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is relevant work experience essential? And a grrrrrrrrrrr

(76 Posts)
LettyAshton Mon 12-Nov-12 13:44:12

Ds can't find any work experience for the start of Year 11. He has sent about 20 letters, made as many phone calls, but so far has drawn a blank. Apparently all the kids are really struggling this year and many schools have canned the scheme because so many employers refuse to participate now.

Anyway, onto my grrrrrrrrr: I was speaking to someone yesterday whose dd is applying to top universities but with less than brilliant grades. She has work experience coming out of her ears - but it's all through dint of her parents' connections. She has shadowed a judge at the Old Bailey, spent time at the Inns of Court, covered the court cases for the local paper. It's not fair! Most kids could never get that kind of leg up.

Do universities look favourably on applicants with that kind of stellar work experience? Do they understand that the average student, albeit with excellent academic credentials, can't get into these places without personal contacts?

Yellowtip Tue 13-Nov-12 21:09:29

My piano teacher detonated any passion I might have had in my soul, aged 10. Just because to her mind I plink plonked. And couldn't be arsed to practice.

Copthallresident Tue 13-Nov-12 21:14:29

Yellowtip Maybe this is a definition thing since if anyone came over all Rochester on me I would probably refer them to a Psychiatrist, or possibly the Police, but I do encounter 18 year old students who have a passionate interest and curiosity about their subject, or perhaps I should say are inspired? I did myself and still have and tried to communicate it to my DDs. It was counter effective in one case since she went running for the Sciences and is allergic to all museums save the Wellcome but she really does care deeply about Science, feels really inspired by current Scientific work at the frontiers and her heroes are Scientists. When I took DD2 to the British Library exhibition on the literature inspired by British Landscape she was in there for six hours completely enraptured by the manuscripts and recordings ....

No academic is under the illusion that some students aren't there for the job prospects, name, beer etc but to get in they do have to have been inspired enough to make some effort!

Maybe though my problem is having grown up roaming those damn moors that spawned Rochester wink

Yellowtip Tue 13-Nov-12 21:37:38

Ok Copthall well equally my problem could be traced to having been born in Coulsdon and educated in Croydon, with a daily commute through Purley for my trouble. It was very limiting really, I can see that.

Most normal kids are finding their way at eighteen. I'd say it was fine to be still exploring what you might want to do and that it shows an openess of mind not to have settled. I just loathe this idea that all students should know, and insist they know, and know that they want nothing else except for a particular subject. It's not real life. I think many tutors prefer honesty and real life.

That said, DS1 has been clear that he wanted to be a medic since about aged 8. No idea why. But the others have been floating voters. In my own small sphere I found many, many lawyers who were novelists manque or musicians manque or something else manque. I understand it's the same with medics very often.

Copthallresident Wed 14-Nov-12 00:02:16

Yellowtip I think all tutors appreciate that the three years at university are a chance for you to pursue your interests and study something you are good at before the realities of the real world hit. It's a lucky few who make up their minds what they want to do and very lucky even fewer who get to do it.

Doesn't end with uni applications. I remember interviewing a graduate for our management training programme. The only bit of the process he scored points in was when he was challenged to use his intellect and in the OccPsych tests and team tasks. Of course the form/game was for the applicant to give us lots of evidence they had the qualities, motivation and skills we were looking for, and of course "passionately" wanted to join our organisation but he admitted he had never had positions of responsibility unless you counted working behind a bar, he had gone to a lacklustre comp but because he was amongst the brightest had had lots of support, he all but admitted he had got a good degree whilst partying away his three years and was applying because we paid best. However he did all that with such manifest interpersonal skill that we short circuited the usual template and took him on. Last I knew he was Director level, although I took some stick from the line managers of all his fellow female graduate entrants who were distracted / had their hearts broken by him!!

Obviously work experience prepares them a little better for the intervention of the real world......

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 00:32:32

@yellow but it all worked out magnificently didn't it so that's ok. grin Being rude about their future wife's piano skills is just one of the things mr Rochester and mr Darcy have in common. IME you can make a child practice but you can't make them benefit in any way from that practice. So best not to do the coercion thing since it's ultimately worthless.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 00:40:11

@yellow I think people can reasonably claim to be passionate about, say, history or English or art or drama or, I don't know, archaeology - things which might be their hobbies as well as their academic strength. But I agree with you most 18 year olds won't be passionate about what they study. When I was 18 I was passionate about many many things none of which were maths. At my college interview, I was asked why I wanted to do maths and I replied to the effect that since I couldn't do what I wanted - music - because it was far too precarious a career and I couldn't play the piano well enough, I might as well do the thing I was best at. They thought that was a fair enough answer, I assume, since they offered me a place.

Croydon is clearly the most fabulous place in the world to be educated, please don't diss it or I shall be very sad. A school friend of mine collected an OBE the other day, I was just looking at the photos on Facebook, she took our old music teacher with her. That's what Croydon is like, that is. Well, what it was like. Possibly not so much any more. sad

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 00:45:14

@yellow you are incidentally right about lots of traditional professionals doing stuff on the side. As you know I do a lot of music (if you're near the cathedral in the run up to Xmas I can recommend a good concert.......;) ). I know several other people in law and finance and regulation who are also musicians on the side. I know at least two published novelists, and I know other full time writers who either didn't give up their day job for a while or still keep on their day job to this day despite being involved in something quite well known (my Warwick chums, as it happens). Some people live to work, most of us work to live and the same must surely be true of students at uni - most are pursuing a means to an end not the end itself.

