Friday, 24 May 2013

How do you choose a university course which lives up to your expectations and suits your interests, attributes and career aspirations?

58% of university students feel their course has not lived up to expectations, while a third say they would like to have changed course, according to the recent Higher Education Policy Institute report in conjunction with Which?

With this in mind, how can sixth formers evaluate potential universities and courses, before making UCAS applications, to have the best chance of their study experience matching up to expectations?

With universities holding Open Days at this time of year, teenagers should use this time wisely. They are an opportunity to get to know the university and the course.  A check list of questions to ask current students, as well as lecturers and tutors, will ensure you leave with an all-round view. 

For your chosen course, what is the contact teaching time each week and how does the system of tutorials work? How is the course structured and what content is covered in each module? How is the course assessed – how much is project work as opposed to exams? 

Many students find out after they have started the course that it contains for example too much maths, chemistry, sociology or psychology for their personal interest or aptitudes or with only 10 hours teaching contact time a week, they feel a bit at a loss as to how to plan their studies independently. Getting this right can be a crucial part of enjoying your time at university and being successful.

Is there an opportunity to spend time in industry or support in securing relevant work experience or internships, building links with future employers? What percentage of last year’s graduates gained employment on leaving the course and what types of career have they gone into. What careers advice is available to students and do they assist with CV writing and interview coaching?

What facilities does the university have? What are the university dining arrangements if cooking is not your strength? What is the accommodation like and what is the policy for accommodating first year students? If this is your first time away from home it is far better to be allocated a room in a hall of residence where you will meet lots of other Fresher’s.

What is the atmosphere like? Does the city centre have an active student scene? You will be living there for at least 3 years so it is important to make sure that you like the location and will feel at home there. Campus style universities and those that are collegiate, located round about town have a very different feel and it is important that you feel at home in the environment you choose.

How do students travel to and from lectures? Are there good bus routes and is there secure ‘parking’ for bikes? Think twice about taking a car to university, at least in the first year. Parking can often be difficult and cars are very expensive to run.

For advice on choosing the right university course and career planning contact our team of education consultant experts for an informal chat.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Are cultural understanding and communication skills key to future career success?

The sudden departure of one of our staff this week was a stark reminder of the importance of developing cultural understanding amongst school-age youngsters, preparing them for a successful future business career.  

The working world is now international. Empathy for the etiquette of doing business with different nationalities and cultural or social backgrounds is crucial. Inviting children from different cultures home for tea or considering acting as guardian to an international child at a local boarding school are great ways for parents to instil tolerance and understanding of culture within their youngsters at home. More details

With the uptake of languages at GCSE and A Level in decline, are we expecting our global business partners of the future to speak English, hoping other countries place languages higher on their curriculum priorities than we do? Many schools now offer Mandarin, Japanese or Russian. Smart subject choices could make a far more attractive CV in the future.

Communication skills are fundamental to career success. With social media and technology, it is easier than ever to keep in touch, but sadly this seems to have replaced talking to one another. Are we raising a generation who will lack the capability to initiate conversation and hence the potential to network and develop successful business relationships? Sending an email or text instead of picking up the phone seems to be the norm. TV dinners and hectic working lives have perhaps seen the demise of the family meal around the kitchen table, losing the art of conversation.

Reliability and trustworthiness are also important. Parents can set their teenagers off on the right path by encouraging them to deliver to deadlines, make curfews on time, commit to engagements and not back out at the last minute, because a better offer comes along.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Tips for planning a safe and constructive Gap Year

With stiff competition for top universities and a volatile job market, it seems more important than ever for school leavers intent on taking a gap year break from education, to plan their time carefully. Using this opportunity to enhance their CV and develop new skills is more important than ever. Planning, problem solving, teamwork, cultural awareness and communication skills all have future benefits.

When devising their itinerary, ask what they will learn or achieve, other than a social life and a sun tan! Volunteering in either the UK or abroad brings experiences of other cultures and communities, developing a social conscience or community spirit. Learning a new language will enhance their CV. Time spent working before travelling instils an appreciation of the value of money and hard work, rather than reliance on the bank of mum and dad. If living at home, increase the expectation to contribute as an adult by helping with household jobs and managing their own money.

Parents can be worried by horror stories from popular gap year destinations, or by listening to their na├»ve teenager talking excitedly about travelling by local bus, motorcycle or camper van.  Good insurance cover gives some reassurance. Keep copies of their itinerary, passport, visa and bank card details incase these are lost or stolen. A good self-defence course, particularly for girls, will be a sensible investment. Research local laws of the countries they are visiting, making them aware of cultural differences, particularly where alcohol or human interaction are concerned.

Agree how and how often you will communicate while they are away, but do remember they will sometimes forget! The trick is to give them the independence to broaden their horizons, but with support mechanisms on stand-by, should anything go awry.

Parents come and meet the schools face-to-face to discuss your school choice decisions at age 11, 13 or 16. A FREE event in Sept 2013. 16 presentations from Heads and senior school staff, giving advice on making the right school choice. More details and to REGISTER for FREE tickets, visit our website

Saturday, 4 May 2013

How do we encourage children to read books for pleasure?

It is an undisputed fact that literacy skills are essential for success in education. Focussing on classics such as CS Lewis, Dickens and Bronte develops an important appreciation of not only ‘great’ literature, but also our cultural heritage. However, does this encourage reading for pleasure and how can we inspire youngsters to read, when there is so much competition for their time, such as social media, gaming and TV?

It is my belief that the first step is to have books, stored in an easily accessible place, as a regular part of their lives from a young age. Both parents should take turns reading with children at bed-time so they see male and female role models who enjoy reading - particularly important for boys. Get them used to reaching for a book when they have a few minutes of downtime, especially just before bed.

It is yet to be proven if reading pages or a screen makes any difference, but it is my view that there is no substitute for the feeling of satisfaction from turning the last page of a good book.

To gain enjoyment from reading, the subject matter is most important. Even if books are about cars, football, ponies or their favourite band member’s autobiography, reading for pleasure must involve a subject of interest. Just as trends in music change, so do the issues faced by youngsters when growing up. When it comes to fiction, associating with the characters in a book, engaging with the story and stimulating the imagination is far more likely if the story recounts feelings or experiences which are familiar to a youngster growing up in 2013.

School librarians are a good place to start for advice on authors and titles which cover more current topics and age appropriate story themes. Good luck!

Parents, why not register for our FREE schools fair in September 2013. Come and meet the schools face-to-face to discuss your child and listen to 16 presentations by local heads and senior staff, giving you advice on choosing the right school for your child at age 11. 13 or 16.