Author Archives: MD

The right choices for a future careers market

We’re at the time of year that final-year students have now essentially finished and submitted their applications and are waiting for, or receiving offers; but even so they ought to have something to bear in mind going forward – though the careers programme’s attention will shortly shift to younger students. So if you’re in year 11 or 12, looking forward from GCSE or A-level, this is mostly for you, although 13s will find it useful too.

People underestimate how common dropping out of degree courses is (about one-fifth, by some measures) – usually in the first year. The result is a year of lost time, a feeling of despondency at your mistake and at the fact you now have no careers advice and support to draw on – and a massive load of extra unnecessary debt. This is why careers advisors try so hard to get people to think early, compare in depth, visit universities and apply broadly – you can’t get this decision wrong. Still, if you do choose a degree you hate, here’s some thoughts. If you’re in year 11 or 12, start planning ahead to avoid being in that situation.

And you need a degree. 41% of the UK workforce now have one, a huge leap from 26% in 2000. That increasing competition probably explains the upward pressure on university offers at all levels, the most prominent and high-profile of which is that Oxbridge now looks like A*A*A will become the normal minimum; but the same ever-higher-bar will apply to each tier below in turn, with everyone shifting up one. There are AAB minimum entry demands as far down as 40th on some league tables for 2015.

It’s not just grades; cost too might be more of a criterion than you think. Those nine-thousand fees per annum (more likely twelve to twenty if you don’t get UK home status, which is becoming more likely) need to be added to high rent costs, living costs and horrific RPI + 2% interest lifelong, so a four-year degree and Masters (very common now) might leave you over a hundred thousand pounds in debt in practice. So the different cost of living of different universities might make a surprising difference in your calculations.

Alternatively, you might just want to be where it’s at right now, regardless of cost. After all, if the UK is going to charge you international fees, why give it preference over any other country’s universities? I’d strongly encourage students to be more global and make applications across multiple countries: here’s a list of the best ten student cities in the world. Of course, British students might have to overcome their traditional xenophobic antipathy towards languages – do the reasons to value languages from this survey chime with your assessments of the interests and value of languages? An example of a private company supporting international applications is (though we’re not endorsing that, just advising you shop around these kind of companies.)

One traditional and in-demand subject which is actually not very international is law, due to the distinct differences in legal procedure in different jurisdictions; but even here technological advancement is sharply changing the nature of employment for graduates – so be mindful and think ahead. One important development in recent years is MOOCs (for all subjects) and students ought to be taking these now of their own volition before applying to university and referencing them on their personal statements.

Technology’s not always good, of course, despite our tendency to glamorise the new, and strong applicants to good universities must realise that some old-fashioned skills (written practice, detailed notes, systematic wider reading, silent study) are irreplaceable to at least some degree by trendier modern methods that use quizes, group work, IT-for-everything and discovery learning; there’s been a bit of a backlash here. Read carefully and be discerning (don’t take a strong position either way or jump to conclusions) but it’s worth reading this critical study by top education researchers the Sutton Trust; also, take care of this self-promoting author, but some of these points are valid. Perhaps this continued core of traditionalist practices reflects the news that private school students do better than equivalent-scoring state schools students. The Telegraph’s conclusions are heavy-handed and political but it’s an interesting read; I would argue that this is caused by the opportunities for leadership, broader curriculum, and context that enhances these students’ readiness for university as well as more traditional methods of teaching perhaps common in those contexts.

Finally, locally – good luck to our year 8s, going on work shadowing the week after next – what a great way to prepare for a future jobs market! And if you’re in year 11 or 12 and really aren’t sure about universities at all, contact our partner school JBS to request attending their careers fair on Sunday 14th December (you’ll need to get permission to miss lessons that day, of course.)

