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Your child is preparing to make some big decisions. As a parent, you will have many questions about the next stage of their lives. Are they ready to face the challenges that leaving school brings? What career will they choose? Which tertiary course will suit them best? Read on as we address your questions.

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Q: When should I begin discussing career and study options with my child?

A: If your child is reaching their last few years of secondary school, it’s time to start thinking about their post-school options. Exactly when you begin this discussion is up to you and may also depend on your child’s readiness. However, students begin choosing ‘elective’ subjects in around Year 9 and choose their senior secondary subjects in Year 10, so it’s important to have started discussing their tertiary study options by this point.

Q: How do I begin the discussion?

A: One way to start this discussion is to have a chat to your son or daughter about the types of jobs they are interested in and what type of work they might like to do once they have finished their studies. Consider their strengths at school, hobbies and interests at home, their personality and any work experience they’ve had so far. The federal government's Job Guide is a very good place to start.

Q: What if my child doesn’t know what they want to do?

A: Teenagers may not know exactly what career path they want to pursue after school, but they often have a good idea of what they don’t want to do and the sort of tasks they enjoy doing now. As a parent with experience in the workforce, you might be able to suggest factors other than job duties that can help them narrow the field. Is salary important to them? What hours would they prefer to work? Outdoors or indoors? Would they mind wearing a uniform? Do they like working under pressure? Share your own work story, why you chose the paths you have and any mistakes you’ve made. Even if your child is still unsure, this will nudge them a little further into their research process.

Q: How can we use The Good Universities Guide to conduct our research?

A: Whether your child is reaching their last few years of secondary school or about to walk out the school gates for the last time, The Good Universities Guide provides all the information you need — from details of courses, institutions, scholarships and careers, through to handy tips and tricks for getting into (and through) tertiary study. Using The Good Universities Guide, you and your child can:

Q: How else can I get involved?

A: While the decision is ultimately up to your child, most will appreciate you taking an interest and providing support throughout the process. You might look out for materials that can help with their research, such as a documentary or magazine article about the field they are considering, or suggest taking them somewhere where they can see the field in action. If your child is thinking about law, for example, you could take a trip to the courts. If it’s a practical discipline such as fashion design, computer programming or carpentry, think about what equipment they might need to experiment with at home.

Another idea is to attend institution open days with them. Open days involve free food, entertainment and a chance for visitors to talk to teachers and current students about courses they’re interested in. Make sure you ask questions and fill up the free show bags with brochures and course information to look over later at home. See our Open days page for dates and more information. Many TAFEs also run ‘taster’ sessions where high school students can sample classes in areas such as automotive studies, construction, horticulture and floristry. These hands-on sessions are a good introduction to the VET teaching style and a chance for young people to assess their aptitude and enthusiasm for a range of vocational subjects.

Now is also the time to ask the ‘boring’ parent questions. Will the course they need be difficult to get into? Are there jobs in the field? Have they considered the less glamorous parts of the job? Medicine may be prestigious, but it’s a poor choice for the squeamish, just as social work is not ideal for those who hate dealing with people. Encourage your son or daughter to aim for their goals, but help them work out a back-up plan and consider alternative courses or occupations they might also enjoy.

Q: What if I don’t agree with their choice?

A: Whatever obscure or out-there occupation your teenager can conceive of, someone, somewhere, is making a living out of it. Let your teenager pursue their passions and see where they lead, while there’s still plenty of time to change direction. It’s okay to ask questions and steer them in the right direction, but placing too much pressure on students to study something that they’re not interested in can backfire. Students who respond to parental pressure and choose a course they’re not interested in may end up dropping out or graduating without any desire to work in the field, with several years wasted and a sizeable HELP debt to pay off.

Q: What else can I do to help my child explore their options?

A: If you’ve read through course descriptions, visited institutions and spoken to students and teachers, another idea is to talk to some experts in the field. Who better to explain what it’s like to work in a certain field than someone who works in it? Chances are you know a lot more people in the workforce than the average school student, so this is a great time to put your networks to use. If your child is interested in becoming a mechanic, for example, see if your cousin with the car repair shop can spare half an hour to talk about their work and the industry. Most people are only too happy to talk about themselves with an interested audience and this is a great time to find out what they like the most (and the least!) about their job, how they got their start in the industry and what qualities they’d look for in a new graduate.

