I attended the Seren Network Cardiff Partnership welcome event last week with one of my daughters. If you don’t already know, this is a Welsh Assembly initiative to support the most academically able students in Wales to make competitive applications to the top universities.
I was really impressed by the Seren Network event. At the very least it gave students a glimpse into the corporate world. It had all the trappings of the scientific conferences that I used to attend complete with name badges, glossy brochures, power point presentations that don’t always want to work and lots of networking whilst clutching cups of tepid coffee. The memories came flooding back! But it was a lot more than that. The students were genuinely celebrated, the opportunities were concrete (including a summer school) and clearly defined and the presentations were inspirational. The tutor from Jesus College Oxford was captivating. I was hanging on his every word and by the time he sat down I wanted to go there myself. Do you think they take (very) mature students?
The idea behind the Seren Network
In a nutshell, The Seren Network provides support and opportunities for high achieving students to take part in activities, courses and schemes that will look pretty impressive on their personal statements and make them look like the sort of candidate that admissions tutors are bowled over by.
This sort of vocabulary will not be familiar to many parents who find themselves madly Googling terms like ‘Russell Group’ and ‘super curricular’. I have already been through it once with my eldest daughter so I have a basic idea of what it all entails. And it entails a lot. That’s why I find it scary. The stakes are very high.
I can’t help but think that for parents who are dealing with this for the first time, and who have no experience of the academic admissions process, it must seem quite overwhelming. I’ve got a PhD and I worked as a senior research fellow for several years so the vocabulary associated with university applications is fairly familiar to me yet I’m still worried! Times have changed and the world of academia has moved on.
What about parents?
Whilst it is true that parents are on the periphery of this situation, because it is the student making the application and the teachers providing the guidance, they will inevitably be asked to play a role. For example, if the student needs to attend a sports club to gain some useful leadership skills, guess who ends up paying the monthly subs and ferrying them to training and matches? Who provides the emotional, financial and physical support to these young people? How many of us have had a personal statement thrust at us and felt hopelessly ill-equipped to give an opinion? My grammar and spelling aren’t as good as they should be so I couldn’t even help with that!
As the student makes the transition from school kid to university student, parents are making their own journey. They are gradually retreating from their child’s education. We get demoted from project leader to facilitator and eventually to observer, albeit one who is bursting with pride.
When your baby is first born, you are their most important educator. Just about everything that they know, from their first words to how to put on a pair of trousers, has come from you. When they are preschoolers, you are considered the font of all knowledge . You become a pro at fielding bizarre requests for information. This is when you reach your peak because it’s downhill from then on. In primary school it becomes a partnership with the teachers. In high school you begin to realise your limitations. I was a huge asset in terms of biology homework but a total liability when it came to Latin translation. And then come A levels. At this point you realise how inadequate your own education is.
The time has come to hand over the precious baton that is your child’s education to people who actually know what they are doing. We don’t relinquish our role lightly and it helps greatly to know that they are in safe hands. You can find out more about the Seren Network here.
Help and support for parents
There is plenty of help for parents who want to support their child through the university application process.
- I have a post on how parents can help with personal statements here.
- UCAS have a comprehensive guide for parents.
- Individual universities have advice for parents. This is one web page from Cardiff University and another from Middlesex University as examples.
- The Complete University guide has a useful section
- Apply to uni has a comprehensive guide for parents
This is a useful video about the Seren Network produced by them:
If you want more free tips and resources for parents of high school pupils and students sign up here!