Welcome to our blog for parents. I'm Sue Heggie. I've worked in education in many guises, but in this blog I'm writing primarily as the parent of a tertiary student to help you understand the nitty gritty of the university journey. My aim is to assist you to make the most informed decision about your teenager’s journey towards university enrolment and beyond.

Helping Your Teen Prepare For Uni

November 23, 2016

November is the time of year when exams are nearly over and students are signing their accommodation contracts and dreaming of their new flats and friendships and becoming uni students. The American movie in their heads is yet to be tarnished by the grubby flatmate who never does the dishes or by the flatmate who plays music very loudly before the exams. Reality can often be very different from the fantasy.

However, everyone is unique and some students fly off and never look back, others become terribly homesick but overcome this by the end of the first semester. Almost everyone makes new friends eventually, gets to grips with the study and settles in pretty well.

(Refer back to other posts like What Adolescents Really Need From Parents or Stand By Me-Helping Teens Through Tough Times if you think your teen is beyond simply having a” blue” day and needs much more support wrapped around them.)

I would like to recommend to parents the following book as a good read for helping your teen make the transition. Irene Madjar and Elizabeth McKinley in their book Unibound comment, "..transition from school  to university is a time of excitement, anxious anticipation, planning, preparation and the eventual encounter with the reality of university study and student life." (Unibound Students' Stories of Transition from School to University. Edited by Irene Madjar and Elizabeth McKinley.)

Here are a few tips that might help.

- Keep connected, but not too connected! Encourage them to stay at uni for the first 4 weeks at least. It’s the best way to adjust and meet new people.

- Model strong communication skills. According to the American College Health Association, 72.5 % of students say they get most of their health information from their parents. Show that it’s okay to talk about sensitive and emotional subjects and that it's fine to disagree and be upset.

- Talk about the budget. Discuss what is expected financially from each person. Figure out living costs and spending money well in advance.

- Review previous house rules. You and your teen will notice a significant change when they arrive home for the Semester 1 break. It’s realistic to keep the basic “empty the dishwasher” rules, but some rules like curfews may have to be re-evaluated altogether.

- Don't panic if your teen finds the course is not for them. They need at least one semester to try a course out and many students change direction after the first year.

With independence and freedom comes self-discipline; no-one is on their back but this is counterbalanced by the responsibilities of cooking, budgeting, making friends, coping with stress and assignments, and generally looking after themselves.

In chapter 9 of Unibound, Poloma Iosefa reflects on the failures of his first year.

I left with pens, books and good intentions but we would all meet up and start laughing and then say, "Aren't you going to class?" "Nah, I'll miss this one and go tomorrow." One missed class turned in to quite a few and that was it.

Try to convey to your teen that a full-time course is just the same as a job but that the hours are more flexible. And speaking of jobs, for a first-year student I would recommend no more than 12 hours of work outside of university, at least until they settle in.

At AUT's Scholar Support team, we see the ups and the downs every semester. We celebrate those who bombed out completely in Semester 1 but made a great comeback in Semester 2, and worry about the ones who seem to have been okay in Semester 1 but then got off track in the second semester. Failing a paper is not the end of the world, although of course it is an added expense. Many students get a shock when they fail and this can spur them on to do well in the future.

No two students are the same but a few basic principles like seeking help early, attending group workshops for basic things like essay structure and mixing with committed students all help.

The final word goes to Poloma Iosefa,

If you are at university you are on the right track, but you have to do the work to pass. Remember why you are at university and who you are doing it for. You are studying not only for yourself but also for your family and especially for your parents who have gone all out to put you there. Friends come and go. They have their own paths. Your family will always be there, on the same path as you.

Poloma went on to be a highly successful student. As always, any advice you have or experiences your teen has had add to our collective knowledge.

Scholarships and the Gender Gap

October 4, 2016

I have been fortunate to be a part of scholarship application review committees over many years and having just completed reading many hundreds of applications, I’d like to make a few comments that may be of use to you and your teen.

Far fewer boys than girls apply for undergraduate school leaver scholarships.

I suspect that most scholarship information sessions at secondary schools are during the lunch hour and many boys have to make the hard decision between eating lunch and playing sport/music/hanging out with mates or going to a meeting to find out scholarship information. One student I asked about this blamed his mother, saying “Mum didn’t fill out that form”.

Nikora, (front right) did get a scholarship so must have taken time out from playing rugby to get the necessary information.


This is an example of a heading in a scholarship application form- Sporting Contribution:

Details please!

