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Critical and original thought…procrastination by another name?

There are many reasons people attend university. To achieve a lifelong career dream. To pursue a financially rewarding career. To pass a few years whilst they work out ‘who they are’. All legitimate reasons, but are they achievable? The outcomes of university may also seem self-explanatory: degree, employment opportunities, networks of colleagues for years to come. Realistically, though, the true benefits of studying are much less tangible. Measuring them can take a little more nuance.

Adam Grant did a TED talk about what he coins ‘originals’. Those individuals who break from convention and try something new. People who say ‘No,’ to traditional routes of learning in favour of breaking their own path. Seeing this video got me to thinking: is university really about the subject you choose to major in? Or is it, in 2019, more about developing relevant original thoughts and ideas to propel you into the unpredictable future?

looking-to-the-future

Original thought is abstract as an idea

Throughout recent years, universities, colleges and schools have all attempted to distil such ideas through classes labelled ‘Critical thinking’ (an old Oxbridge favourite), ‘Reasoning’, or plain old ‘Study skills’.  The aim: to encourage lateral and open dialogue, discussion and dissection of ideas for the promotion of progress. The reality: professors divesting themselves of a range of references to philosophy, scientific studies and psychological theorems to encourage students to reflect on their learning.

Grant, though, looks at the concept in a different manner. He describes one of his most productive and creative students and her exceptional talent… for procrastination. Instead of following protocols – like deadlines for essays – she forged her own way through. And Grant supported her to do so. He was inspired by her gumption and so they entered into a study into procrastination. As a result, they found creativity and procrastination to be inextricably linked and notes, with humour, the limitations of the study as unfortunately the chronic offenders were too lazy to complete the questionnaire! There’s a sweet spot between being lastminute.com and the early bird who catches the worm.

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Procrastination for the win

So perhaps that stereotype of students who leave everything to the last minute (due to too much time on social media) as gamblers is incorrect. Maybe, contrary to long held beliefs, some people really do ‘work better under pressure’ from a deadline. Some of the most famous people in the world admit to it:

  • The Dalai Lama has admitted “Only in the face of a difficult challenge or an urgent deadline would I study and work without laziness”. He argues that he has seen the light now, though, and encourages a life of preparation so that “if you die tonight, you would have no regrets”.
  • Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick) was so awful a procrastinator he was physically chained to his desk in order to finish his magnum opus.
  • Bill Clinton – his aides reported that during his presidency, despite careful planning and plenty of notice on their part, he would often leave drafts/comments to the last moment with Al Gore referring to him as ‘punctually challenged’.

Maybe, rather than being a sign of weakness or disengagement, the lessons learned from having to accelerate uphill towards a deadline actually produces spontaneity and genuine moments of brilliance as Grant suggests.

Elon Musk has said that he has often started a project without any clue as to the likelihood of success. But, he argues, if an idea is important, there’s too much of a risk if you don’t try. That is surely the most valuable lesson any student gains from university: that risks are worth taking, and if you look at things in your own way you may just live to see them pay off.

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How To Perfect your Curriculum Vitae for Employers

What’s the point of a CV? What even is it? The Curriculum Vitae aka resume, bio or generic application. All of these have one purpose: to sell yourself to a potential employer. So what makes you stand out from the monochromatic spiels passing into companies’ hiring departments on a daily basis? A good CV.

General rules (UK specific)

  • Keep it to 2 pages of A4
  • Use a reasonable font size e.g. 12, and a generic typography e.g. Arial or Calibri as well as standard formatting
  • Include key contact details
  • Ensure it covers key skills, education and employment history, and the details of two referees.

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So those are the basic – then comes the more challenging task. You want to ensure that you have fulfilled the criteria that the job advert displays and you also want to avoid clichés. Follow the advice below for future success.

