Life After Sixth Form

Helping you get that university place or career


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Transferable skills and the Nobel Peace Prize

Still struggling for things to include in that Ucas personal statement? How about: “I showed my teamwork skills by, along with 499,999,999 fellow citizens, winning the Nobel Peace Prize recently.”

Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be such a great idea, but showing that you are up-to-date with recent developments in your proposed area of study, or how it relates to areas in the news, could be impressive. Referring to transferable skills such as teamwork and communication is also often recommended, but too often it feels like an awkward add on, or too far of a stretch from the experience gained to the situation it is related to. “I gained valuable teamwork skills working in McDonald’s which will be valuable as I hope to be involved in international diplomacy after my politics degree” is likely to sound more comic than impressive. On the other hand, a paragraph like the following makes a realistic and thoughtful link between the skills required on the course, and the applicant’s recent experience:

Physiotherapists need to be caring, understanding and tolerant with their patients of all ages with different abilities. I have shown similar skills helping in a maths booster class for year seven pupils who found maths difficult, which also helped me develop my skills of patience, flexibility and a sense of humour.

I strongly suggest you research carefully the ‘entry profiles‘ that many courses list on the UCAS website, and also check for any further descriptions of the skills and qualities that universities are looking for in applicants for individual degree courses that are published in their prospectuses and websites. Tailor your personal statement to address those specific profiles, and submit that information, along with your personal statement, to the person writing your reference. That will help them to confirm the appropriateness of your statement when advising you on how to improve it, and they can also use the information to help ensure the relevance of the reference that is written for you.

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Extending your digital footprint

A while ago, I was asked for advice by a student interested in journalism.  I reproduce the advice I offered below, but much of it can be adapted to any subject or career area. In today’s world, online networking is an important way of gaining knowledge and contacts in your area of interest. As a teacher, most of my new knowledge of teaching methods and resources comes from contacts on Twitter and in the blogosphere, and increasingly I see people gaining employment opportunities in this way. Only recently I was contacted by the Times Educational Supplement English resources editor and invited to take part in developing materials for a new project, the DocAcademy, resulting in an expenses paid trip to London for a planning meeting, and a tidy little sum for producing a four-lesson resource pack for the website. It was very handy holiday spending money, but more importantly it gave me an opportunity to extend my own skills, and to share them with colleagues, and all because I’d made a network of contacts through using social media for my professional development.

So, if you get online and start asking questions and sharing links and resources about the subject area or career you want to pursue, perhaps you’ll find that when your university or job application crosses the desk of an employer or admissions tutor, your name may already be familiar as someone with a proven interest in the subject and a track record of showing initiative.

Anyhow, here is the advice I offered my inquirer:

One thing you want to do is to establish your online presence in as many potentially useful places as possible. Get yourself a username that is distinctive but professional, and isn’t already taken, that can be used consistently across social networking sites and the like. You can use  http://namechk.com/  to check if a chosen username is available across a range of sites.
I have to own up and say that I’m better at mucking about with stuff than using it purposefully, so I’ve got half abandoned projects scattered around the web, but it’s a good idea to have some kind of page where you can direct people (perhaps having it as your email signature) that will have links to everything you want in the public domain. I’m rather proud of my resolutely lo-fi homepage at antheald.com, but to be honest you probably want something a bit more like this:  http://about.me/antheald  which is dead easy to set up, and you can find links to most of my half-baked bits & pieces there.
With regards to blogging, there are all sorts of directions you can take it. You can go for a general blog that you use as a kind of portfolio of any writing that takes your fancy. Or you could do a topic specific blog on a hobby or interest of some kind. For instance here is a music blog set up by a former McAuley student, Ruth Offord while she was still at school. Ruth went on to become a journalist on the Doncaster Free Press for a time. Maybe you could experiment with a university application blog ((or two)or three) while you get used to blogging platforms and their strengths and weaknesses. This is the kind of idea I have in mind.
Read and comment on others’ blogs (including professional journalists). Follow journalists, journalism students and bloggers on twitter, and engage with them regularly. A good plan is to find someone who tweets regularly and seems to engage in interesting discussions with interesting people, and then see who they follow and look at any lists they have curated or that they appear on. If you want to get an idea of where journalism might be headed in our increasingly networked world, I think you could do worse than starting with @documentally and his blog. If you want to connect with someone who’s making it in the world of (slightly) more conventional journalism and started where you are, then try @jbmurdoch – that’s Mr Murdoch’s son – who was in my form before doing geography at Durham, getting involved in student journalism (ask him about it), and is now cutting a swathe at The Guardian.
I look forward to seeing your online presence bloom and to reading what you have to say.
In case you’re wondering whether my advice was heeded, here  is an impressive part of the answer.


