Supporting your child's university application: advice for parents and guardians

Published on 20 March 2024

How parents and guardians can help their child through the university application process.

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Is university the right choice for your child?

Deciding whether to go to university can be a big decision and is a significant financial commitment. Your child should consider what the university experience entails before deciding if it's right for them.

They may already have a specific career in mind which will determine their path for them. Some careers need degrees, but for others, there could be more appropriate routes such as apprenticeships or practical training. There's also the option of taking a gap year too, either to save up more money, explore the world, or pursue something that they are passionate about.

Making the jump from A levels or Highers to degree-level study will take a bit of adjustment. University requires a lot more independent study. Your child will need to be disciplined enough to put in the required hours. This new level of independence can be great for some but a challenging transition for others.

For many, studying at university presents the exciting opportunity to study away from home in a new city. It's a chance to live alone for the first time, make new friends, and explore new places. However, for some, it can cause homesickness and a struggle to adjust to a new way of life. As a parent, be reassured that universities have student support services in place to help students deal with issues or challenges which may impact their studies or personal lives.

Routes into university

There are various entry routes into university. The most traditional route is from A levels in England or Highers in Scotland. Each university sets its own grade requirements, so researching individual courses is important.

Although A levels and Highers are the standard route to university, other pathways are available. Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Higher National Certificates (HNCs) are vocational qualifications that are usually studied at college.

These days, university education should be accessible to all who can benefit from it, regardless of background or economic circumstances. So even if your child is the first in the family to attend, at the University of Dundee, we are ready to nurture their potential and provide additional support should it be required.

Learn about the opportunities and different routes into the University of Dundee

Deciding what to study

Although it might seem early, when your child is around 15 or 16 they should to think about what they might like to study at university. This is because they'll need to pick relevant A levels/Scottish Highers (or the equivalent) to ensure they can continue down their chosen path of study.

Although some children will have a specific career or profession in mind which has a straightforward path (e.g. medicine), many will be less certain at this stage and need to spend some time thinking about the subjects they enjoy and possible careers. You'll be able to help them research course listings on UCAS and university websites. 

Our entry to university workbook is designed to be used by teachers with school pupils, but you might also find it helpful to use with your child, especially if they are not certain what subject they want to study.

If your child is undecided, encourage them to do some research and look beyond the subjects that directly align with school subjects. They might find their interest is sparked by an area that is new to them. You can help them research topics and careers that they might not have thought about, but make sure the decision of what to study is their own.

An important part of university-level study is learning how to think critically. Your child will also gain many transferable skills whichever subject they study. For many careers, they will find it's these skills that can get them a position. So if they don't have a specific career in mind, choosing a subject that they are passionate about and genuinely have an interest in studying will help them stay enthusiastic throughout the course.

If your child is anxious about making the wrong decision about what to study, remind them that there are very few situations that can’t be turned around later. One of the benefits of the Scottish degree system is its flexibility, so there will be opportunities to change subjects at a later date if they find their original degree not quite the right fit.

Another benefit of the four year degrees is that if your child is young, or young for their age, when they leave school, the extra year will allow them to mature.

Researching universities

When your child has decided on the area of study that most interests them, they will need to start researching universities and specific courses. Looking online at the entry requirements for courses is crucial - both for making sure they have the necessary exam subjects, and also that they are likely to gain the grades needed. It's important to be realistic as there can be a lot of competition for places, and to ensure they pick an insurance choice as well.

Comparing courses

If your child has a couple of potential courses in mind, but can't decide which to choose, it can be worth encouraging them to compare some key factors.

Researching the course content is an important part of the decision-making process. Reading the course summary and module descriptions can help your child picture conducting research in areas that interest them.

Teaching methods may differ from course to course too. Is the course lecture-based with tutorials? Or, is there a practical part with group work? People have different preferences for their learning environment.