 

Be creative

Recently on social media, Jamie Laing (founder of Candy Kittens) posted his admiration for a budding intern who had designed her CV to look exactly like a packet of his company’s product. By tailoring her format to the employer she hoped to succeed with she ensured she got noticed – and a boost to her social media following to boot no doubt.

If you are applying to multiple different opportunities, then ensure that you adapt the visuals of your CV to match. A publishing company may be drawn to a design that reads like a story. A restaurateur  may appreciate a menu of your employment history. An online outlet may approve of your web-style design. Whoever your target audience is, in the current market it is likely there will be an overwhelming response for the best positions. So go the extra mile and see where it takes you.

Keep it real

We’ve all heard the urban legends of people who’ve lied on their CV and never been caught. The reality? Rigorous checks take place at most companies and therefore you’re likely to end up with a red face. Instead of claiming to be the UK’s answer to Jeff Bezos, be realistic about your experiences and skills.

Having said that, vocabulary is everything. If you’ve worked in retail, you can write about your ‘customer satisfaction experience’ or ‘product placement expertise’. If you volunteered to support younger undergraduates at your university you can divulge your ‘nurturing management style’. Be honest, but ensure you present your skills in the best light. If in doubt, ask a critical friend to read over it and ensure it makes sense.

Additionally, keep the explanations of your competencies linked to factors that make you employable. Avoid generic comments such as: I’m hardworking, I’m a team player, or I’m a quick learner.

Replace them with a more evidence based approach:

  • During my undergraduate studies, I maintained full time hours in my role in retail as well as volunteering time for younger students.
  • As a team leader at XYZ, I found that a supportive environment ensured better results.
  • Whilst studying for my Masters, I took up playing the clarinet and have already achieved Grade XX.

This way, you’re already proving your worth to the employer, and making them want to meet you in person.

Be specific

Peppering the market with CVs may seem like a winning approach to job seeking. But with the job market being an employers’ playground, generic applications are actually a risky choice. Yes, most of the basic information for roles in the same field may be the same. But job applications that have been amended to include key performance indicators extracted from the advert are more likely to be shortlisted. Even more so if a job description is directly catered to in the layout or content of a CV. Taking the time to let the hirer know you want their job rather than any job is a great way to identify yourself as a candidate worth a second look.

 

Overall, remember:

Be creative

Keep it real

Be specific.

 

Good luck!

What’s required to be a leader of the future?

Leadership: a great power as well as a great responsibility. And in 2019, leadership is what many students aspire to. Following intense workloads as university undergraduates – with many juggling internships, jobs and relationships – students achieve bachelors or foundation degrees and embark into the world of work. The goal? To find a career that is fulfilling obviously. But hopefully, to make steps up the ladder to management and leadership.climb-the-career-ladder

Here are a few examples of attributes required to get to the top, and some tips of how to get there yourself. Remember – all of these elements are great to improve your skills but also you will need to write about them in your CV. See our upcoming article on how to improve your CV later this week.

Make and take opportunities

Students understand that often the market is flooded with qualified applicants for a role. How on earth can you stand out? Make opportunities.

Think Mark Zuckerberg. He wanted to capture his classmates’ attention with a networking site. He is now a billionaire entrepreneur and social media magnate. He’s famously said that

“When we are connected, we can do great things.”

…so get connected! Find student groups, organisations and unions that represent your interests and those of your future career. Want to become an artist? Join local gallery tours and volunteer groups such as this. Apply for specific opportunities offered by world class galleries – like this one at London’s Tate Museum. Want to work in charitable organisations? Find your local goodwill or charity shop and lend your time.

Whatever your goal, seek out and forge those opportunities to make yourself standout from the crowd. In itself, this is a skill of great leaders – innovation.