Year 8 work shadowing

All year 8 students will be participating in our “Work shadowing” for three days (Sunday 7th to Tuesday 9th December inclusive.) During these days they will be going to work with either parent, or with another trusted adult if their parent approves (there will be no lessons or school provision and all students will be expected to participate.) The progamme is run by Mr. Wright, the head of year 8. If you missed Mr. Wright’s original letter, you can find a copy on the Work shadowing page. Future relevant materials will be posted here too including, shortly, some suggestions for parents as to how to make the experience most beneficial to your son / daughter.

Work shadowing is the new first step in our programme of enabling students to understand, prepare for and access the world of work. It has become increasingly important to have a clear idea about work routes, for the following reasons:

  • the job market is far more competitive than it once was, including for those who have degrees and “higher level” skills sets
  • universities are more expensive than ever and likely to rise in cost further still, so a change of mind becomes very costly
  • it is becoming the norm / minimum requirement to have work experience as soon as possible (in some industries, to avoid interning for free for years after graduating)

So we want students to have a multi-stage experience of the world of work, which looks like this:

  1. Year 8: three-day Work shadowing with a parent to give a brief initial introduction.
  2. Year 10: two-week intensive Work experience with one or (usually) two different companies.
  3. Year 12/13: extended internships competitively available (programme to be launched soon) for a handful of students, part-time and lasting several weeks.

Taken together, this “ladder” gives students an excellent and ever-deeper understanding of work in context, and should make university and future career choices better-informed.

Keep an eye on the Work shadowing page for more details!

Secrets of career success and the many-routes argument

Students (and parents and teachers!) are forever looking for the secret of success in careers planning – the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket, whether it’s to a particular institution, the highest salary, the securest job etc. Of course there’s no single right answer, but following this blog’s links to new developments and keeping an open mind about as many routes as possible to your career future are probably the best bet-hedging you can do – besides, of course, working fanatically in all your subjects! But here’s an interesting variety of takes of what the root to success is…

First, there’s the perennial fascination of Oxbridge interviews, resplendent with urban myths about lunatic questions and daringly simplistic answers. Oxford today marked the admissions deadline by releasing a list of some typical interview questions, designed to provoke and avoid curriculum knowledge or training. (In fact they’re easy to train people for and any of our candidates who get an interview invite will get some training.) The whole thing is a PR stunt actually, and I pity the school that trains candidates using this list – they’ll not use any of these again. The success route through this is intelligent logical analysis, not memorising this list.

The financial crash has robbed a generation of graduates of immediate entry to the market. Although these jobs seem to be opening up now, it looks like a crash on a motorway being cleared – it might take some time before the backlog dies down (years in terms of graduate oversupply.) In the meanwhile many have continued on the conveyor to postgraduate (Masters) degrees. Will these enhance your prospects against those with just a Batchelors degree? Especially when the extra cost is considered? Maybe, and choose carefully. An alternative argument to consider is whether school leavers at 18 might be better going to economic growth area industries rather than expensive degrees in subjects which might not be of much job market value. I can think of a brilliant 26 year-old former student of mine with a degree from a top university, working in a high-tech industry in London, on only £26k a year; whereas, from the same school, I know a 20 year-old who went straight into estate agency and is now an assistant branch manager on £30+k before his compatriots have left uni; and another school leaver at 18, earning upwards of £70k a year in a hands-on job in the film industry. It’s not all about a degree, necessarily.

Meanwhile, thinking of many routes to things, here’s an interesting map from the Guardian of international degrees – who goes where from which countries. Have a play around; you might be surprised by some of the data.

And lastly, for a chuckle, check out these PR disasters by universities. You wouldn’t want to go to an institution this inept at marketing itself, surely. Although maybe the boys are now considering Bedfordshire after this.

On a serious school-related note, A-level options are coming up for year 11… start deciding!

University application news (Sept 2014 for 2015)

A handful of pieces from the Guardian and more from the Telegraph here, all selected as relating to choosing universities.