Beyond the lecture theatre, some courses offer work placements, internships, and the chance to study abroad. These real-world experiences could be what sway your child's course choice. Some courses offer professional accreditations associated with the degree. This can be helpful if your child is set on pursuing a career in a specialised field.

Considering these factors will help applicants make the right choice for them. It will help them align their course choices with their strengths, the ways they like to learn, and their future career goals.

Student life

Look at content on the university websites and social media channels to get a flavour of what student life is like at each institution. Our student life pages explain what it's like to live and study in Dundee.

You can learn more about our compact and friendly campus and vibrant city, and get the lowdown on university life with blog posts written by our students.

UniBuddy, a chat tool used by us and other universities, allows your child to chat with a current student and exchange messages. It's a great way to gain valuable insights from peers.

Open days

The best way for your child to decide where they want to spend the next few years of their life is to visit the campus, ideally at one of our Open Days. There, your child will get the opportunity to:

  • explore the campus
  • tour some of our facilities
  • check out the accommodation
  • find out more about courses

It’s a great chance to chat with the academics who will be teaching the course, as well as to our support staff and current students.

Most prospective students bring parents with them and value the support of family members. It can be quite daunting setting foot on a university campus for the first time! It’s also great to have someone to discuss it with later too.

Although it’s tempting to take a lead in the conversations, encourage your child to ask their own questions, and find out what they want to know. You can help them prepare by discussing in advance the things they might want to find out. This should make them feel more confident.

The more interaction they have with staff and students on the campus, the easier it will be for them to decide whether a university is right for them. Encourage them to chat with the student ambassadors, who will be used to explaining things to applicants, and eager to share their experiences.

Can't attend an open day?

If you can’t attend open days – maybe you live too far away, or have to limit your visits for financial reasons - you can still use virtual tour and student life pages to get a feel for the campus. It won’t be quite like the real thing but combined with chats to students via tools such as UniBuddy, your child will be able to begin shortlisting universities.

Here at Dundee, we are also happy to take you and your child on a campus tour on a day that’s suitable for you, outside of our main open days.

Applying to university


Your child's UCAS application allows for five university choices, although they don't have to fill all slots. Predicting exam outcomes and final grades can be hard. But, teacher-provided predicted grades based on classroom performance and coursework are a valuable estimate.

A sensible approach is to include a couple of universities with slightly higher grades than predicted. Balancing these with some safer options ensures they have a range of choices based on their eventual exam results.


Once your child has chosen the universities they want to apply to, encourage them to complete their UCAS form well in advance of the deadline. Double-check deadlines. Some courses, like medicine and dentistry, have much earlier dates.

Check our undergraduate application deadline

Applying well before the deadline will also avoid any last-minute panic or tech issues!

Meeting the deadline automatically ensures your child's application will be given equal consideration by universities. Universities do not have to consider applications received after the deadline, although they can if they have spaces available once the on-time applications have been considered.

Make sure your child has any necessary references in order in plenty of time too. This should be taken care of if your child is at school, but for those who might be on a gap year, it could take a bit longer to get the paperwork in order.

If the deadline is looming but your child is not happy with their application or is missing a reference, encourage them to submit it anyway. It's always better to have something submitted before the deadline.

If your child has any difficulty submitting the form, please ask them to contact UCAS rather than one of the universities that they are applying to. University staff can’t help with this – only UCAS.

Check email

After the applications are submitted, your child must look out for any communication from their chosen universities. You’ll find this is largely done via email.

Encourage your child to get into the habit of checking for emails regularly – this is likely to be important right up until graduation!

Your questions

As your child considers their university options, you may naturally have questions as well. We understand choosing the right university is a major decision, and we're here to support you.

Feel free to ask any questions you might have about our courses, campus life, student accommodation options, or anything else before your child applies. We are on hand to take your questions, no matter how big or small.

Additionally, we're available by phone and happy to walk you through any questions you may have about your child's application journey. Please remember, there is no such thing as a question too small!

Contact the University of Dundee

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