How to Support Students in Finding Work Experience Opportunities Before University

18 Dec, 2023 | Content for Educators

Gaining valuable work experience is just as important, and sometimes even more so, than securing top grades for high school students preparing for university. 

Relevant work experience plays a key part in building a strong university application, yet data from our OxBright Career Test shows that a vast majority of students feel they don’t have enough work experience.

This article aims to equip teachers with the knowledge and tools to assist students in finding and securing valuable work experience ahead of university applications.

Just How Important Is Work Experience for a High School Student?

Work experience opportunities play a vital role in shaping a student’s career aspirations and building their practical skills within their chosen field. A student’s experience during a short-term internship can change their whole perspective of a field of work, and this can consequently make an impact on their chosen course at university.

Most Gen Z and Gen A students feel it’s unlikely they’ll stick with one career for their whole working lives, and work experience is the perfect opportunity to explore and reflect on passions and interests.

Furthermore, work experience helps students gain practical skills and insights that can’t be acquired within a solely academic environment. Learning subject topics and revising for exams can certainly develop a student’s growth mindset, but practical skills like communication, problem-solving and time management can be significantly boosted through work experience.

Finding the Right Work Experience Opportunity for Each Student

Each student’s unique interests and skill set can help them choose the work experience that best aligns with their aspirations. Students might also have other commitments to consider, for example part-time work, caring responsibilities or time-intensive extracurricular activities.

There’s a diverse selection of work experience possibilities including:

  • Internships – training within a corporation
  • Volunteering – working for an organisation (usually a charity) without pay
  • Job shadowing – observing a professional (whose career they student is interested in) at work

These can often fit around varying schedules and commitments, so encourage students to explore the range of opportunities available!

Helping a Student to Network and Make Connections During Work Experience

Developing a strong network is one of the most valuable takeaways from a work experience opportunity, and oftentimes it can have long-lasting positive effects.

If you’re looking to support your students in networking, you can introduce them to alumni, industry professionals, or community leaders in your network, who can facilitate these valuable professional connections. 

Connecting a student with a career mentor will go a long way in expanding their horizons and introducing them to new and exciting career opportunities across different industries.

Large group of OxBright students preparing for their UCAS university applications.

Preparing an Application for Work Experience

So, you’re keen to support your students in their work experience journey – that’s great! – but how can you best bolster a successful work experience application?

Crafting Student Applications for Work Experience

The most important thing you can do for your students is to assist them in their application preparation for any opportunities they come across.

Hosting CV-writing sessions and one-to-one mock interviews based on particular career fields is highly effective in preparing students for actual applications.

Students’ Professionalism and Online Presence for Work Experience

Additionally, you should make it clear to your high school students about the importance of maintaining their professionalism and appearance not just in interviews but on any public social media pages they may have as well.

It can be beneficial for students to set up a profile on sites such as LinkedIn (with their parents’ knowledge and permission) and follow business or company groups (like OxBright) to discover opportunities and keep up to date with the latest industry news.

Navigating Work Experience Challenges and Setbacks

Work experience can sometimes introduce potential challenges and setbacks. Student applications can get rejected, or there may be a limited number of opportunities within their chosen field. Factors such as transportation barriers, a lack of free time, or a protected industry like psychiatric care, can dishearten some students.

Therefore, you should aim to provide practical solutions and alternatives when these issues crop up. If a student’s application is rejected, consider if there are shadowing opportunities available instead, or whether anyone in the student’s network could help secure experience in a similar field.

Consequently, you won’t just support the student, but you’ll act as a role model, highlighting the importance of resilience and persistence when facing career obstacles.

Maximising the Benefits – Making the Most of Work Experience Opportunities

On the whole, teachers definitely have a responsibility to prepare high school students for university and beyond through work experience as well as academics.

As an educator, you can help students make the most of their work experience opportunities through collaboratively setting goals, journalling, and reflecting on experiences to enhance their social learning and personal growth beyond their years in academia. 

Ali

By Ali Sezgin

Ali is currently studying a BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, and is particularly interested in Old English and Renaissance world literature. He has experience in school journalism, and enjoys writing articles and doing research.

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