Advice for parents about the career options for their children

The parent guide to college and sixth form open events

Collegeimage1For many parents and guardians, helping young people pick post-16 options can be a daunting experience. The good news is there are so many options available with sixth form, apprenticeships or studying at college. One of the best ways to find if a college or sixth form is right for your teenager, is to attend an open day with them. However, it's vitally important to make the most of your day.

Jane Nutt, Senior Schools and Events Officer at Central College Nottingham, shares her top tips to help you make the most of your open day…

1 - Don't delay

Go along to open days and evenings as soon as possible, as they can help with decisions about which college or sixth form is right for you. Next September may seem a long way away to many teenagers, but schools and colleges tend to hold open evenings in the autumn and spring terms ready for courses starting the following September.

Individual school or college websites should have details of available dates. Bear in mind that larger schools and colleges may have more than one date depending on the campus size and the subjects and courses they offer.

2 - Do your research

Have a good look round the website or a course guide/prospectus beforehand, so you can prepare a few questions for the day.

On arrival at the event, read the open day guide if available - it can be tempting to pop the information you're given straight into a bag and forget about it, but it's very useful to have a quick read through when you first get there.

3 - Get involved!

If there are 'have a go' activities, talks, tours or information sessions, then encourage your son or daughter to get involved. They may be shy at this stage, but it's a great way for both you and them to get a well-rounded view of what's on offer and make more informed decisions.

4 - Talk to us!

The staff at open events have a wealth of knowledge about their subject areas and will be very happy to answer your questions. Often there will be specialist advisers to talk about finance, student support, apprenticeships and more, so feel free to bring a list of questions along with you.

Where possible, encourage your son or daughter to chat directly to staff. If there are any more complex questions that can't be answered immediately, they'll be sure to give you information on what to do next.

At some events you'll also get the chance to meet current students - the insight they can give is priceless! Even if there isn't someone on the specific course your son or daughter is interested in, they'll give a good idea of what life at college or sixth form is really like. They can also explain what the style of learning is like and how it's different to school.

5 - Keep your eyes peeled

If you take a formal tour or are invited to have a walk around, have a look at the type of classrooms and workshops available. Depending on the provider, it could be very different to school!

Some colleges, for example will have professional studios for photography, a garage for automotive students and other spacious and practical workshops for things like construction and engineering courses.

While you're there, have a look at or ask about what else is on offer. Is there a café or canteen? What are the library and computer facilities like? Do they offer sports clubs or a students' union? It's all part of the student experience and so it's important to find out.

6. Get a taste for it

Some colleges or institutions will offer taster sessions or workshops where potential students can attend during the day. These taster sessions can be very valuable and give you the chance to experience a hands-on practical session, have a good look at the facilities and talk in more depth with staff and other potential students.

Taster sessions are usually free, they can typically last between 1-2 hours, but places will be limited. If you're interested in a taster session, contact the school or college as soon as possible or visit their website for more information.

What about after the event?

Aim to have a chat at home about how it went and discuss next steps while it's still fresh in your minds. What options were available, e.g. what types of courses and are they full-time, part-time, or apprenticeships? It's a good idea to get booked onto any taster sessions as soon as possible. If the young person in your care has decided about what they want to study, now is the time to apply!

At this stage if your son or daughter still isn't sure what to do, they can also speak to their school, contact the college or sixth form directly to answer any further questions, or research through other organisations such as prospects

Remember they don't have to make their final decision until they get their GCSE results in August, what is important is that they have been made an offer from the college and/or sixth forms of their choice as soon as possible during Year 11.