Travel

It may seem counterproductive – or require some creativity on a students’ budget – but travel can make you particularly interesting to hiring managers (not to mention helping you to make friends at the pub too). In order to develop your leadership skills, and demonstrate them to a future employer, make your travel purposeful. You could complete a ‘voluntour’ in which you work with vulnerable people in earthquake ravaged Nepal. You could support animal conservation on the beaches of Guatemala. Whatever you choose to do, you will gain inevitable skills that allow you to work with others in a more constructive way. A journal, in which you note key experiences, may be useful to allow you to embellish your CV with the finer details later to demonstrate your independence.

Sport

Becoming involved in sport is a given for many people attending universities. But had you ever thought of how this could improve your employability in the boardroom? On the pitch (court or field) you will undoubtedly be required to show great discipline – a key attribute of great leaders. Harness that, and apply it in your academic studies and employment too. Additionally, it’s a great way to network and find like-minded people who may one day prove useful in a potential working environment.

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Decision making – to be or not to be… a leader?

Some universities now explicitly teach decision making. Most have a student body, run by a union that makes decisions for the majority by an elected few. In order to nurture your ability to make decisions, you could consider becoming involved in such an elective course or by seeking an elected position. If that’s not possible, there are plenty of other ways to identify yourself as a good decision maker. In interviews ensure to exude confidence in your dress, manner and approach.

How can you do this? Mimic those who exude these characteristics. The likelihood is that your academic studies are conducted by experts. Listen to them. Ask questions. Demand the highest achievable results from yourself and utilize the expertise that you are privileged to be exposed to in order to do so. University is a unique opportunity to share airtime with such thinkers – learn their ways and make the most of it.

Shoot for the stars

There are probably a million ways to become a great leader, and yet they are few and far between. Rather than asking why, look around. The answer is fairly straightforward. To become a leader requires more than just a desire for success. It requires hard work. Dedication. Sacrifice. And a little innovation, independence, discipline, confidence – paired with good luck.

 

Changes to UK Student Visas

Great news for overseas students! A change to visa rules will allow them to remain in the UK after studying.

Students who travel to the United Kingdom to pursue a range of qualifications have received some exciting news this academic year. From the year 2020-21, people with immigration status in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas will be able to take advantage of a new opportunity.

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The lowdown

The government in the UK has decided to consolidate its position in the burgeoning markets of science and technology. It will now allow individuals from abroad who wish to follow a path into employment to remain in the country following their graduate studies. For students from India as just one example, this will equate to approximately 50% of all educational visitors. The aim of this policy is to allow Britain to lead the markets – and the world – in the development and expansion of ideas into an ever changing future.

How will it work?

Students must first have a relevant qualification. Those whose status in the UK is linked to a place in a university or higher education establishment will then be able to transfer their visa to an employment (skilled work) visa. In order to do this they must find a job in a related, recognised field. Instead of facing restrictions and hurdles to gaining meaningful and relevant work opportunities in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland students will be rewarded for doing so. The government intend to have rigorous checks and criteria in place to ensure that those who are deserving, and who meet the requirements, are able to benefit from the new legislation.

Why now?

Brexit is just about all anyone can talk about in relation to the UK recently. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite appearances, that’s not the only priority announced by the recently appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Back in August, Mr Johnson ordered a review of the systems in place to incentivise the ‘top scientists’ to work here. The new visa plans are the culmination of this endeavour. In a speech he said that

“[even though] we continue to lead the way in the advancement of knowledge, we have to not only support the talent that we already have here, but also ensure our immigration system attracts the very best minds from around the world.”

This recognition of the world class international students attracted by the UK’s educational offering is good news for budding developers and innovators alike. From Newton to Darwin, the telephone to penicillin, Britain’s history is littered with crucial discoveries, developments and inventions. The aim is to continue this illustrious offering into the future of post-Brexit Britain.

How to take advantage of the changes

In opening up this opportunity, the UK government has created a series of new stipulations to maximise the results.

– Check whether the institution you wish to attend is one of the UK research institutes or universities that are authorised to endorse applications.

– Sign up to campus or graduate employment bureaus and agencies whilst studying in order to rollover or amend your student visa.

