Does a work placement – whether that’s volunteer work or paid work, part-time work or an internship – help you to get into university? That is what, in this article, we are going to find out.
To spoil the surprise, the answer is yes. Any involvement in the world of work – whether that’s volunteer experience or paid work experience – will impress your prospective university’s admissions officers. It helps even more if it is relevant to the course that you are applying to study.
Having work experience in a literary agent will surely help you as an applicant to an English literature degree. Meanwhile, gaining job experience in a lab will up your chances of getting into a science course too.
But just doing whichever work placements is not enough. To make the full breadth of your relevant experience stand out on your application, you are going to have to do a little more than just say you did it.
How you present this experience is the crucial part of your application. We’ll point towards this at the end. However, let’s start with telling you how to find yourself a nice bit of work experience.
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How to Find Work Experience
Work experience is out there to be found. But there is not really any unique way to find employment experience that will be helpful for your university application. Rather, finding work experience is really like finding the real thing – actual work. So, let’s get you ready to go for it.
Unless you are extremely lucky, finding work can be a tricky game. Particularly when, before university, you don’t have much experience to speak of. It can feel like one of those situations in which to gain any experience you need prior experience – which is an awful game of chicken and egg.
However, you do just need to do it. So, keep an eye out for part-time work and voluntary experience – and ask your parents or older friends if you can come into the office to see what’s cooking.
In the end, the most important part of finding both work and work experience is not to give up!
Find out about getting a job for your degree!
Apply to Part-time Jobs
One of the less fun experiences in being an adult is applying for work. Job sites don’t make this experience any easier.
However, if you want a part-time job, there is no better place to start. Jump online and see what opportunities are around. At the very least, this will inform your job search later on.
There are hundreds of job sites to choose from – and all of them do advertise less than reputable jobs too. So, keep your wits about you and get your parents’ help in discerning the legitimate jobs from the others.
Volunteer for Charities
Charities, whether for the aged, for the environment, or for political rights, are always on the lookout for volunteers. The good thing about volunteering is that, more often than not, charities don’t have just one specific role open to which to apply. There’s much less competition and much more a spirit of welcome.
However, there is much less money involved too.
If you are after experience for the sake of experience – rather than for the extra pocket money – volunteering for a charity is a good opportunity for you.
Talk to People You Might Know
A strategy that might be sniffed at as you grow older is perfectly legitimate when you are still a child. Ask your parents or family if they can take you on for a week’s work experience or shadowing.
Now, your parents might be in the most boring jobs imaginable. However, experience helps you to get more experience – so take any experience opportunities where you can get them and use it to move on to other things.
If your fun aunt is a museum curator and that’s where you ultimately want to end up, don’t be afraid to ask.
Check out why extracurricular activities matter to your uni!
Visit Your Careers Advisor or Speak to a Voluntary Service
Schools have careers advisors for a reason. So, if you are looking for employers, internships, recruiters, or just a bit of help with your cover letter, then go and speak to them. That’s what they are for.
Meanwhile, in the real world, there are places for job-seekers to talk about employability and career development too. Try a career centre or a place like Volunteer Scotland, who can hook you up with the places where you can gain experience.
Search Dedicated Youth Employment Sites
Finally, try one of the many sites where you can find jobs specifically for young people. Organisations such as Youth Employment, Princes Trust, or Career Connect are designed to help you with these things.
Browse the site and see if anything takes your fancy.
How ‘Relevant’ Does Your Work Experience Have to Be?
So, you have found some opportunities, but an understandable question arises: how relevant does work experience have to be for it to be beneficial to your application?
The answer is not at all, necessarily, but the more relevant the better. If you can get part-time work in a shop, that is already better than not having part-time work at all. However, having work experience as a professor of history is obviously going to help you get into a history degree (we hope it goes without saying that you won’t be getting this job anyway).
So, to thrive at university, you don’t need to have all of the relevant skills already. Rather, just having the drive to learn new skills is good enough for your application to university. And that’s what work experience shows.
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Why is Work Experience Important?
It is not just about the direct experience that is helpful in work experience. Rather, there are heaps of ways in which it is important to your career path and university prospects.
Let’s show you a couple. We hope that they convince you that ‘relevant’ work experience isn’t everything.
It Shows Someone Else Recognises Your Skills
The first helpful thing about getting work experience is that it shows admissions officers, a hiring manager, or a future potential employer that someone else has seen value in your skills, character, and experience.
Coming out of the blue with no experience to your name, you will have no one to vouch for you in the skills that you are claiming. Work experience helps this.
Professional Experience Gives You Soft Skills
Professional experience doesn’t just give you the skills for that particular job. Rather, it gives you a whole host of transferable skills that are good for academia and for you as a person too.
Universities want to see that you can communicate, persuade, manage your time, and think for yourself. The job title itself doesn’t matter so much.
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Helps You to Grow Up
In a similar way, work helps you to grow up. It helps you to learn to take on responsibility, to work towards something that is larger than just you, and it gives you experience of the wider world.
No university wants to accept a child who is still very much childish in their attitude to the world.
Work Experience Distinguishes You from Everyone Else
If there is a situation in which admissions officers at a university have to decide between two people with identical applications – same grades, same extracurricular clubs, etc – but one has some work experience, which do you think they would pick?
It’s generally wise to avoid being in the situation in which you are the one who is let go.
It May Bear Directly on Your Studies
If you are very lucky, you’ll actually get work experience that is directly relevant to your studies. If you are applying to study something like medicine, it’s best if you get as much relevant experience as possible – considering how competitive the field is.
However, you may find that you can actually get into a position that teaches you something that you can use in your studies.
It’ll Help Your Future Career Too
Finally, once you have stepped out of university, the whole search for work experience starts again. It’s best not to be the person that has passed all of this time without any experience whatsoever.
Work experience can help to show you what you like – and also what you don’t like. This can be hugely important data in the search for ‘what you want to do when you grow up’.
Make the Most of Your Work Experience in Your Application
Remember, university applications do not work by you listing all of your experiences. This is really not helpful in impressing those who will read your application.
Rather, professors and admissions experts want to see that you can reflect on your experience. You can find out more about this in how to write a good university application.