The decisions made by students in Year 11 can have a significant impact on the options available to them at the end of Year 13. Deciding on the correct mix of subjects, qualifications and learning assessments is crucial to ensuring that a student is not only playing to their own academic strengths but also allowing them to pursue their future ambitions. As those advising on post-16 study options it is important that we encourage students to think carefully and consider key questions, such as, how they like to learn, be assessed and where they see themselves in the future.
Choosing post-16 qualifications
For many students the decision surrounding where and what to study after their GCSEs is their first experience of having to make fundamental choices regarding their education. With several different options available knowing which to select can be an intimidating task.
As a university we would suggest that students may approach this from two different angles.
The first concerns those who have specific career in mind. Beginning their research with this occupation they can then track backwards, matching their choices to the various different stages which they will need to complete in order to successfully enter this profession. For example, those you would like a job in Engineering will need a related degree. Entrance onto a programme at university will often require A Level Maths, and therefore this would need to be selected as one of a student’s post-16 options.
The second approach is for those who are still unsure about their future plans, this is nothing to worry about and incredibly common. Under these circumstances students should be encouraged to select subjects that they most enjoy, in doing so they are likely to secure higher grades for their assessments and in turn will have multiple options open to them post-18.
In both circumstances students should consider their own learning preferences. For example, those who excel through practical, hands on learning and through course work based assessment may find that they are suited to more vocational qualifications.
Places at university, apprenticeships and job vacancies are increasingly competitive and a strong academic portfolio is not necessarily enough to guarantee success. When assessing UCAS applications university Admissions Tutors will often look for evidence of relevant work experience, part time employment and/or voluntary work to differentiate between candidates. Making the most of the time after GCSEs to increase participation in extra curricular activities can help to ensure that there are experiences to draw on for subsequent applications.
For some courses, particularly those allied to healthcare, relevant work experience is essential. Students should be advised to obtain as much as possible and from a variety of different settings. This can then demonstrate a thorough understanding of the profession as well as relevant skills that would help a student to excel within it. Gaining work experience in hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and veterinarian practices can be very difficult; however, persistence and creativity are key. Whilst potential vets may not be able to gain experience shadowing operations or consultations they may be able to volunteer with animal charities in providing care and minor medical treatment.
Part time employment, voluntary work and hobbies are often overlooked by students on an UCAS application, but are a fantastic demonstration of skills that are harder to obtain in a classroom environment. For example, working in a busy restaurant can be used to highlight team work and communication, being captain of the hockey team leadership and motivation and volunteering to help younger students read responsibility and reliability.
Finally, wider reading around a subject to show further commitment. In some cases this may entail reading additional texts, for example additional works created by an author that is featured on the syllabus. For other subjects this may manifest in field trips to understand a subject in greater depth, visiting exhibits or existing work by others for inspiration. Some students may wish to create personal projects, for instance, a portfolio of their own creative writing.