Would you welcome your parents tagging along to an open day? Or would you be more likely to say: “please go away, you’re embarrassing me”?
Over the past decade, third-levels have gone to greater lengths to provide information for parents at open days, with some even running a two or three-day event with a greater parental focus on one of the days.
This year, with all open days taking place virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s less risk of mortification because parents can quietly participate in the event.
The student view
For Beth Doherty (17), sustainability officer with the Irish Second-Level Students' Union (ISSU) and a sixth year student at Alexandra College, involving her parents in college is a no-brainer.
“It’s common enough for parents to be involved in these decisions,” says Doherty. “I want their input and I want them to see where I am going. For others, it might be that the parents are paying their way. On the open days, my parents will be close by, perhaps with their own laptops open. The decisions, however, will still be mine - and that’s the way my parents want it.”
Matthew Colgan (17), national secretary with the Irish Second-Level Students' Union and a student at Coláiste Éamonn Rís in Wexford, says that he would like to have his parents involved but students need to set their own boundaries in consultation with their parents.
“Leaving the best is a massive step, particularly if you’re going to college on the other side of the country, as I hope to be. My own parents have only ever supported me with whatever decision I make. It’s definitely not a good idea to push a particular course on your child: it’s better if a parent can sit down and talk with them about what they want to do and why they think a course is the right call for them.”
The expert view
Neil McCann, a guidance counsellor at St Vincent's Secondary School in Glasnevin, Dublin, says that virtual open days will make it easier for parents to be involved.
“Previously, a big part of the open day was the social aspect: going with friends, looking around campus, seeing if it is the right fit. Open days are a day out for students, so while parents might accompany them, by and large they go alone or with friends. This year, the inability to visit a campus is a drawback but it means there’s no barrier to a parent sitting down with their child at the laptop.”
McCann says that parents need to walk the line between playing a key role and allowing their child to have their own experiences.
“Parents should encourage and provide support and listen to their child. They should not tell their child what to do: that’s an alarm bell for any guidance counsellor. Parents are doing it from a place of love and support but it’s important that they listen to their child. It’s okay to step and talk about realities, but don’t overegg the pudding.”
Betty McLaughlin, a guidance counsellor at Coláiste Mhuire CBS Mullingar and a former president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, agrees. "If you're invited by son or daughter, it's fine to consult and collaborate, but firstly you should listen to the young person, because that way they'll be more willing to listen and to consider your advice."
In talking to their child, what advice does McLaughlin have?
“Successful career and course choice decisions are made when a student factors in their interests, abilities and possible career outcomes,” she says. “If a student is pushed to follow their parents own interests, values or passions - rather than listen to their own hearts - then the student is likely to make a wrong decision, and that could end failing exams or dropping out of college. The cost of the students’ unfulfilled dreams and desires could cost the parents far more in the long run.
“Students need space, time, trust and support,” says McLaughlin. Young people want to receive approval and to make their parents proud of them. But they also really want to be respected, listened to and given responsibility.”
The college view: what do parents want to know, and what are colleges organising?
* Colette O'Beirne, DCU Student Recruitment: "We will have a specific session for parents and guardians to guide them on how they should support their son or daughter's path to third-level, with academic and support staff, as well as student ambassadors, on hand to answer any questions they might have on course content, choices within degrees, the differences between similar degree courses, work placements and career prospects, and more. Parents might also be interested in attending our first-year panel discussion on what it's like to be a DCU student during a pandemic.
* Sarah Geraghty, director of student recruitment and outreach, NUI Galway: "Typically parents were keen to explore details relating to fees, admissions, accommodation, careers and employability and student services - and all of these were available at the event with more information and sessions now online."
* Frank Costello, head of admissions, TU Dublin: "Our careers service advisers talk to parents about helping their son or daughter to make an informed choice that recognises their own strengths and passions. We will have content on our CAO hub during a year with a specific parents' event in January."
* Rosemary Fagan, open day project manager, UCD: "Parents will be welcome to all our open days and evenings, with some topics including helping your son or daughter to make a course choice, study abroad opportunities, understanding the application process, key information on fees, student accommodation, sports and recreation and scholarship programmes."
* Sarah Doody, school liaison officer, UL: "Last year, we introduced the parents and guardians seminar, where parents could sit down with others on the same journey. We couldn't offer tea this year, but our event is now online. It covered finance, accommodation, careers and - so important at this time - the supports available and what college might look like next year. Our student support includes the First Seven Weeks programme which helps students to settle in, with sessions on everything from academic writing to cooking for themselves."