Another option is to organise a ‘road test’. Most students will have the opportunity to try out at least one career through school-organised work experience. Time in the workplace can open students’ eyes to the realities of the job — who knew firefighting involved so much sitting around? Or that IT could be so creative? This can also motivate them to work harder towards their goals. If your child is interested in several different areas or did not like their first pick, you might enquire whether additional work experience can be organised during the holidays. Alternatively, keep an eye out for part-time or volunteer work opportunities related to their interests.

Q: What is an entry score?

A: Entry scores are a measure of how well your child performs during their final two years of schooling. The entrance score is called the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), or the Overall Position (OP) in Queensland. These scores represent your child’s ranking against other school leavers across the state according to the subjects that they choose to make up their Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE) or Year 12 Certificate. Institutions use these scores when deciding whether to offer a place to a prospective student. Most university courses set a required score, called the cut-off score, which varies depending on the competitiveness and academic difficulty of the course. Students whose score is higher than the cut-off will get into the course, provided that they have completed the prerequisite subjects. Those who fall just below the cut-off may still be admitted based on additional selection criteria. Other courses select students using different methods, such as interviews, portfolios or specialised tests. See Getting into a course for details.

Q: How can I help my child succeed in their final year?

A: Success means different things depending on what your child wants to do. It can mean acing every subject to get into medicine or law, or simply passing so they can get their certificate and start a VET course or apprenticeship. Depending on your child’s goals, there are a few things you can do to help them succeed. You can provide a quiet place for them to study, away from distractions like television or younger siblings; ensure that they have balanced meals and get enough sleep; have realistic expectations of their final result (and keep in mind that there are alternative pathways); ensure that they maintain a healthy balance between study, work and their social life; and be supportive and encouraging.

Q: What if my child doesn't want a university education?

A: Not all school leavers go on to university-level courses. Entry to apprenticeships, traineeships or VET courses in a multitude of fields, from nursing and hospitality to plumbing and hairdressing, are a great option for those who are looking for a more practical career. As well as preparing students for a very wide range of occupations, many VET courses are now part of ‘career pathways’, allowing students to progress to higher education qualifications from VET if they wish. Often they can carry some credit from one level to the next. For example, many diplomas completed at TAFE institutes or private providers count for credit towards a university degree. See Study options for information about apprenticeships, traineeships and VET courses.

Q: What if my child doesn't do well enough?

A: Choosing the right subjects and doing them well is every student’s aim, but if your child misses out on the mark they need it's not the end of the world — even if it seems like it at the time! If your child was hoping to get into uni, there are plenty of alternative pathways available, such as foundation studies and VET pathways. Looking through information in the Getting into a course section, as well as consulting career and course advisers, should give you and your child a fairly good idea of alternative pathways. Remember that although ATAR scores might be all you and your child can think about right now, this won’t always be the case. Once your child is working or studying, ATAR scores are rarely ever mentioned again.

While there are many pathways in place that can allow your child to enter university, a university education is not for everyone. There are so many other education options with lower entry requirements that your child can explore, including more practical VET courses, apprenticeships and traineeships. If tertiary education doesn’t appeal at all, employment is another option. They could also take a gap year to give them some time to blow off some steam and decide on their future goals. It’s never too late if they want to return to tertiary study later in life, with plenty of entry schemes available to non-school leavers.

Q: How much will tertiary education cost and how do we pay for it?

A: Everything you need to know about the cost of tertiary education is found in the Funding your education section. Here, you can find information about degree costs and loans, VET costs and loans, scholarships and financial assistance options and information about student income (including tips for surviving on a student budget). The cost of your child’s education depends on a few of things, including the provider type they choose (for example, whether it is a public or private university), the level at which they study and the course they choose. Many students are able to access government HELP loans to help cover part, or all, of their tuition fees. This means that your child can choose to defer their fees until they are earning a certain income. There will also be additional costs for living expenses (if they choose to move out of home), transport and course materials.

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