Gaining a work experience placement, whether it is paid or unpaid, may be invaluable in helping to strengthen your child’s university application by showing real commitment to, and experience of, his/her chosen subject of study. What’s more, work experience provides direct experience of what a career in a chosen subject would actually be like, and so will help to ensure that your child is making the right long term decision.
For some HE courses, such as Pharmacy or Social Work, work experience may be an essential part of the entry requirements. Your child should be looking carefully at the information provided by universities about the entry requirements for his/her chosen courses, to find out whether work experience is necessary, and if so, what type of work experience is expected.
Being persistent in finding work experience
Some organisations- particularly large blue chip and public sector organisations- will advertise work experience posts, and so your child may be able to find opportunities by looking within the careers sections of the relevant websites. A good starting point to find out further details about work placements, and to search for current placements, is the Target Jobs website. Prospects also have a website which offers the ability to search for work placement opportunities. Remember that competition for work experience, particularly if paid, will be high and so it is important that your child applies as early as possible and takes the time to make his/her application as strong as it can be.
Even if an organisation is not advertising any opportunities they may still be willing to provide work experience, especially if unpaid and for a limited period, to students who approach them directly. This could be a particularly good way to find local work experience with smaller organisations. Personal contacts and networking can also be an excellent way to find work experience placements- family members, family friends, parents of your child’s friends, and teachers may all be able to put your child in touch with someone who could offer him/her a work experience placement, or even offer them a placement themselves! If you and your child do not have any relevant contacts, encourage your child to approach companies and individuals directly. Many companies are willing to take on students for work experience if approached in a professional and enthusiastic way: encourage your child to write letters, emails or even use social media like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn as a way in!
If your child cannot find work experience that is directly related to his/her chosen subject, they may still be able to find work experience that would help to enhance transferable skills or knowledge which will be relevant to that subject. For example, if your child wishes to study a degree related to accounting but has been unable to find work experience with an accountancy firm, then he/she could consider applying for work experience with an insurance firm which would still enable him/her to develop skills which are relevant to accountancy- for example, working with applied mathematics and data analysis.
Remember that any work experience placement, irrespective of whether it is directly related to his/her chosen field of study, will allow your child to demonstrate in his/her personal statement and in any university admissions interviews that he/she is hardworking, motivated, and willing to learn new things- all of which are very important personal attributes that admissions officers will look favourably on!
An alternative to paid work experience is voluntary work, which can be undertaken either in the UK or abroad. Voluntary work will provide your child with new experiences that can be made reference to in his/her university application, and will again help to demonstrate positive personal attributes in his/her personal statement- for example being socially conscious, hard working, and open to new experiences.
Within the UK there are likely to be opportunities for your child to volunteer in areas which are related to his/her subject choice. For example, psychology applicants could volunteer to work with mental health charities, retirement homes, or local playgroups, law applicants could volunteer to work for civil rights or legal support organisations, and politics applicants could volunteer to work with a local or national political party. Alternatively, if your child has a particular musical, artistic or sporting ability then he/she could volunteer to teach young people new skills. A good website to start looking for UK based voluntary work is the volunteers section of Gov.uk
Many students choose to volunteer abroad in order to gain work experience whilst travelling to different regions. Some of the key areas of voluntary work abroad include providing support to individuals in developing countries (for example by teaching or supporting medical services), helping with community building projects in remote or underdeveloped areas, and supporting environmental management and conservation.
If your child chooses to consider voluntary work abroad then he/she should research the organisation that is organising the project carefully, and should ensure that if asked to pay any money then they understand what it is for and who it will go to. Your child should also check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to ensure that it is safe to travel to the region(s) that they intend to visit.