– Research additional funding that may be made available in your field for STEM based fields of investigation.

It could be you…

A British student has won the Nobel medicine prize, awarded in Stockholm, along with two US-born scientists for their research into the links between cellular processing of oxygen and the implications for advancements in treatments for debilitating diseases such as cancer. Such scientific boons are just the sort of acclaim the UK are hoping to replicate when the new ruling comes in. If you needed more reasons to study in the UK, maybe this could be it. You could add Nobel prize winner to your resume very soon!

Celebrating…World Mental Health Day 2019

Within the same week, World Teachers’ Day and World Mental Health Day are being celebrated. A crisis is being recognised around the world by educators and legislators alike, so continue reading for a short summary of services available at universities for students who need a little extra help managing their personal wellbeing.

Click here for the dedicated World Teachers’ Day article.

World Mental Health Day

Since 1992, World Mental Health Day has been celebrated on 10th October. It has become a day for awareness, campaigns and charity events which help to focus the public’s attention onto mental health issues.It is also an opportunity to flag up to the world exactly what has been done to support the vulnerable in our society…and to identify what still needs to be done.

On 9th September 2019, the World Health Organisation published an article claiming that due to a lack of awareness or legislated strategies to support the most in-need in a range of countries around the world, one person every 40 seconds are dying from their mental health. This may seem extreme or exaggerated but with suicide being the biggest killer of men aged 45 and under in the UK, it’s actually frighteningly true. Universities, colleges and schools are tackling the issues head on with a range of initiatives.

Student support

Every University will have a student services team that can assist you with day-to-day queries about life at University. Did you know that there are also dedicated people to support students when it all gets a bit too much, too? Harper Adams University in Shropshire recently won a UK accolade as the best University for student welfare. Perhaps due to the type of courses they offer – in farming and agricultural careers – there is a focus on integration and support for students. As 1 in 4 young women in the UK reported feeling lonely in modern society, this is clearly a necessary service being provided.

Online access to resources

The Unlonely Film Festival is an online festival in which students and budding auteurs can upload their content. The aim is to promote inclusivity and to share their experiences of loneliness. Run by the Unlonely Project, a group designed to use creative expression to combat loneliness, the festival is now in its third year and has gained the attention of television and written media alike. It’s been found that feeling isolated is as large a risk to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Raising awareness of the increasing social issue of loneliness, the charity encourages contributions that inspire as well as open up opportunites for dialogue.

On campus support

California Institute of Technology, or CalTech to friends, is 2nd in the world rankings of academic offerings. Perhaps part of the reason is due to the dedicated online and on campus support offered by the wellness team to ensure that students of the colleges at the university feel secure and safe to learn and excel. Nobel Prize winners, Turing award holders and more have passed through their doors and many students now feel the pressure to perform in this world-class school. However counsellors, drop in services and peer mentors mean that if you attend this establishment you will be well looked after. No wonder their results are so impressive, with that level of dedication to their students.

Any university has a responsibility to their students but as young people’s voices grow louder and their needs are more clearly expressed, establishments are scrabbling to compete for student satisfaction. This can only be a good thing for those poeple this World Mental Health Day who need a little extra support.

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed or in need of help, research what your university offers, or access charity support available 24/7 by phone or online.

Samaritans UK – https://www.samaritans.org/

Samaritans USA – http://www.samaritansusa.org/

Celebrating…World Teachers’ Day

Within the same week, World Teachers’ Day and World Mental Health Day are being celebrated. As an educator myself, there didn’t seem a better occasion may arise to reflect on the meaning of the job I chose almost five years ago and what it means to be a teacher. Click here for the dedicated World Mental Health Day article.

