Project Futures (Preparing for A-levels and Post-18 Study)
Faculty resources to help you prepare for A levels and post 18 study. Suggested activities include articles, MOOCs, podcasts and TED Talks aimed at developing your knowledge beyond the classroom and your LORIC character traits.
Peter Rawling (Vice Chair of PiXL Post 16)
WHY YEAR 12 IS KEY
What you apply for in Year 13 (university or otherwise) will be based largely on what you achieve in Year 12, so do a personal audit of how things stand and anything, that is not as strong as you would like it to be, can be prioritised for action. Year 12 is a dangerous place in that it is the year in the whole education system that is most notorious for underachievement. Do not let that happen to you.
ISN’T IT A BIT EARLY YET?
No way. There is more to this than most people think, if you are to be sure that you make the best future choices. In terms of university, for instance, just in the UK there are over 347 institutions where you can take a degree and between them they offer over 52,000 different courses, so there is a lot to choose from. Even when you narrow it down, there is a lot to consider. Let’s say you choose to specialise in English. Over 200 of those institutions will offer an English course, but they will all be different, so you need to look for ones that match your particular interests. If you want to read History but mainly “Modern History”, that label can mean completely different things at different universities, so you need to look at the particular options on offer. With Biology would you want a course that gives equal time to Human Biology, Zoology and Botany or is just one or two of these you want or even something more specialist such as Marine Biology or Genetics? With Engineering will you be ready right from the start to specialise in Mechanical, Civil, Electronic etc. or would you prefer a more general course, where you do not choose what to specialise in until later? There are lots of different sports related courses – sports science, management, psychology, sports studies, therapy, exercise science etc. – so which would be right for you?
It is the same for apprenticeships. They will offer different areas of focus, different training schemes and conditions. Which will suit you best? NOW is the time to be doing all the research on this and most can be done on-line. Use individual university and company web sites, UCAS coursefinder, CareerPilot and Careermag among lots of others.
LORIC (CHARATER TRAITS)
If you are not familiar with this, it is an acronym to cover both personal and academic qualities, that both admissions tutors and employers are looking for. Do a personal audit to assess what evidence you think you have available NOW that shows you have each of these qualities. Keep a record or portfolio of that evidence, and of the things you add to it, as this will be what you base your application on in the form of the personal statement that accompanies a UCAS form for university applications or the personal letter, that accompanies any application for an apprenticeship, training scheme or job.
Leadership – Organisation – Resilience – Initiative – Communication Skills.
What evidence do you think you have that shows you have leadership qualities, that you are an organised person, who doesn’t just give up if things get difficult, who doesn’t just wait to be told what to do or think and who can converse well with others and share ideas?
Love of Learning – Open-minded – Read & Research – Interesting to teach- Critical thinker.
What is the evidence that you are really keen on what it is you are applying for, that you have independently studied it in more depth or beyond just the exam syllabus, that you are open to ideas and new thinking, that you do not just accept conventional thinking but challenge it and that, as a result, you have interesting things to say that will contribute originally to the work of any department or Company?
At this reasonably early stage, I would expect you to find yourself a bit “evidence-lite”. The key is what you will now do about this and build up that portfolio of evidence. My challenge to you is to do 5 things each month from now on deliberately to build up that evidence. When you do that (not “if”), I promise you it will build into a strong body of evidence with which to support any future application.
WHAT SORT OF “EVIDENCE”
The personal examples of LORIC can come from all the activities you participate in both inside and outside school. Evidence can come from any part-time work you do or work experience you have had, from work within the community, sports teams, care or charity work, fund-raising – think laterally. You probably already have more evidence than you may at first give yourself credit for. As for academic evidence, there are lots of ideas in a booklet called “Getting into Top Universities” that your sixth form library should already have. It comes from conferences I run and you should have it from work I’ve done at the Academy before. There are reading lists for every subject but do not be put off by these. I am not suggesting you read everything! You don’t need to read things from cover to cover. Dip into things – it may be just one chapter or one topic – see what grabs you but make a note of what you’ve read, any key ideas and your own thoughts on them.