Often when boys do apply, they don’t include enough detail to assess the level at which they are doing an activity. They put soccer as an activity that they participate in but don’t say whether it’s the third grade social team or that they are representing New Zealand. I’m not exaggerating here, one male applicant did put “soccer” and it was only by reading his references that I realised he played for a provincial team and was in a NZ squad.

Another example is the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Girls will tell you they have completed Bronze and Silver and are currently completing Gold and that they are taking a group of students into the bush for a camp, what they packed, what’s for lunch… etc. Boys tend to put the abbreviation D of E. Full stop. Many boys need to expand their extremely succinct answers. Conversely, we are usually not looking for anything over the recommended word count so for your girls, forget the essay.

To get the picture, see below my son’s recent series of texts to me. These are not edited.

Alg! (Translation, all good)


Good thanks!

Think so!

Omw (Translation, on my way)

As you can see they are all responses to questions I’ve asked. I have to make them up just to make sure he is still alive.

He is clearly fond of the exclamation mark and doesn't like to go above the two word count. My friend’s daughter, on the other hand, uses texts, calls, Snapchat, Facebook and Skype and that’s before morning tea. I’m not even allowed on my son’s Facebook. I do not have room here to provide an example… she received numerous scholarships by the way.

Some further tips when making an application

It is really important to include detail so that the reviewer can see that you have been, for example, coaching for a sustained period of time or that you have been in the orchestra for five years and so on. It is also useful to state clearly that you are, for example Head Student of a school with a year 13 cohort size of 500. It can put a different perspective on a leadership position depending on the size of the school.

Sincerity is key too. To copy and paste chunks of sycophantic brochure and advertising material reeks of insincerity. Something short and honest works much better.

You can be proud of achievements without sounding arrogant or brash.

Closing Dates

Nearly all school-leaver scholarships close in the year prior to university enrolment. Typically, at AUT, most close on September 1. An application requires a considerable amount of work and when referees are required, even more so. I cannot think of a university that will accept late or incomplete applications. When the applicant uses the wrong university name it is also a hint that they were in a rush and applying to several universities!

Frequently an ID number is required so the student needs to make an application to the university as well. These things need to be completed in plenty of time.

Scholarships Typically Based on Year 12

Nearly all of the school-leaver scholarships are based on Year 12 results so that the student may receive the award in the school prize-giving ceremony in Year 13, so remind your teen how important it is to do well in year 12 and not just make a late run in Year 13. Some prize-giving ceremonies will be taking place as early as the first week back in Term 4, (that is the week after next).

Handy Resources

AUT has an excellent database so getting to know what is available early and being prepared is a useful piece of advice to pass on to your teen. However, it is up to them to do the research and ensure they know when the closing dates are. Another very useful general website is Careers NZ.

Having said all that, I have been stunned, amazed, and am utterly admiring of the student achievements I’ve read over the last few weeks. Many, many students not only maintain a very high academic record but also work voluntarily in the community or at school, hold leadership positions and take part in cultural and sporting activities to a very high level. In addition, many also have a keen sense of social justice and an interest in caring for the environment.

They have so much energy and talent I sometimes wonder when they have time to sleep.  Trouble is, it makes the decision-making for awarding the scholarships so very difficult. A good problem to have I guess.

Last year's Scholars Welcome- it won't be long before we are welcoming the new school leavers. 79 days until Christmas....


From there to here - the journey of Joshua Iosefo from school to graduation

August 31, 2016

Around three years ago a friend sent me the video clip below. I had the privilege of watching a young man from Mt Roskill Grammar give a speech as part of his responsibility as a prefect in Year 13.  It made the news and has had 118,605 views on that programme alone. His school friend videoed it too and that screening has had 123,064 views - watch the 5-minute video below.

Joshua chose to come to AUT to study a Bachelor of Communication Studies and completed the degree last year. He was selected on behalf of the Bachelor of Communications Studies student body to speak at their graduation. I find both his speeches very moving and inspiring. It is interesting to watch the boy become a man. I didn't really think very much about my son's (Sam) progress from Year 13 to graduation but Joshua's videos have made me think more about the man Sam has become, his developing passion for social justice, for environmental issues and for a more peaceful planet. Graduation is an important day in their and our lives because it marks another transition into the world of work and gives a moment to pause, congratulate them on their effort and hard work, and appreciate the young adults they have become.

We always take photos of our children starting school and progressing to high school. I don't think I took any of Sam starting out at uni. Maybe we should.

Here is Joshua's graduation speech reflecting this transition.

