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Are you a parent of a teenager and worried about their studying choices after 16?

In another of life’s little milestones my niece turned 16 recently, which means that she’s joined thousands of other teenagers in Medway and Maidstone who are all eagerly trying to work out what they want to do once their GCSEs are complete, and how and where they’ll continue studying next September.

With the requirement to stay in education and training until they are 18, the pressure is on parents and carers more than ever to help their young people choose the right option. The choices seem limitless, but in reality there are three: study full-time at your local college or school, find a job for over 20 hours a week and combine it with part-time study, or enter into an apprenticeship.

I asked my brother how he’s helping my niece understand her options. Here are his five top tips:

Start at the end

Another two years in education and training can be incredibly valuable, but to help your young person stay motivated and get the maximum benefit, their study should be linked to what they hope will be their future career. If you start with their ambitions and work backwards, you can help them choose the most appropriate programmes and courses to help them reach their career goals. If they’re not sure what they want to do, most colleges and schools will have independent careers advisers to help them figure it out.

Do your research

There’s plenty of information available. Most colleges and schools have a prospectus, website, social media channels and open events to help you find out what they offer and how it might be suitable. Similarly, you can research career opportunities with businesses that your teenager finds interesting. That research is a whole lot easier if you’ve already worked out the kind of path your young person needs to take.

Plan early

Now that we’re in January, the reality of sitting GCSEs in just over five months is going to hit home, and spare time to keep researching and applying for a place is going to be hard to find. Once you’ve made your decision, apply for that place at college or school, or a job with a local business. If you can do this before March it helps your young person see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it will help keep them motivated through their exams.

Don’t be put off by change

It’s easy to sit back and let the whole process take care of itself by assuming that your young person will just carry on studying at the same place they’ve been since they were 11. But the easy route isn’t always the best, or most appropriate route. If you know that your young person wants to build towards a technical and professional career, then switching to a college or an apprenticeship could be a great step to get there. Likewise, if their current school doesn’t offer the choice of A levels they need, then there will be another one that does. Put their career at the heart of the decision, and if that involves change it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Be supportive

As stressful as you might be finding it, you can guarantee that your young person is feeling the heat too, and they’ll be looking to you for help in making their decision. Be supportive, listen, and take the time to investigate and research options with them. If they need careers advice, go with them to help ease their nerves. If there’s an open event at a college or school, go with them and ask the questions that they might be too nervous to raise. Help them balance their future goals with the more immediate ones too – regardless of which option they choose, a good set of GCSEs including English and Maths will be required and will set them up well for the future.

If you’d like more information and need to speak with someone, our course enquiries team are available on 01634 402020 or by emailing Alternatively, you can book an appointment with one of our careers advisers by calling 01634 383300.

MidKent College offers a range of post 16 options, including student apprenticeships and a large variety of college courses for you to choose from. 

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