5 lessons in disruption to help your child prepare for university

Tips from someone who's been there
There's a silver lining to dealing with disruption in the final year of high school, writes Professor Suresh Cuganesan, Deputy Dean (Students and External Partnerships) at the University of Sydney Business School.
Professor Suresh Cuganesan

Professor Suresh Cuganesan
Deputy Dean (Students and External Partnerships) and Professor of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Sydney Business School

As both an academic and the father of a new university student, I know how nerve-wracking Year 12 can be for students and their parents. But there's a silver lining to the rollercoaster of a final year of high school study that has been so severely disrupted: adapting to uncertainty, grit and creative problem-solving are amongst the most valuable capabilities any student can develop.

At the Business School we draw upon world-class research and the expertise of our industry partners to teach our students resilience, innovation and agility in the face of uncertainty. Here's how some of these lessons can help you guide your child through the HSC and into their first year of university.

1. Anticipate disruption

A lot can change in the final year of high school. An unexpected ATAR could open up different pathways. Your child might change their mind about a course at the last minute or a scholarship might nudge them in a new direction.

Prepare for things to change and change significantly. This is a time for exploring and there are lots of options available. Even if your child has their mind made up about what they want to study, encourage them to investigate a range of course options. Look at different admission pathways. Entry schemes, adjustment factors, transferring from related courses – there is no one standard route into university.

2. Be open to change

The career pathway you had in mind for your child may not be the one they end up taking. The career pathway you took may not even exist anymore. The jobs of the future are still taking shape – but that doesn't mean you and your child can't be ready for them.

Our degrees are designed to ready students for an unpredictable future. Look beyond subject area towards future-focused courses that will develop high-demand transferable qualities. These are employability skills, such as entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership and communication, that are valuable in any career.

Once at uni, your child can engage with industry and alumni networks and consult with career services like the Business School's Careers and Employability Office to get job-ready and discover how pathways to employment will open up whether you get into your first preference course or not.

3. Encourage flexibility, experimentation and fun

What if your child doesn't know what to do, or begins a course and then changes their mind? This is the beauty of many of the degrees that are currently offered at University: the flexibility to pursue new opportunities. Now is the time to explore, try a few things, have fun and grow.

For example, many of the University of Sydney's undergraduate programs have access to a "shared pool" of majors from across the university. This means a Bachelor of Commerce student can follow their interests in Chinese, Design, Anthropology or Software Development alongside their business studies. There are over 100 combinations, so your child can tailor a degree to their unique interests and connect with students from all kinds of backgrounds.

Combining an undergraduate degree with a Bachelor of Advanced Studies allows even more flexibility. Advanced Studies students have more time to fit in two majors, global exchanges and industry placements. It's also an opportunity to go deeper into a subject or tackle a research project.

4. Explore new ways of learning

Lecture theatres, libraries and assessments are only one part of the university experience. The students I see thrive are usually the ones who jump onto opportunities outside the classroom. Extra-curricular opportunities like clubs and societies and peer mentoring programs develop skillsets and networks that give new graduates a crucial advantage. They also provide great opportunities to meet new people and make new friends.

And apart from helping to build out the CV, gaining work experience through industry placement programs or career services allows many students to discover careers they never would have considered otherwise – or to change their minds about careers that don't meet their expectations. Some even go on to be hired by the organisations they work for during their studies.

5. Focus on the long-term goal

You already know there's life beyond the HSC, but to Year 12 students it can seem all-consuming. Look ahead and remind your child about the possibilities that lie on the other side. An ATAR is only one doorway. There are many others. How many of us at 18 could have predicted where we are now?

Whatever results your child gets, however their goals and ideas change, it's important to look for the positives. Your child may not see them clearly, so make sure you do. Focus on the long-term goal. Find success stories. Join events and talk to staff, students and alumni, or get involved in university social media communities to see what life is like beyond the "great exam".

Looking back, your child might not even remember their ATAR – but they will always remember their study tour to Singapore, that industry project with IBM, and the support of their parents at a challenging time. 

Professor Suresh Cuganesan is the father of a university student and Deputy Dean (Students and External Partnerships) at the University of Sydney Business School.

20 December 2021