More than just a teacher

As a teacher, there is so much more to the job than simply sharing information with students. In a society that is privileged to benefit from access to health services, widespread access to the internet and an active media the job of a teacher is now much broader. Parent-teacher-nurse-counsellor-role model-parole officer-careers advisor would be a more accurate name for the job. This has two main consequences. 1) The job is fantastically rewarding. 2) Teachers seem like constantly exhausted pigeons during term time. So why do it? So many reasons, some of which I’ve decided to outline in an acrostic below in keeping with my English literary background.

T-E-A-C-H-E-R

T is for Teenagers. There is much comment in the news about the time students are willing to commit to learning vs indulging in pleasurable pursuits. But without a shadow of a doubt, teenagers are the funniest and most refreshing part of any day spent in a school. Young people have a phenomenal ability to comprehend and conceptualise learning in unexpected ways. For example, when discussing the merits of a given political system, a student once spent an entire lesson devising their own system that would use Artificial Intelligence to govern as that could make it ‘fair’ as only positive outcomes would be input therefore eliminating human errors of judgement. They had a fully justified parliamentary plan drawn up and made a convincing argument, all in less than an hour.

E is for Evolution. The aforementioned student’s ideas about politics are indicative of another element of modern teaching – evolution. A key role of schooling is to prepare students for the ‘real world’. What will our planet look like in 15-20 years? None of us know. As a result, schools and teachers are constantly adapting and changing their skillsets, provision and approaches to move with the times and ensure our learners are best prepared for their futures. Sometimes it can feel like the blind leading the blind but more often than not it inspires great interest in supporting those who will one day rule the world.

A is for Adaptation. Children and young people in our society are constantly adapting. They are expected to meet so many expectations – from schools’ and colleges’ to their parents’ and peers’. This requires the flexibility that could only be demanded of young people as their minds are supple enough to adapt. I’ve personally taught children with extremely difficult home lives whose priorities are different than their peers, but for the 6 hours a day spent in a classroom they can behave like children. Similarly, I’ve had the privilege of supporting students who have chosen a career path that requires dedication and commitment from an early age – aspiring to be doctors or sportspeople – and they constantly improve and adapt towards their goals.

C is for Comedy gold. They say from ‘the mouths of babes comes praise’…which I’m yet to see! What does emerge from the mouths of students though are a range of earnestly intended and hilarious comments such as:

  • “Why do my f’s look like octopusses?” (And a quick reply from a peer: “No. You mean ‘octopi’.”)
  • “I wasn’t supposed to put these chemicals together? I thought you said MAKE ammonia!”
  • “No, really, the dog ate my homework.”

Additionally, students prompt a whole range of silly sentences that as a grown woman you’d not expect to say. Many of these are too embarrassing to repeat, but suffice to say that working with children keeps you young, as the laughter-lines on most lifelong teachers’ faces prove.

H is for Hormones. Young people have a lot to deal with. Conflict. Fear. Frustration. When these emotions are created within their own developing bodies though it can be overwhelming. Children rely on their teachers to understand and to help them to understand their growing minds and bodies. This is where some also begin to struggle with their mental health. Increasingly, schools are educating their staff and students on the benefits of exercise, openness and access to services as mental well-being is becoming a priority for all.

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E is for Eating. All. The. Time. And not just the children either. Staff rooms are a hotbed of hidden snack drawers and birthday cakes. The best days of the year are charity events. Row upon row of homebaked snacks (with a quick check as to which student or staff member made it, just in case) are torture and delight in equal measure. We earn it though; the average child asks between 250 to 300 questions per day, so that’s a lot of energy burned. Students however, take the calorie count to the next level and with youthful metabolisms to protect them don’t always suffer the consequences. Hmph.

R is for Revolution. The world is theirs for the taking. So a little anarchy and a gentle shove towards activism is sometimes required. It may be unethical to do this as a teacher, but thankfully young people like Greta Thunberg lead the way for us instead. Seeing the youth of the world strike for climate change, or demand better treatment/legislation around education in their countries, brings hope and joy to the heart of an educator. They learned something, even if they missed a day of school. When push comes to shove, life is about taking opportunities and I believe a little revolution is good for the soul. After all, many people I’ve told I’m a teacher think my students revolting, so why not prove them right?

