and digital tools like Qualifax.ie and CareersPortal.ie. Then they can touch base with their parents or guardians.”

The phenomenon of “helicopter parents”, who hover over their child’s life – particularly their education – is well documented, so isn’t there a risk that a parent will swoop in and take over?

“We find that many applicants want to make the decision in an independent way. But lots of parents or guardians are keen to support their sons and daughters. That said, in school the parent or guardian often negotiates any difficulties but in third level, the student does have to deal with it themselves. If the student becomes uncomfortable and feels that the parent or guardian’s influence on their decision is not optimal, that’s when it becomes unwise and may be time to step back. But, generally the parents or guardians are a supportive voice rather than a negative influence.”

Still, readers won’t be shocked to hear that some parents are too controlling and never know when to butt out of their adult children’s lives, so it’s no surprise that some can push the college applicant in a direction they don’t want to go.

McGinnity accepts that there can be an unwitting pressure coming from parents or guardians. “You may find dilemmas around the choice of degree or the choice of subjects.

A student may be interested in a particular area but the parents or guardians “might feel it doesn’t have a close relationship with the jobs market. Conflict can also arise if a parent or guardian is only interested in courses that require high points but the applicant themselves expects to get average points.

“It’s important that the CAO choices ultimately capture a mix of aspiration, realism, and safety net courses, with the key being to put choices down in order of genuine preference.”

Most higher education institutions, including all of the universities, now organise talks and events for parents at open days, and there is usually a schedule done up with information specific for parents and guardians.

Still, when it all comes down to it, isn’t a bit embarrassing for teenagers to have their parents tag along? Not if there are some basic ground rules. “You’ll find applicants and parents or guardians often come in together but the applicants tend to move towards the back and the parents to the front,” says McGinnity. “The applicant may have met a friend at the event and they’ll want to give their child space. Other times, they may want to be close to their parent. Ultimately, it is wise for the parent or guardian to appreciate that their son or daughter is transitioning to a more independent adult and, to be mindful of that, they need to step back and allow applicants to take the lead and ask the majority of the questions.”

Panel: The student view

Jane Hayes Nally, fifth year of secondary school: I have gone to the UCC and Trinity Open days and will be looking at some colleges outside Ireland. I would take my parents with me because I think they may know a bit more than I do. It’s easy to go off with your friends and have a vision of yourself in college and how great it will be, but it’s no harm to have someone with you who is a bit more critical. There is a lot to consider before choosing a course and parents will know how you might get on in a particular institution and perhaps ask questions you may not think of: the modules, the accommodation and the hours per week. I don’t know of friends who brought parents but it could help you focus rather than just have a fun day out. Yes, there can be an embarrassment factor but that can depend on how mature you are and how you approach the day yourself.”

Ben Smith, first year of college: “I’m studying a BA International at UCC, living just 10 minutes away on the bus. I was always fairly sure that I would go to UCC. I went to the open day in fifth year with friends and, in sixth year, with my mum. It helped me stay on task, and my mum is not possessive or pushy, so I wasn’t worried she would take over. That said, if a parent is pushy, it might not be the best thing for them to attend the open day. It comes down to parents having a healthy understanding of how to guide their kids. I also felt that, because I was living at home, it was helpful for her to have an understanding of how my college day would look. I wasn’t embarrassed at all about being seen with a parent.”