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How to Help Your Teen Choose the Right Degree

Helping your child decide on something that has an impact on the rest of their life is an agonising dilemma for parents. Zoe Thomas gets guidance from experts.

If your sixth-former has not mapped out their life yet, they are not alone – many of us parents are still waiting for that lightbulb moment. But panicking about the future of our offspring is part of the package for the modern parent.

Some 16-year-olds seem to have it made – driven by a particular passion or talent, they have known exactly what they want to do at university since nursery.

Others, though, come from a broader church of aptitudes and interests, or maybe they are still looking for their inspirational topic. There are lots of things to think about if they don’t have the foggiest idea of what they want to study at university…

South Hampstead High School in London starts equipping its pupils for life beyond their school years from Year 7 via its Futures Programme, which is set to start at junior-school age from this September.

Dr Rachel Osborne, the school’s director of careers and higher education, sees similar numbers of pupils who know what they want to do at university and those who have no clue whatsoever.

“You get both ends of the spectrum in every year group,” she comments. Whittling down possible course options is all about research, steers Osborne. “A-level subjects are specifically about the exam, whereas one tiny bit of your syllabus could be a huge thing out in the real world,” she explains. “There are so many degree subjects that are interesting.”

Instead of sticking with economics, geography or biology, you could do a geophysics degree, suggests Osborne, who is keen for pupils to see beyond the school bubble. Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs ( are a great way of trying out subjects that aren’t taught in school.

Run by universities and museums across the world, these university-level units are free and vary in length and levels. “Download the app on to your phone and do them on the bus on your way to school with your headphones on,” suggests Osborne.

Online tools using subject libraries can come up with degree suggestions based on A-level combinations. “We use Unifrog,” comments Osborne, who has rolled out the system from Year 7 at South Hampstead High School, starting with pupils filling out their skills and competencies…

Still stumped? Do not panic. “At 16 years old, it’s perfectly normal not to know what to do,” comforts Osborne, plus there is always a constructively used gap year to consider. “Explore what you want to do, cement your ideas or completely change your mind. There is always another plan.” 

Dr Rachel Osborne is South Hampstead’s Director of Partnerships & Employability. The full article first appeared in The Telegraph in September 2019: read more

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