Off to University – but how will they manage?


By Karen Lally

In 2015, the University of Surrey conducted a UK based survey which found that ‘32 per cent of graduates believed their biggest achievement was the ability look after themselves, independently, while living away from home – despite a new student, on average, calling home 20 times a month for domestic advice’.

So, the question is, how do we prepare our offspring to take these next steps? Clearly, as parents, we are not acting in isolation. Both school and family play a huge role in preparing our students to venture out into the world as independent young people.

Preparation by school
The good news is that the IB Diploma Programme prepares our Year 12 and 13 students very well for the rigours of academic study at university. The intensity and volume of the IB trains them to be well organised and develops excellent time management skills. The style of teaching of this programme encourages the students to work independently and be critical thinkers. The large number of individual assessments (IAs), as well as the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge parts of the course, creates excellent writers. The CAS element of the programme (Creativity, Action, Service) adds other non-academic activities to school life in the senior years, producing more rounded individuals.

There is also a sense that the teaching staff treats Year 12 and 13 students as adults by the time they reach the end of their school years. They are expected to work hard and take responsibility for their future direction. This sets them up very well for university. It is then a natural move to the next stage.

Help from home
Well equipped by school, what can parents do to help their children head off on the next step of their journey? They are about to encounter a huge number of changes in their lives – university, often a new country, new friends, living independently, cooking, laundry, budgeting, the list goes on. Although we often consider that our children appear to ‘live in a bubble’ here in Switzerland, students from international schools are familiar with change, meet new people on a regular basis and both understand and accept people from places and cultures different to their own. This stands them in good stead.

On a practical level, encourage your children to be independent from a very young age, whether that be to carry their own skis or pack their own lunch. Give them the confidence to handle difficult situations by themselves, such as dealing with friendship issues or resolving problems at school.

Clearly some basic skills are essential, some more so than others. Being able to cook is a real asset, whether your child will be staying in catered accommodation or not. Teach them some basic dishes, buy them a cookbook or send them online recipes. Show them how to use a washing machine and iron a shirt. It isn’t rocket science.

Matters of finance
Handling their own finances will be a novel experience for many first-time university students, whether they have enjoyed paid work before or not. Open a bank account for them whilst still at school, so they are used to handling bank cards and statements. Discuss how to plan a monthly budget. Get any paperwork in order well in advance. There is a plethora of advice on university and student websites which will help with all of these matters – encourage the prospective student to put their finely honed research skills to good use.

Keeping in touch
Technology will be relied on heavily for keeping in touch. Some families have a fixed weekly Facetime or Skype call. Others use WhatsApp to stay in touch much more regularly. Getting a sim card for a phone in a new country can be complicated and may take some time, but Wi-Fi can be used from the outset. And as well as calls and texts, be prepared to make an occasional visit to assist with any mid-term blues and send a care package even when you have been told not to bother. No matter how grown up and independent they appear to be, they still need that contact and reassurance from home.

Whatever issues they encounter, our young adults soon learn to cope and to just get on with things. They will not starve and will have clothes to wear. They’ll have an amazing time and (hopefully) will work hard too. We have been preparing them for this next stage for a long time. It’s time to let go.

Thank you for the words of wisdom from the parents of recent La Chât graduates: Liesl Popplewell, mum of Will (2013) and Megan (2016); Karen Rigby, mum of Heather (2015) and Jenny (2017); and Tara Lissner, mum of Seán (2016).

2 thoughts on “Off to University – but how will they manage?

  1. Really enjoyed reading your article Karen. I surely agree with opening an account for them here before they leave, as this will help them with their budgeting etc.. Also I would like to point out that my daughter had not yet turned 18 when she started university, thus could not open an account in her name.


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