As graduation nears for many of our sons and daughters, their thoughts are turning to the world of work. To ensure that they have the best chance of securing their dream job, I suggest they visit the AUT Employability Lab, The AUT Employability and Careers team is here to give your son or daughter the support to become a highly employable and well-rounded AUT graduate. Our friendly employability and career specialists focus on helping students develop the skills to stand out to employers when looking for a work placement or graduate job.

As they explore and research their options, we as parents need to stand back a little but we may still be able to assist with our own contacts and networks to help them get the start they need.

My Sam has taken a job on minimum wage but one that enhances his plant knowledge as an ecologist. He continues to apply for jobs that use more of his skills. He has had several interviews so far and these all hone his interviewing skills and experience. He is prepared to leave Auckland, although that is not his personal preference, and understands that he may not get the perfect job straight away. We need to support our children through disappointments and encourage resilience to rejections as some companies don't even acknowledge an application. That's life and you just have to persevere.

As parents, we can help by checking their CV and encouraging them to do some research, some networking and some cold calling which may not come easily to more reticent students. Next month AUT scholar support is running alumni panels on each campus for scholars but they are able to bring friends. The panels will be AUT graduates who will tell their story about entering the workforce. None of their stories will be straightforward or smooth because most of us don't just walk into a perfect job with a fabulous salary.

Mind you, we can always hope our child is  the next Mark Zuckerman who debuted on the rich list at the age of 23 with a net worth of $1.5 billion...At 24, my son is already too old!

mark zuckerberg with flying money

As always, I welcome stories and shared wisdom from parents about their own experiences with their children.

It's time to celebrate - it's graduation time! There is magic in the air.

August 1, 2016

The photos say it all. This is the time when the parents just get to stand proudly alongside their children as they receive their reward for their hard work. The hood and gown symbolise this as your young adult moves into a new stage.

There is considerable history behind academic regalia. Some hoods have fur around them and I have heard two theories about this. The first is that the fur indicates that this is your first degree and so you are a fledgling bird and the second is that as a first degree you are furthest from the fire of knowledge and need the fur to keep warm. All undergraduate degree holders wear a hood and this needs to be worn correctly so that half colour and half non-colour is showing. The easiest way to put this on is the way you put a bridle on a horse! That is, stand with the hood facing and then "throw" it over the head and let it fall naturally across the back.

Doctoral students get to wear what looks like an old-fashioned hot water bottle on their heads...and often they have beautiful strips of silk down the front of their gowns, the colour denoting the faculty they studied in.

Colours do matter. Unfortunately you can't choose a hood to match your outfit. Each faculty has specific colours and the students wear hoods that denote their degree. For example, Mathematical Science gets to wear "neon pink". It is quite useful to take the list with you to the graduation ceremony so that you can see what the students have studied.

Degrees are a part of you for the rest of your life. They cannot be taken away, they don't have a shelf life. They indicate to employers that you have ability and stick-ability to see a programme through. Congratulations to everyone on this important day!

It's a family affair


Friends for life


And on that happy note, have a wonderful graduation celebration. Please feel free to post your young person's graduation photo here and tell us how it felt (I admit, I cried...). Sue

The exams are over - what did your teen learn?

June 28, 2016

Advice about coping with exams really needs to begin at the front end of the semester as last-minute advice is almost always too late. So this week I'm making suggestions about being ready to go in semester two right from the start.

In the end, it is the spade work your teen has put in well-before the exams that will determine success or failure so if they are stressed and anxious because they have skipped class, burnt the candle at both ends and so on, the last exams would have been a very anxious time.

I encourage you to point out the Study Smart workshops available on a continuous basis at AUT that they could take up in early second semester if they haven’t settled in the first semester or they were disappointed with their results. At the risk of sounding like an old person, I would like to emphasise the message that university is hard work. You need to put the hours in in order to succeed and while there are lots of support services, your teen needs to attend classes, engage with the lectures and do the follow up.

Preparation from day one is usually the key to success, and I’ve just finished reading an American article called The 14 Habits of Top College Students.

In summary they are:

  • Have a schedule
  • Divide up the tasks
  • Be organised
  • Hang out with smart friends
  • Don’t kid themselves
  • Manage feelings
  • Challenge themselves
  • Be consistent and persistent
  • Be open to feedback
  • Ask when they don’t understand
  • Don't be shy
  • Look out for number one
  • Keep themselves in tip top shape
  • Have a goal-plan

The list above isn't a quick fix list. It is something students work on so you could perhaps encourage your teen to develop one or two things on the list that might be a weakness for them for next semester.