I have been a teacher for five years in the UK, working in a range of schools. Each day children make me laugh, think, question myself and force me to bring my best self to the fore. I can’t think of a better job, or a more engaging way to spend my working life.

Avoiding Freshers’ Flu…and other tips for your orientation

As traditional as initiations to colleges and making fast friends at orientation parties, freshers’ flu is something all students will have to deal with. A new place – sometimes even a new continent – is bound to mess with your immune system. So, here are a few tips for avoiding the dreaded initiation influenza, allowing you to enjoy your first few weeks at university to the fullest.

Eat well

It may seem like something your mother would say, but seriously – eat well. Make sure you try out all of the welcome offers at your local SU. Locate and plot your route to the local supermarket or grocer’s. Make friends with your dorm-mates and make a plan to share meals. All of these things are essential if you want to eat well and stay healthy at uni. You’re on a budget…obviously! But that doesn’t mean making poor choices.

If your college has a catering option, it’s a little more straightforward. If it doesn’t? Then you have a fantastic opportunity to learn new skills. And remember, food is the way to a person’s heart so if you are cooking up a storm you’ll have new friends flocking at the doors in no time.

Top foods to eat to stave off those nasty germs? Go for a range of vegetables in different colours – variety is the spice of life after all. You may think you can’t afford expensive cuts of meat as a student. You may even be right. However, making veg packed stews or artfully decorated salads with a sliver of chicken can ensure you don’t miss out and get those all important proteins to keep you laughing all the way to Winter break.

Drink well

There will be a million offers for freshers’ in the local bars and clubs. 2 for 1, Ladies night, Happy hour. All of these are great. But a hangover? That’s like knocking down your front door and inviting in all of the potential illnesses into your wobbly immune system.

To avoid getting run down and flaking out before the end of the party there is one rule: pace yourself. Ensure you drink water periodically throughout any night out (and of course, prearrange your taxi home). Have a good meal before you go out, to allow your body time to process any alcohol you consume.

Remember: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. If you know there’s a “can’t miss out” party on a particular night then stock up. Ensure you have a good breakfast available to you the morning after the night before and a drink with added electrolytes to replace those you lose as you dance the night away. Always ensure you stay hydrated, and remember to remove your make-up when you get home to avoid blemishes, too. Do your bit for the environment too: get yourself a cute reusable bottle, and ditch the plastic.

Dress for the weather you have, not the weather you want

So you’ve chosen to study in Canada. That dress, or shirt, may look incredible. THAT person you’ve been dying to meet is going to be there. But the runny nose and streaming eyes you sport with your outfit when you catch a cold won’t allow you to make a lasting impression…well, a positive one anyway. Dress for the weather you have, and save that killer outfit for when it’s summertime and the living is easy.

Get a doctor

Registering with the local healthcare centre may not be top priority, but when your cold turns into a full blown bout of the flu you’re going to want to dose up. If you’ve not arranged your health care then that process will be delayed, leaving you with a serious case of FOMO whilst you lay in bed recovering. Speak to your counsellor, student ambassador or dorm-manager and make sure you have an idea of where to go when a stiff drink or an early night won’t cut it.

Join a team

The great thing about freshers’ week is the enthusiasm bubbling up for you to join all of the university’s teams. Take advantage of the taster sessions and free workouts at the gym. Work out which way of ‘working out’ works for you! Endorphins make you happy, and happy people are healthier. You may not have been a fitness fanatic before starting university, but it’s a great way to meet new people and to improve your immune system at the same time. Have a go…what’s the worst that could happen?

