The majority of students do not take work experience seriously until they reach university, where it becomes an opportunity to boost their CV and make connections with potential employers. However, recent reports suggest that work experience is now becoming a necessary prerequisite for sixth formers applying to university. The Sutton Trust’s report reveals that top-tier universities use the personal statements of students as a means of distinguishing between candidates of equal academic ability. As such, students who attend private schools are more likely to secure impressive work placements with well-known companies, giving them an advantage over their peers when it comes to applying for university positions.
Furthermore, some vocational degree courses such as medicine or fashion require candidates to have completed work placements before applying. Sheffield University Medical School states that this is to ensure students have a comprehensive understanding of the complexities and challenges of their chosen profession. However, competition for such placements is fierce, with the NHS advising students to start gaining work experience as early as possible in order to stand out from other candidates.
Although work placements are not typically an entry requirement for humanities courses, they can still help candidates to stand out amongst their peers. Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, explains that work experience allows admissions tutors to gain a deeper understanding of a prospective student’s analytical and reflective abilities. It is essential for students to reflect thoughtfully on their experience rather than just listing where they worked, as it is the intellectual benefits that arise from work placements that matter. Admissions tutors want to see that students can gain meaningful knowledge and insights from their experiences, and they are uninterested in where those experiences took place.
In conclusion, while work experience is not a substitute for academic achievement, it can significantly enhance a student’s application to university. Academic prowess aside, what admissions tutors are really looking for is intellectual curiosity, passion, and a dedication to learning. Ultimately, it is not the prestige of a work placement that matters, but what students take from the experience and how they apply this knowledge to their future studies and career goals.