I have talked to students who want academic support late in the semester but who have chosen not to go to lectures because they were too early in the morning. I have had a student come to me wanting help with an essay that was due in two hours’ time. Suffice to say that is too late and the non-attendance is a choice they have made (unwisely). It is critical to identify problems early on and get help as soon as possible after the first small assignments.

If you think that during these last exams your student was suffering from more than the usual and completely normal stress or anxiety, go with your gut feeling and get support. Our Student Services can be a good starting place.

Next semester AUT is offering free 'mindfulness courses' to students in return for being evaluated as part of a research project. Mindfulness, while the trendy word of the moment, has now a substantial body of scientific research supporting its beneficial effects. If you think your teen might benefit, perhaps encourage them along.

An invitation to learn Mindfulness - and participate in research.

An opportunity for your teen?

  1. We are inviting AUT students who have not practised mindfulness before to take part in a six-week Introduction to Mindfulness course (normally $230). The course involves six 2-hour sessions where you will learn to be mindful - at home, work and at play.
  2. Mindfulness means being focused on the present moment – in a relaxed, receptive and open way. There is increasing evidence that it can assist people’s general health and wellbeing.
  3. If your teen  wishes  to take part or would like more information, please ask them to contact :Dr Tamasin Taylor (Research Officer): of Psychology, AUT, North Shore Campus

In the meantime, enjoy the semester break and enjoy watching your teen grow increasingly independent. Hopefully they have mastered semester one. In many of my second interviews with scholars they all commented they were happy and had overcome any initial homesickness but were still looking forward to going home for some family time.

Guest blogger Angela McCarthy gives the low down on what employers want in graduates

June 2, 2016

Angela McCarthy is an experienced career counsellor, freelance writer, small business owner – a parent and grandparent – with a passion for careers and a fascination with the turbulence and change occurring in the 21st century world of work.

What do employers want in graduates?

There is a lot of talk about the future of work and the furiously fast changes occurring to careers and the workplace.  So what skills are needed by your teen to become employable?

Alongside academic prowess, employers are looking for well-rounded graduates who are proactive, collaborative and resilient and keen to contribute and flourish in the workplace.

Employers say …

Vodafone New Zealand graduate manager Anna McHardy looks for adaptable graduates.

“We look for graduates who are curious, quick to learn, resilient and can adapt well to change.”

Attitude is everything, says FCB Auckland account director Nick Bell.

“Being positive, enthusiastic and willing to learn will take you a long way. In our industry you have to be curious and want to know what makes people tick.”

Jenene Crossan, CEO of, and founder of NZGirl and, says she looks for graduates who want to be useful. Jenene points out that parents can play a large part in developing that attitude in their offspring.

“Young people need to understand what it means to be useful, to want to help. Encourage this before they get to university, so when they leave university and go into the workforce they understand what it means to have a work ethic. It will make them stand out head and shoulders above everyone else.”

People need to be lifelong learners because of the huge breadth of skill sets needed in today’s digital landscape, says Digital Arts Network strategy director Stephanie Creasy.

“Whether on a specialist or generalist path, it is important to continuously learn. You can’t stand still and risk being left behind as the landscape matures and changes.”

AUT Edge Award

AUT's Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack has coined the term ‘C skills’ to summarise what employers are looking for in tertiary graduates. These skills include communication, collaboration, creativity, curiosity, co-operation, caring and sense of community.

In recognition of the importance of these employability skills, AUT has launched the AUT Edge Award, a co-curricular award designed to help students develop their employability skills and make the most of volunteering and leadership activities.

AUT Employability and Careers director Anna Williams says the award will be formally recognised on the AUT academic transcript of successful participants.

“We know from talking to employers that the C skills are highly sought after. This award is building those skills in our students from day one, along with all the other activities run by the Employability and Careers team, such as speaker series, career fairs and employability workshops.”

My five cents worth: students tend to only look at advertisements as their primary source for jobs. We know that between 65-80% of opportunities are never advertised. Employers tend to hire through their networks first, they like to hire from within, then networking and only advertise as a last resort.

Students need:

To be resilient and accept rejections

To research companies for opportunities

Develop their LinkedIn profile and follow preferred employers

Attend relevant conferences and other networking opportunities like career fairs.

As parents you may be able to put your child in touch with your own networks and help them with interview techniques. I've encouraged my Sam to be himself in interviews. He is not a particularly extrovert candidate but I think it is more important to be authentic.

It is also important to prepare a great CV and to practise interviewing skills. Workshops in these skills are all available through the Employability Lab at AUT and are a compulsory part of the Edge Award.

As parents we can give our children the edge by encouraging them to take up the opportunities above.

Subscribe Now
Enter your email address