First there’s the news in the recently-released QS rankings (one of the three major world university ranking systems, and a very credible list) that there are four British universities in the top ten. This is no surprise – the top British unis have long punched above their weight and are very research-focused, which pushes them up the rankings. (Note that the other two ranking systems, the THE400 and the Shanghai, use different criteria, and produce different rankings. Not only should you read about and cross-reference all three, but be aware that subject-specific rankings are generally more important than overall rankings.) Note that traditional informal weighting by employers doesn’t exactly follow this list either.

If you just want UK universities, the Guardian’s 2015 table is the best guide, in my view. And here’s an interesting article about the most gay-friendly universities. Whilst only a minority of candidates are gay, this is an interesting ranking because it might say something more general about universities’ inclusiveness, the social liberalism of the environment, and / or the general level of care for student welfare issues – so it’s worth asking questions like this. If nothing else, remember that far more than just a dry academic ranking ought to be in your mind while choosing.

One thing uncaptured by these tables is the extent to which the “top” universities are so because of their academic output, and they are not necessarily at all top in terms of interest in or attention to their normal undergraduate students: see this Telegraph article on how students come second. They’re businesses first and foremost, basically. And the removal of the cap on recruitment numbers makes some people think there will be a surge in EU student numbers (though I tire of pointing out to British xenophobes that UK students are also from the EU.) I don’t think this panic is fair, actually: who’d leave Holland or Germany, with much lower fees, for the privilege of working a warehouse morning and barwork evening job in London just to pay the higher fees and cost of living? I’m not sure British universities have an edge over continental ones that would cause me to come that way across the Channel. In fact if I were going to uni now and the course was available at a decent Dutch university, taught in English (as many are) I wouldn’t dream of picking a UK option over that. (Note also that the Guardian reports the end of the cap having caused chaos in the university sector. As usual, free markets screw up.)

Perhaps if you want a British university education, the secret is not necessarily the UK: many British universities increasingly run parallel campuses in other continents (including here in the UAE). You would probably need a specific cultural reason to want to go to these, but it serves to remind that the university sector is increasingly international (and many EU and US degrees now include an integral  year abroad, and Masters degrees are now often taken in another country.) The competition you will face in the job market is increasingly international (and ever-more challenging): so now even Chinese students are coming to study in US and other western schools (though probably to access the university sector: US universities are well-ranked in world terms, their schools less so.)

Finally, here’s the Telegraph’s pretty useful “prepare for university application” page. No rocket science here but solid help which is always worth checking.

Update: forthcoming careers events

There are a number of forthcoming visitors to the UAE who are either holding a university event or will be available to offer private university application support (at a price). Details:

  • St. Andrews is a good UK university. They will be holding an open event at JESS in Arabian Ranches, from 6.30pm on Wed 24th Sept, about their courses and entry requirements (and to some extent the wider Scottish system.)
  • Inner Universe are a private firm hosting Australian universities and Murdoch, Newcastle and RMIT will be holding events respectively on Thur 18th 2pm, Fri 19th 3pm, Sat 20th 10am. Email them to register if interested. (Their marketing didn’t say where.)
  • Gyanberry are agents for Charles University, Prague, for the testing in Duabi for the medicine programme. You need to sit their entrance exam this Friday (19th). Email them to register.
  • Gabbitas is bringing a former school careers advisor over to the UK to advise on university entrance (“Universities Uncovered”) at 6.30pm Mon 29th at Arabian Ranches Golf Club. It doesn’t sound like anything we don’t already advise you on anyway but check it out on their website if you want – it’s free.
  • Global Connections sounds like a commercial firm advising students on universities, being paid by UK universities to seek international students. They’re in Dubai Nov 2nd – 6th if you want some advice outside of school. Email Roua.

There’s a notification on Communicator about this post, but we won’t keep doing this as term goes on – please make sure you “Follow this blog” (see right-hand side) to keep getting these notifications.

Careers provision 2014-15

The careers provision for this year was outlined in this morning’s assembly: Careers 2014-15 . For those who were present please note the line about the careers fair at GCS: this partner school of ours is hosting a number of UK universities on the date indicated and you are welcome to go along. Please ring GCS for details.

