For some careers or courses, work experience is not

By Vicki MacDonald, Inspiring Futures
Increasingly you will be hearing about
the competitiveness of high ranking
university courses and the best way
that students can prepare themselves
to become the ‘stand out’ candidates.
Whilst it may be tempting to kick back
and spend the long holiday relaxing
after a busy term it is during this break
that you can undertake some really
excellent activities which may prove
to be vital in your preparation for moving
on from school. It is also a good time
for students heading out to work-based
training options to find out if what they
are committing to is really right for them
So what can you do and where?
Firstly it depends on your age, many Year 10 and 11
students will be expected to undertake a week’s
work experience. Don’t underestimate the value
of this process - it is probably the first chance that
many of you will have to find out more about life after
school and the quality of the placements on offer
may vary hugely, depending on where you want to
go and what kinds of experiences you are seeking.
Many companies have online application processes,
but these can close early in the year so make sure
that you do not miss the deadline date. For some
employers that can be as early as December the year
before you are going. Leave it to the last minute
and you may find that you are left with options which
are not ideally suited to you. The things that you will
learn about yourself from doing work experience
will help you immensely to reflect about the way
in which you are able to get on with people of different
ages and help you to demonstrate reliability and to
gather some employability skills to put to your CV.
The Student Ladder provides some helpful advice .
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For some careers or courses, work experience is not
just a nice to do option but is a pre-requisite of the
application process. For example, any student who
is applying for primary teacher training will need to
have spent at least 10 days in a state maintained
school during the year before their application.
It is also likely that you will need to provide a Head
teacher’s report to demonstrate your aptitude for
the course, so not only do you have to do the work
experience but you have to prove yourself to be
motivated and focused. Some of the very competitive
courses at university require extensive work
experience with Liverpool University wanting the most
for their Veterinary Medicine course; that is 10 weeks,
spread between specified settings. If you do not start
this in Year 11 it is hard to see how you will complete
it alongside your studies. Lots of university courses are
the training for particular careers and are funded, so it
is reasonable that admissions tutors will expect you
to have spent some time finding out what is involved.
Taster courses in STEM industries (Science,
Technology, Engineering and Maths) run at a range
of universities through the Headstart Scheme details
of which can be found at
uk/headstart giving students in Years 10 – 12
the opportunity of experiencing what is involved
in university study in certain courses. The Year in
Industry programmes allow students to take a paid
placement with an employer to find out exactly what
is involved. One student, having spent a year with
Shell UK, decided that her long held ambition to
become a Chemical Engineer was not for her after all
and so she headed off to study social anthropology at
university. Details about Year in Industry can be found
at .
The London University colleges also run a whole
range of taster courses which are an excellent way
of students discovering what is actually involved in
studying at university. Their online application process
opens 1st January and can be found at http://www. . Consider University of the
Arts, London for creative arts and fashion courses
courses-for-under-19s/ .
Students who are considering studying languages
at university might consider an exchange programme
to give them the experience of being immersed
in the language and culture that they wish to study.
There are many excellent programmes running but
if there isn’t one available at your school and you
are feeling brave – go anyway, take a friend
or family member or take a course in the language.
There are lots of websites which will offer you help
and information and many which will provide off the
shelf packages. Others might consider a volunteer
placement in the UK or internationally, try looking
at websites like .
Finally if you do nothing else then do some reading.
It is important that you understand fully the things
that you might study when you go to university.
Many of the courses and subject areas will be new
to you and it is difficult to fully understand what you
will be experiencing without doing some ground
work. Many universities will provide a reading list
for their courses so, choose something and read it.
Here is the list for BA English at Birmingham University
departments/english/news/2013/advance-readingenglish-language-2013.aspx .