Swimmer

Take it easy

Remember, uni is a marathon not a sprint. Yes, you want to immerse yourself in the university lifestyle during freshers’ week. But there are so many opportunities to get involved throughout the academic year. Getting settled and finding your feet will include going to parties and making friends. Just make sure you also factor in making your room feel homely too though. Find a spot for the endless reading your course will require – a favourite tree to shelter under, or a snuggly chair in the campus coffee shop. Track your route to the gym and back. Relax, and remember: you’ve got all year to have fun. Take your time to get comfortable and ready to learn.

How to… Ace Your University Interview

It used to be that University interviews were reserved for only the most sought-after schools or classes. Before that they were a formality in which students would be inducted into the College of their ancestors with a handshake and a toast. Now, thankfully, the process is a lot more commonplace and a lot more rigorous. From Medicine to Teaching, Dentistry to Business, many universities now require students to present themselves at interview to earn a spot on their course. So, grab a cup of coffee and a note pad and settle in. Here’s some advice on how to wow the panellists and secure your dream place at university.

Understand the process – and prepare

There are many different protocols in place for interviews at Universities. It’s 2019! You could be interviewed by a panel or an individual, in a group or on your own, to measure your mental aptitude for a certain course or your measurable skill in an area of study…the list is almost endless. This can cause understandable stress. The solution? Ensure you understand the process by reading your letter/email carefully, and requesting further detail if required.

Then, leave early to arrive in plenty of time, and grab a bottle of water to calm those nerves and whet your whistle. Understanding the order of the day should allow you to relax and – dare I suggest? – even enjoy the process.

Know your stuff

This may seem incredibly obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people forget the basics. Revision is second nature to modern students and you should utilise this skill for interview. Why do you want to attend this particular college or school? What about the course is particularly attractive to you? Is there a renowned library or theatre you can’t wait to visit on campus? What is impressive to interviewers is passion – something you can’t fake. So, look into the finer details of the programme of study and show off that knowledge in your allocated time with your interviewers. People listen to people who are interested; show off your engagement with their product. It will go a long way.

Be smart

Even if the dress code says ‘smart casual’, err on the side of ‘smart’. As a famous person once said, ‘You can never be overdressed or overeducated.’ And you won’t have the opportunity to become ‘overeducated’ if you don’t dress to impress. Be comfortable, and wear something that gives you confidence. If you’re not a suit-wearer by nature then perhaps opt for smart trousers and a shirt and jumper. If you’re someone who avoids wearing dresses on a regular basis, don’t squeeze yourself into a pencil skirt. Be you…just the smartest version of you. Imagine this is a job interview: you don’t want to add to your nerves by glancing around the waiting room in your scruffs and seeing a sea of shiny shoes.

Be engaging

Manners don’t cost a lot – or anything – but they can be underutilised by many students. Hold open the door for people as you enter the building, smile at the receptionist: these people may be involved in the process, but even if they’re not using your manners will leave a lasting impression. Etiquette (in the UK, at least) dictates that eye contact and a handshake are a symbol of confidence and politeness. But if you are interviewing elsewhere, it wouldn’t harm to look up local culture and find out the appropriate greeting. Use non-verbal feedback to indicate you are listening to the questions and responses of your interviewers – nodding, agreement and eye contact are all sure fire ways to engage your panel.

Ask questions

Many people assume that interviews are all about your answers to questions. In actual fact, thoughtful and considered questions posed by you are equally important. How else will you know if the course, university or country are the right ‘fit’ for you? As much as you want to secure a place, and the university wants the right sort of person on their course, you also want to make an informed decision. So air any concerns and raise any questions you need the answers to. In addition, you will look even more confident and committed if the panellists know that you are a discerning customer choosing their institution.

It may seem a lot to keep in mind, but ensure you follow the steps above to smash the interview. Good luck!

5 Dos and Don’ts for a Successful Personal Statement

Writing a personal statement is a rite of passage. In order to apply for most universities – or a whole tranche of them at a time through UCAS – you need to outline the person behind the application in the form of a personal statement or letter of intent. But how can you tell if yours is going to grab the attention of your intended institution for the right or wrong reasons?

