Life After Sixth Form

Helping you get that university place or career


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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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Personal Statement Editing – keeping it brief and clear

Below you will see a Google Document that I put together to show how personal statements can usually be edited down considerably, thereby freeing up space to say more things about yourself, and usually with the happy by-product of making the style crisper and more readable, too.


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Targeting your Personal Statement

Most of you will be applying to five universities.

Each of those universities see just the one Personal Statement, and do not have access to information about where else you have applied. So somehow, you need to perform the trick of making your statement seem to each admissions tutor who will read it that it is their specific course and institution you are applying for.

Obviously this is, strictly speaking, impossible. If you are applying to Durham, you have the option of sending a substitute personal statement while Cambridge has the Supplementary Application Questionnaire, but such formalised opportunities to provide additional information are rare.

So, what can you do to get round this problem? well, firstly, for most courses, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. The core content of an undergraduate course is likely to be broadly similar whichever universities you are applying for. However, you need to check all the core modules and options of each course you are applying for and make sure they are right for you, and you for them, and tailor your application accordingly as much as possible.

You should have a clear idea of which course you most want to get onto, so it may be that you wish to slant part of your application in a direction that links with some specialism of that university, in a way that still shows generic skills and interests that would apply to any course. For example, if you want to study English at Newcastle, a look at their website reveals: “we now have strengths in, for instance, creative writing, post-colonial literature, children’s literature, film, as well as in traditional areas such as Renaissance drama and Romantic poetry.” So you may want to make reference to an interest in one or more of those areas in your personal statement: doing so would certainly not be detrimental to applying for courses that didn’t happen to have those particular specialisms.

You will also find that many universities have quite specific guidance on what they look for in a personal statement. For example Durham has some very detailed guidance most of which is relevant to almost all applicants to any institution. Nottingham Trent has a guidance page that is perhaps a little simpler and more structured in approach. Almost all university websites will have reference to the selection criteria and qualities they are looking for from applicants in each subject, often with specific advice for the Personal Statement, so make sure you search thoroughly for such information. It would be helpful when looking at your draft Personal Statement for you to provide links to any information of this type you have used, so that I can see that it is indeed tailored appropriately to your specific choices.


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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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Student Finance

Form tutors had a very useful presentation from a representative of the student loans company on the Thursday of LAMA week. A wealth of explanatory information is available online. The main SLC website is http://www.slc.co.uk/. Updated information for 2013 entry will be available next term.

If you want a quick overview, this presentation is a good starting point, along with plenty of other resources here.