Yellowtip Wed 14-Nov-12 08:37:46

DD2 is an artist manque but decided against it for the reasons you gave to the Maths dons Mordion. She's quite extraordinarily talented though. But what I find interesting with the three girls is that each has come to really love their subject as they go through uni. DD2 is taking madly esoteric options that the tutors are crazy about and that enthusiasm is getting passed on. So mine seem pretty enthused by the time they've got properly stuck into their course, it would just be an exaggeration to attribute it to them when they're filling out the UCAS ps. Their tutors say they want passion by the end of the course; they expect it only rarely at the start.

No I don't really diss Croydon, I'm quite defensive of it in fact. Mind you Monty P didn't do Purley many favours smile

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 08:55:08

I can quite understand anyone regarding claims of passion about the law with a pinch of salt from someone who really won't have much of an idea about it at that age. I can understand people claiming passion for history though. I wouldn't dismiss DD1 if she claimed a passion for history - she reads history voraciously, not just the (not terribly interesting) stuff she is doing for GCSE but all sorts of other stuff too. She really loves it.

People rarely challenge a claimed passion for hobbies/special interests such as Sci Fi or musical theatre or footy, I don't get why it's not feasible to be passionate about other stuff too at a young age. I know I was. Not maths, obviously. But other stuff.

Mind you, I think 'enthusiast' is a particular personality type (I have a friend who refers to it as the 'fan gene'). So maybe it's just people like that (people like me) who buy into the idea of passion for a subject (although it's such an embarrassing word to use I probably wouldn't, myself). However since my academic hubby and academic friends are all like that too maybe that's where the received wisdom has come from? Or maybe I'm just friends with similar personality type people and there are shed loads of other academics who aren't particularly enthusiastic about stuff.

I think that growing up in Waddon was quite a big driver in taking the 'everything is beautiful at the ballet' approach to life, despite my never wavering love for Croydon in general. grin

Yellowtip Wed 14-Nov-12 10:11:55

In fact I'm being quite a hypocrite here because I was massively keen on history by the time I completed my UCCA form but for various reasons (lack of O level latin/ second MFL) couldn't apply to read it, so fell into law as a poor second best.

Perhaps the word passion has just become devalued by its over-use recently on UCAS forms. 'Relish' has got to be worse , by a whisker - all oleaginous - and 'captivate' is just way too Fotherington-Thomas - utterly dreadful.

cory Wed 14-Nov-12 10:14:01

I think what most universities are looking for is any evidence that your commitment (let's call it that rather than passion) is strong enough for you to be willing to go the extra mile. They don't want students who would prefer spending as little time as they can on the subject.

So when it comes to interview at the English department the student who claims to be passionately interested in literature will be asked what she likes reading- and then maybe one or two gently probing questions to establish whether she has actually read those books. It's as much about attitude as about feelings. A fluffy "fan" enthusiast will go around feeling vaguely good about books without necessarily reading that many; a committed person will read extensively and think about what they are reading.

The stage schools will want some evidence that you have taken the trouble to join your local drama club, gone to the theatre when you were able, read more plays than the one you did for your GCSE. Because if you couldn't even be bothered to do that, you are unlikely to cope with the demands of the course.

I don't know what the law courses are like, but I assume it is similar: when people talk about passion, what they really mean is commitment. Are you ready for this level of commitment?

(and if you're not, would you kindly start getting ready now rather than expect the academic staff to spoon fed you every step of the way and make up for your own deficiencies in attitude?)

Yellowtip Wed 14-Nov-12 10:17:29

Absolutely cory.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 10:22:24

@yellow you should have done it at Cambridge. My friend (they sat us next to each other on our first day at secondary school - I don't know if they did that on purpose or if it was a happy coincidence) did history there, and she didn't do latin O level, much to her disgust (her parents listened to the teachers and made her do 3 sciences at O level, mine didn't and let me do what I wanted) or a second MFL (she didn't even do French at A level - she did hist, maths, eng and ....can't remember, it was either economics or G&P). Mind you, she ended up working in the city for a MC firm. grin (well, I say ended, she's jacked it in now)

Relish is what people who eat meat put on burgers. Captivate is twee and eny fule kno that Fotherington Thomas is wet and a weed HOWEVER if I was an admissions tutor I would definitely be biased towards any candidate that showed a working knowledge of N. Molesworth and his ouevre. Chizz chizz.

MordionAgenos Wed 14-Nov-12 10:24:38

Cory yup. Commitment, focus and basic arsedness. Those are always IME the ingredients for success. Talent is good but it won't get you very far without the other three things. grin

Yellowtip Wed 14-Nov-12 10:41:30

My UCCA application was a model of How Not To Do It Mordion smile. Never mind; no real regrets. Next on the agenda is to go back and actually do the degree, if they'll have me. Which they very probably won't.