 

Here are 5 handy tips to help you make sure you are a surefire acceptance at the University of your dreams…

 

1) DON’T simply Google ‘University Personal Statement’ and then follow the proforma word for word.

Yes, the advent of the internet has meant a huge resource is available to students all around the world. And absolutely, you should draw on lots of examples to gain inspiration for your own foray into the world of writing about yourself. But simply following the top result on the world’s most used search engine is not going to gain you kudos with University admissions advisors.

Instead, do some subject or even institution specific research. Then, use that as a framework for your first draft. Do your first choice university have a key phrase used in advertising? Try to paraphrase it. Does your intended course require ingenuity, creativity or a drive for data? Incorporate that into your writing. DON’T simply Google it – if you put more time and effort into the crafting of your work it will show. Who knows? Maybe one day you could be the result when another budding student searches for ‘template personal statement’.

2) DO ask family and friends what they would say are your top qualities.

Many people – students or otherwise – find it incredibly difficult to honestly appraise their strengths and weaknesses. Either modesty or self-esteem prevent us from being able to confidently declare ‘I’m really good at x, y or z!’ So ask someone who knows you really well, and then reflect on their observations. Maybe you do have an eye for finer details that could be described as an ‘interest in the minutiae’, rather than just being ‘fussy’. Perhaps your passion for a particular sport or team could be construed as ‘vigour for life’ rather than fanaticism. Sell yourself, but be honest – and throw modesty to the side in order to ensure you present your best self to your chosen university.

3) DON’T use a thesaurus for every single word in your application.

Learn from the infamous Joey Tribbiani (a f.r.i.e.n.d.s reference that should translate to a modern generation due to the Netflix resurgence of the classic series in recent months). You do not need to replace ‘heart’ with ‘large aortic valve’. Neither do you need to list seven different adjectives to communicate that you are a hard worker.

What you should try to do instead is think of examples of scenarios that prove you have the qualities you are trying to exemplify. A great example would be avoiding the phrase ‘I love reading and going to the theatre’ for an application to study Literature. What would be better is to express that passion through an example of your particular interest in a performance you recently attended as part of your A-Level study. E.g. “The creative license employed by x in the recent adaptation of the ‘Woman In Black’ prompted me to re-read the original; I found the new perspective enlightening.” This not only shows you have a broader interest in story-telling as well as Literature more specifically, it also shows that you have critical reflection skills key to a good candidate for degree level study.

4) DO get someone with good literacy and grammar skills to proof read your personal statement.

If having to choose between there/their/they’re gives you cold shivers, or your/you’re not sure which form of a homophone to use – CHECK! A critical friend is a good friend, and when submitting as crucial a document as your personal statement you will want someone to cast an eye over it first.

You’re going to need to write several drafts before you ‘get it right’, so don’t be afraid to ask people to check it over. Any student going through the application process will be able to empathise, and your teachers know how stressful this can be for you. Asking for the help is the only way to be sure you get it.

5) DO plan ahead.

If you rush your personal statement, it will be obvious. The development of ideas will be patchy and the vocabulary is bound to be repetitive and – dare I say it? – boring. Give yourself plenty of time to plan, canvass for ideas, procrastinate, panic. Once you’ve done all that, write at least two or three drafts before you’re satisfied. For many students, the personal statement is their only opportunity to engage directly with the departments and universities they are applying to. The same level of commitment and attention to detail should be applied to the application itself as to choosing the institutions. Make sure you have planned ahead, and that way you can be sure you have your best foot forward.

So remember…

These hints and tips are a springboard to a successful personal statement. In summary:

    • Make sure you sell yourself well – take this opportunity to shine.
    • Make it personal – universities appreciate applications with a bit of personality rather than generic formulas and cliches.
    • Make it count – you have one shot.