There are lots of web sites to look at. Nakedscientists.com is not what you may think it is! It is really good for science A level. Nrichmaths has new problems every month to take you to the next level. Galaxyzoo is really interesting for the astrophysicists among you. Loads more sites are available. Best of all is Ted.com, which has short presentations given by people doing the latest research on all sorts of things and often quoting some mind-blowing ideas. Just jot down key ideas and what you think of them.
MOOCs are on-line courses from universities all over the world giving you a taste of what studying something may be like at university. They last about 2-8 weeks, require about 2-4 complete a course, you take a test and passing that shows any admissions tutor that you have already coped with university level work and university style (i.e. independent) learning. What brilliant evidence is that?!
Universities and those awarding top apprenticeships are basically looking for people who are critical thinkers, who are organised, able to write and talk coherently, are willing to contribute ideas and pick up on the ideas of others and, above all, are independent thinkers and learners. These are the qualities to cultivate and have your referees say you have.
TYPE OF UNIVERSITY
There is a lot of twaddle talked about universities and with all due respect to them, the older generation can peddle things that may have been true “in their day” but are no longer so now. I hear parents say that, if their son or daughter does not go to a Russell Group university, it will be second best. That is rubbish. Nine of the current top 20 UK ranked universities are not Russell Group as it happens. It all depends where the best course is for you and sometimes that may well be somewhere else, that parents may never have heard of. Equally the myths still exist about Oxford and Cambridge. To go there you have got to be posh, to have gone to a public school and mum and dad need to own a bank or a castle. It is totally untrue. 70% of those going to Oxford next year will be from state schools, they could not care less what your background is as long as you are a very keen and talented student who is up for the challenge of studying there. Nor do you need to be rich to go there – in fact they are probably the two cheapest universities to attend. So do not be put off and equally do your own thing. It is vital that you choose what you want to do and do not let someone else choose for you. You will be spending some of the most important years of your life at university or on a training scheme, so it has got to be doing something you will enjoy and look forward to studying or doing.
WHERE TO GO
There may be a number of universities that offer the sort of course you are looking for so other, personal factors may kick in to decide which ones you choose. Do you want to stay close to home or go as far away as possible? Would you prefer London or a big city or a campus university? Do be careful, though. Don’t take anything for granted. Warwick University is actually in Coventry! York is a campus site so far beyond the city boundaries that you could spend 3 years there and never set foot in York and Birmingham is a campus site unlike some other big city universities such as Leeds or Manchester. Do your homework to make sure you get the right sort of environment for yourself.
If you are thinking of having a go, there are some extra implications. You do need to be avidly keen not only on your subject but to push your own boundaries as the competition is fierce and you have to show that you will be able to cope with the intensity of the work there. The teaching is very 1:1, often with leading experts in their field so you have to be on top of your game pretty much all of the time. If you are up for that challenge, though, why not have a go?
MEDICINE, VETERINARY SCIENCE & DENTISTRY
There are extra implications here too as they are looking for personal qualities as well as academic strengths.
In the case of both of the last two categories a key part of the admissions process are (a) extra tests and (b) a tough interview. I shall be sending on extra details of these and advice as to how to deal with them nearer the appropriate time but you can start working on that now. Do the following:
- think what qualities are needed to be “Good” at the subject you are intending to apply for. What are the qualities that you think admissions staff will be looking for? Think therefore what evidence you have or need to acquire that will show you have these qualities.
- Think about how you would explain them to someone else in an interview and, if necessary, start practicing that – not to learn any sort of script but just so that you can feel comfortable talking about yourself. Most people do not do themselves justice in an interview. You want to be an exception to that.
- You really do need to look at latest research and keep up to date with the news. Ted is great for this, for Medics the BBC Health Page is good and every month a Medics Bulletin is sent out to schools with latest news and ideas. Make sure you access a copy. I write it so I’ll make sure one gets sent through.
For all of you there is much to do and the sooner you work out what it is you want to do, you can identify the implications of that choice and what it will take to ensure a competitive application. Look at bursaries at universities too. These are funds to make sure that everyone can afford to go and complete a degree course. It is free money, yet every year a lot of it goes unclaimed. Getting your top choice is worth all the effort you can put in and it is what you are in the sixth form for, so give it your best shot. You will never regret doing so. I look forward to getting to the Academy sometime in the future and meeting you in person.