Image of a teacher advising students

 by Leah Rose Brown
, posted On 31 Dec '16
 Marketing & Recruitment Officer, University of Bolton

How to support students making Pre and post-16 option choices - including GCSE and ALevel options

By Leah Rose Brown, Marketing and Recruitment Officer, University of Bolton

From Year 8 right up until Year 13, students will start to make the key decisions that help shape their future. There are many stages within this decision making, from the initial option choices to choosing a degree at university.

Some students will already have their career mapped out and know the steps they need to take. For others, choosing what to do is a daunting and confusing process. The key is not to panic. No matter what stage they are at, there’s always a solution. They must keep sight of where their strengths lie and what they enjoy doing. They must listen to all the advice they can, yet know that the ultimate choice is theirs.

Here’s what I think each year group should be considering:

Year 8/9

For students choosing their GCSE options at Year 8 or 9, they should pick courses they enjoy and are good at. They should talk to their parents and family members as well as teachers to get advice, but should go for the subjects where they feel most confident.

If they already know what career/area they’re interested in, it’s a good idea to work backwards – for example, if they want to be a nurse they should look at entry requirements for some Higher Education ("HE") courses. This could help sway their decision regarding what they study at GCSE.

Year 10

This is a good point for them to start thinking more seriously about what they’d like to do in the future. Can they see themselves at university or does an apprenticeship sound more appealing? Open Days help them get a taste of what higher education is like and helps with the decision-making process. And it’s never too early to gain work/voluntary experience if they have a career in mind or are considering an apprenticeship.

Year 11

Although students’ time will be occupied by exams, they need to decide what to do next. Visiting colleges and sixth forms, and speaking to prospective tutors, will help them make this decision.

Studying GCSEs will give students a clearer idea about what they enjoy, and what areas they should pursue.

If they are considering university, they should now find out what subjects and qualifications are best for the courses and career they’re interested in. They should be advised that some courses will require them to take certain subjects and/or types of qualifications.

Year 12

By continuing on to sixth from or college, they will be in their first year of studying their chosen area. Although this is a new chapter, they will now need to start preparing for higher education. They should be encouraged to research HE courses and institutions. They should start to visit Open Days, course enquiry days, and attend UCAS Fairs and other HE events. They should also learn about the higher education application process and UCAS.

They need to start thinking about their experience, achievements and topics to write about in their UCAS personal statement.

They must be encouraged to gain relevant work experience or do some volunteering. This could help with their HE application, and some courses even ask for this as a requirement.

Year 13

Crunch time is here again and students will be completing their higher education applications early in the year. Students should be aware of things they need to keep track of throughout the year. They need to register on the UCAS website and remember to keep their username and password safe.

They should make sure they know their school/college deadline for applying, as this is usually much earlier than the official UCAS deadline, and be aware of entry requirements before applying. Teachers could encourage them to attend open/visit days at universities/HE institutions that have made them an offer.

They will need to respond within the deadlines set by UCAS or the institutions they have applied to, and apply for student finance and accommodation if necessary.

Then come results day, if their results aren’t as expected, they should also be aware of clearing options.

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Editorial has been provided by over 35 colleagues at universities and higher education institutions throughout the UK. On topics covering how to support students with their university decisions, university events, widening participation & fair access, UCAS applications (including writing school references) and more. It also includes the key student finance facts from Martin Lewis.

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