Several of my DC spell naturally like Moleworth. So far the admissions guys appear to have been fuled grin.

ArielThePiraticalMermaid Wed 14-Nov-12 10:47:05

We would love to do work insurance in our little company with y11s. Unfortunately we can't get any insurance for them which doesn't cost a fortune sad

Yellowtip Wed 14-Nov-12 11:02:21

Does the school insurance not cover the students Ariel? Seems such a shame to have someone so willing but not able because of cost.

Copthallresident Wed 14-Nov-12 11:08:51

I can only comment on our admissions officer who occasionally asks my opinion because I sit on both sides of the fence. In a set of applications there will be people who are clearly in because their academic results and predictions and choice of subjects clearly exceed our requirements, which should in turn predict they can succeed on our course better than the rest of our applicants, and they have a good enough reference. Frankly their PS will probably get a cursory read to make sure they have pursued an interest in the subject, which they may not have studied at school. For those applicants the reference and PS can only sink an application if it is positively bad, which references almost never are and PS's rarely, and even then there would be some cynicism about whether that was actually the applicant rather than bad advice etc. It gets more difficult at the borderline and that is where contextual information gets looked at more closely together with the reference and the PS. (There is also a process to separately review the applications of all those with contextual information that shows they have dealt with a disadvantage to decide whether access should be widened). Then they are looking for who has demonstrated the motivation to succeed, and be an asset to the course above and beyond the rest of the candidates. That is demonstrated by overcoming the odds to achieve what they have academically, a manifest work ethic, evidence they are contributors / participators, and what they have done to pursue their interest in the subject. Sometimes a pupils enthusiasm/ passion, whatever you want to call it, actually does come through in the PS, but in what they have read, seen, done and their responses to it, specific, credible and consistent with the reference.

In some ways it can be sad when undergraduates arrive with such idealistic ideas about what they are going to do in the context of their enthusiasm for our subject because the reality is that by the time the third year is ending the vast majority are going off to more prosaic futures as bankers, lawyers, managers, civil servants, in unglamorous NGOs etc. though I am glad and proud to say my institution do have a few alumnae on the world stage making a big difference and a lot more making a little difference.

Copthallresident Wed 14-Nov-12 11:21:57

Our school sent a form we had to sign that said we had made sure the company our child was working for had insurance. DD2 managed to get herself work experience shadowing / bag carrying for a freelance copywriter/ journalist and there was no way that I was going to bother him with that so I was totally irresponsible and didn't even consult a lawyer There must be ways around this though?

LettyAshton Wed 14-Nov-12 11:41:20

Ds's school WE coordinators physically visit every work placement. I'm not entirely sure what they are looking for. People wearing an "I'm a Paedo on the look-out for 15-year-old work experience students" sweatshirt? They decree, therefore, that work experience must be within the county.

Thanks for the replies indicating that admissions tutors aren't bowled over by glamorous work placements. I heard a Woman's Hour piece a while back on this subject and one girl had made the effort to learn shorthand and had spent her university vacations working as a legal secretary, which had gone down a storm with recruiters.

ArielThePiraticalMermaid Wed 14-Nov-12 12:01:41

No the schools don't cover it.

It's not what you'd call a typical business though! There is a lot of physical activity involved and a degree of risk.

cory Wed 14-Nov-12 12:11:13

Letty, ours do the same. I don't think it's really about paedophilia: more about making sure that the young person is actually spending those two weeks in a meaningful way. Mine did hers with the local archaeology unit. She said the school visit was hilarious: she was balancing a bucket of muddy water across a floor piled high with old bricks and human bone when her immaculate French teacher walked in- the poor woman looked absolutely terrified! Some grubby archaeologist jumped up and insisted on giving her a full tour of the premises. Dd loved it! grin

Not read the thread but my DS1s experience was he did work experience in a hotel (not his first choice) was offered to comemback for a trial at 16 and then worked most weekends and holidays from then on until part of the 1st year at Uni. He got a glowing reference showed real dedication and ability to turn to whatever was asked - this possibly also helped in getting two other summer jobs, one local and one this year as a tennis coach in USA.

Is now applying for graduate positions - having ability to say you have a rovedn work record, irrespective of what it is I've heard from employers is considered valuable. Persoanlly I'd prefer to take on someone like that rather than those that just do a gap year of seemingly one long holiday (ok if you do voluntary type work).

DS2 did his placement there too - and so could possibly 3&4!! So it helps them too and keeps them in employment reducing our finances (even if we have to take them inthe car, the point is they get to know what real work is).

LettyAshton Wed 14-Nov-12 13:04:23

That sounds interesting, Cory.

Ds wrote a good (for him!) letter to the County Archaeologist but weeks later, no reply sad

ssaw2012 Wed 14-Nov-12 13:12:51

Some universities have work experience programmes. Perhaps, you need to check the websites of colleges and universities in your area and see whether they have got any programmes suitable for your DS. I would even advise to send each one a letter.
Learn Direct might have some information too. There should be someone from LD in the town's central library.

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