The open Careers Clinic is every Monday morning 7.45-9.15am and is open to everyone. More details on the Meetings page.

KS4: Work Experience and A-level options

Here is the KS4 Assesmbly powerpoint about Work Experience (year 10s) and Options (year 11s). Also here’s the picture slideshow from before it.

Yeah, I realise it’s only the pictures you’re interested in 🙂

… but joking apart, they contain some interesting ideas. Enjoy.

Remember, the message of all this is: be prepared, be thinking about these issues and moving them along even when we’re not focusing on them in PSHE or tutor time.

Year 10s will be told when Mrs Russell wants to see them again; year 11s will need to come and make their own bookings in the black folder just inside my door. These bookings might be best saved until nearer the options choice, but take it whenever you want it – you probably only get one meeting, so use it well!

Careers and routes, usual and unusual, in a difficult time

This point in the year, where A-level students are often finalising university applications, tends to result in a range of repeat articles about what employers want from graduates. Worth a glance, therefore, at that old chestnut in the Telegraph’s latest incarnation of the article.

A more stimulating and interesting take on how keen people are to impress employers comes in the form of this Craigslist experiment. Be careful with your data! But the point remains that applications for jobs vastly, vastly outweigh the number of places available. As school students you’re used to teachers making space in the group for you, welcoming you no matter what, creating opportunities for you. A brutal reality check about how the world won’t help you out is something you need to be braced for. It’s a jungle out there.

If you want more evidence of how bleak the economic picture in the west is, and how hard it is to get (and keep) a job, check out these depressing articles: new graduates are taking jobs for substantially lower pay than those a few years ago, and people are going to work despite being seriously ill in some cases, so desperate are they to avoid giving a bad impression. (Ironically, it can be counter-productive to do this. Having ill workers or students can actually reduce performance in some circumstances by infecting others! But this is a measure of employee fear in some firms.)

All is not misery. Here’s an interesting video on how to get a job at Dyson, one of the UK’s most innovative employers; an article explaining that degrees are not the only route to success; and an interesting article about getting girls into science – why do people think you have to advertise in lipstick to get girls’ attention? And remember just how wide a range of people can achieve success in any field, and how hard teachers work to support you if you’ll help yourself: I recognise this myself from the crazy, and valuable, process of supporting DBS’s own Oxbridge applicants over the past month. 

Read this stuff well and get a deeper sense of the jobs market and your careers future. Use ISCO if you’re a member, make best use of PSHE careers activities, and book and effectively use your meetings with careers staff. Use the excellent Prospect site too. Because bad careers advice ruins your future. You get good advice and support here – just make sure you follow and use it.

13s: UCAS personal statement support

We’re now down the the point where you can only get personal statement support from the following places:

  • Sunday and Tuesday lunchtime seminars (this week is the last week)
  • you have 2 half-hour meetings you’re allowed with me in total this year (if you haven’t already used them!) – come book them with the booking sheet just inside the door

Or you can buy external support (like paying for a subject tutor, only for personal statements instead of subject learning) – if you want to know how to use the service we’ve checked and approve of, come and ask me: we use experienced staff working in Europe who understand the UCAS system well. The advantage is that they will be able to give you a lot more time and depth of feedback than tutors in school will. They can even be more “hands on” and write sections for you more fully than tutors will, or know how to.

If you want to purchase some support, come and ask me for details and I’ll put you in contact. You pay them (either online or through the school) and email the work to them. More details later.

US universities – open invitation event

If you are seeking entry to the US university system within the next 2-3 years, you might want to attend this forthcoming event. Not only will you be able to meet representatives of a broad range of excellent universities, you will be able to hear the system explained to you from first thoughts through to final stages of application.

This is not just relevant to year 13, but years 11 and 12 as well – if you are thinking of entering the US university system, go along and hear about it!