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October Half-Term Opportunity

The National Citizen Service programme was piloted for the first time this summer; one of our students was involved and alerted me to this opportunity.

Places are available for this autumn and will take place around your school commitments. The website gives the following description of the programme:

National Citizen Service is a life changing experience for 16 and 17 year olds in England (it is also open to 15-16 year olds in Northern Ireland) – you do outdoor activities, meet new people and have the chance to put something back. By doing NCS you learn new skills and have a great experience that looks great on CVs, and applications to universities and colleges.

You can find out more and register your interest here: https://nationalcitizenservice.direct.gov.uk/ncs-in-detail


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Extending your personal statement

About four years ago I wrote this:

http://ucas0809.edublogs.org/2008/07/15/extending-your-personal-statement/

I think it still applies – perhaps more so. But I still haven’t seen anyone in my form do it.

Just imagine how often an admissions tutor reads something like this:

To further my insight into the medical field I participated in a work shadowing week at a GP surgery. I gained a valuable understanding of the workings of the surgery, with opportunities to observe and speak to the doctors regarding a medical career. I arranged another placement week myself at a local hospital, which was a superb opportunity to observe medicine from another point of view. I observed the ward rounds, an MRI scan, a skin biopsy and an endosocpy clinic all which I found interesting. I spent the most time with the haematology team, responsible for patients with diseases such as Chronic Myelogenous Leukaemia (CML), haematology being one of my interests it was captivating that I could see the specialty from a more complex side than the AS biology course. For example I was able to understand how the level of platelets affects blood clotting. Throughout the week I expanded my confidence and communication skills through speaking to patients and doctors. Although I enjoyed the week it was at times extremely heart-rending, I was able to get close to many of the terminally ill patients helping and caring for them where I could, getting them tea or just talking and empathising with them to build their spirits.

(from studential.com)

Now don’t get me wrong: that is very impressive, but applicants for competitive places have to be impressive, and there will be more very impressive applications than there places available.

So imagine if, in addition to the catalogue of work experience comments, an applicant could add:

You can read more about my work experience, and my interest in medicine at the website I set up for me and my fellow prospective medical school hopefuls at http://www.themedschoolproject.com/p/about-us.html

That is very impressive example, but to be honest I’ve found it a bit difficult to track down good blogs about work-experience, or the learning journey undertaken by people before university. This is good  news. It means you have a chance to really stand out. Even a simple blog like this that tracks a prospective vet from struggling to find a placement at the start to dealing with impalas and rhinos in South Africa is a lot better than nothing. I’m sure you could do better than that though. Let me know if you want any advice on setting a blog up, but it really is very straightforward, and it’s yet another way of showing your commitment to whatever you are pursuing in life.


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YouTube College Application – Teach42

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And where America goes….

[click on the picture above to read the article]

Whilst I would not suggest that you all rush out and make YouTube videos to support your application, it is clear that contact with University departments beyond the UCAS application itself can be helpful in making your name stick in the mind of admissions tutors, and possibly making your application stand out from the crowd.

Of course, if done badly, that might jeopardise your application. If you’re pestering an admissions tutor with questions that are answered by a proper look through the course website and prospectus, you will just look like a doofus. On the other hand , useful supplementary follow-up information (perhaps relating to work-experience, results gained or other relevant achievements after the UCAS application is submitted) could well see you looked upon more favourably.

Particularly if you are applying for a course where you are told you may need to submit a portfolio, or one involving creativity or media skills etc, maybe you could consider whether a video contribution might just enhance your application.