University, college or straight into a career? Reigate Grammar School and ACS International Schools discuss what help is on hand when it comes to making choices for life after secondary education.
Matthew Buzzacott, Head of Careers at Reigate Grammar School, explains what advice and help is given to prepare students for life after school.
All teachers at Reigate Grammar School have a role to play in the crucial task of preparing our students for life outside the classroom, and career aspirations underpin students’ progress throughout their time at the school.
Considerable assistance is given to our students making their GCSE choices, and students in Years 8 and 9 receive careers-related PSHE sessions to help them get an early insight into possible future careers and how they can progress towards them. A member of the Careers team is always available for at least two hours per day to advise students on
a one-to-one basis.
Every member of Year 11 – along with their parents – has a meeting with a senior member of staff to discuss their individual progress, A-Level choices and university/career options. For our Year 11 and 12 students, we offer Careers and Higher Education ‘profiling’, including interviews from external experts.
All students from Year 8 upwards are invited to our lunchtime Careers Talks every three weeks, which feature external speakers presenting a wide range of career areas.
Every Reigate Grammar School (RGS) student, as well as those from local state schools, is also invited to our three career-specific evenings per year, in which we hear from a range of experts in their field. Last year we had Law, Engineering and Digital Careers; this year Accounting and Finance, Alternatives to University, and Art and Design Careers. We also invite all RGS and local state school students to our Careers and Higher Education Conventions.
To assist students with post-18 choices, we have Careers/UCAS lessons in the Sixth Form, which are supplemented by the use of computer programs, such as Unifrog. We also have a presentation and Q&A with an expert in university admissions, and former students take questions from Year 12 students about university or alternatives.
A dedicated member of staff advises on alternatives to university, applications overseas and interview preparation, and another specialises in Oxbridge applications.
In their final year, students study budgeting and student finance, and this is supplemented by lectures from an external expert speaker.
Three ACS International Schools offer tips on preparing for university life, as students move on to begin their undergraduate studies
Jeremy Lewis, Head of School, ACS Egham:
Every year around this time, thousands of students are preparing themselves for university life – and there is plenty they can do in advance of Freshers’ Week that will help them thrive during their first year. Although there can be lots of social events to focus on when making friends and learning how to live independently, my advice is to first consider how you might have a good working relationship with your academic tutor. By making this the focus of your first weeks and months at university, students won’t just get off to a more confident start, they will also be setting themselves up to really enjoy their course.
Don’t forget that the more academic discussion first year students are part of, the more their theoretical knowledge and critical thinking in a subject will develop. Students should aim to go to every seminar with at least one strong opinion and one question about something from the reading list – which, in case you haven’t guessed, means completing the recommended reading in advance and making meaningful notes!
Planning your time is essential in the first term; make sure you put a lot of time and thought into your personal, independent organisation and it will certainly pay off with lower stress levels and more time leftover for extra-curricular activities.
Ryan Hinchey, College Counsellor and Careers Advisor, ACS Cobham:
One of the most important parts of my role at ACS is guiding students towards suitable university choices and careers for the individual. Most often my advice to students and their parents is to find the right fit. Here at ACS, we want to prepare our graduates for university life by asking them to consider the parts of their personality that will impact their success rates in higher education. For example, what is your learning style? Do you prefer small groups, large lectures or independent study? Look for courses that are delivered in a way that suits your academic preferences. Are you an extrovert or an introvert – with this in mind, consider the choice between a large university and a smaller campus or college setting.
When choosing where to study, think about if you really know what you want to study in depth, or whether you want a wider range of studies which narrow later. American universities, for example, are famous for their liberal arts approach, where you study a broad curriculum in the first year – a great opportunity to experience new things before finding your focus subject. In contrast, UK universities are famous for their superb career focus and specialisation, so knowing that difference can help make some first choices.
If you don’t have a very specific career choice in mind, students can think about broader subjects, such as Geography or English, where there are many pathways to choose from. It’s not unusual to struggle with exactly what you want to do, so keep an open mind while looking for the right general fit in teaching style and location.
Marcea Eckhardt, University Counsellor, ACS Hillingdon:
The number of university students in the UK seeking counselling over academic stress and mental health issues has grown dramatically in recent years. The increasing pressure on young people to succeed academically, alongside the stresses of living independently in a world dominated by social media and smartphones, suggests that now, more than ever, students need mindfulness training to help maintain wellbeing as they leave their school environment.
Mindfulness training gives students tools to remain calm, sustain their attention and focus through simple breathing and meditation practices – it is the training of the attention to keep focused on what’s actually happening in the present moment, and how to relate to this thoughtfully and rationally. According to a Mindful Schools study, 83 per cent of teachers saw improved levels of focus amongst students who had undertaken mindfulness training, whilst 89 per cent also saw better emotional regulation.
Mindful practices help students feel confident as they start a new stage of life in university or work and the methods we teach beyond the classroom at ACS Hillingdon ensure that they reach their full potential while maintaining their personal wellbeing. I would recommend new undergraduates find a meditation app or podcast series that works well for them over the summer break, so they start the new term prepared. Headspace and Calm are popular choices, but there are plenty of options available online.
In addition, students should remember that various talking therapies, mindfulness and CBT courses are available free via the NHS, so get to know your campus GP and the services available early on in the academic year, for quick access if needed later.
Long term, practising mindfulness cultivates a greater sense of perspective. Teaching mindfulness gives crucial tools to deal with the pressures of life – starting university, but beyond that too. It’s empowering and once you know how to do it, you can draw on it whenever you need to.
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