Think to the future: gaining advantage through experience at university

There are a plethora of things to consider when looking at university course options. Amongst the questions of which subject to go for, which university to study at, whether to study full or part-time and how much is it all going to cost comes another incredibly important factor to consider: how exactly will this course help me with my future aspirations?

If you have a particular career in mind, you may well be looking at a degree which is directly related to that career or one which provides relevant skills and knowledge to enable you to prepare for entering a particular industry or field. If you’re more flexible in considering post-degree career options, you may still wish to consider transferable skills you could develop whilst at university that will make your CV shine.

Industrial placements, work experience, simulated situations and extra-curricular activities all have a part to play in helping students to develop their skills and knowledge and are all worthy of consideration when looking at university and course options.

What sort of experience can be gained?

  • Sandwich year placements

Some undergraduate degree courses offer the option to study for a ‘sandwich’ course which involves a placement year working for an organisation in the third year of a four year course.

This type of course can enable students to gain experience through employment and is especially useful to students who have limited previous experience. However, such experience really is beneficial to all students as having a substantive period of experience which demonstrates an affinity to working within a particular area can make the task of breaking into an industry more achievable following graduation.

A range of our business, computing, technology and engineering degree programmes offer sandwich year options to students.

  • Formal work experience placements

These may be much shorter than a formal placement year on a sandwich course, and can involve placements of anything from a few days to a few weeks or even months. In some instances, students may be required to source and organise their own work placements depending upon the course they are on.

A whole host of courses at Birmingham City University have work placements embedded within their structure. These include nursing, most allied health courses and teacher training. Shorter placement opportunities exist on other courses such as media, sociology and psychology to name but a few.

  • Simulated situations

Some courses provide opportunities for students to take part in projects with fellow students in simulated environments. An example of this can be found in Birmingham City University’s Media and Communication degree course where students across one year of the course actively participate in a themed media production project requiring them to use their different specialist skills as part of a wider effort. Journalism, PR, Media Photography, TV, Radio, Music Industries and Web/New Media students all take on specific elements of the project to produce a tangible end result. Collaborating with colleagues on relevant projects is an effective way to prepare students for real world practices.

  • Extra-curricular activities

Gaining experience doesn’t always have to be about undertaking a formal work placement. Getting involved in other activities such as the student radio station or the student newspaper can also provide students with additional methods of developing their skills and demonstrating them to potential employers. A recent article in The Guardian about extra-curricular skills is well worth a read to see examples of how this type of experience has benefitted some students.

Volunteering schemes are another great way of obtaining valuable experience. The Students’ Union at Birmingham City University has a dedicated scheme to recruit volunteers from the student population.

Show that you can walk the walk

Academic study helps students to develop an in-depth understanding of their subject area. Being able to apply that knowledge in a practical situation is also important.

Experience not only helps you develop essential skills for the world of work but also often helps to prove these skills to potential employers. Being able to provide specific examples of where you have used your excellent communication skills – for example, “My well-developed, diverse communication skills were invaluable when working at Company X drafting press releases and handling a high volume of enquiries from the media.” – as opposed to merely stating that you have great communication skills but not being able to back this up, can be the difference in standing out from the crowd when employers are trawling through a pile of CVs.

Improve your employability

Graduate employers are keen to see graduates who leave university with a range of skills that will help them in the workplace. Skills that can enhance employability include:

  • Team-working
  • Communication
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Initiative/ being proactive
  • Ongoing development
  • Time management

These skills can be derived from a whole host of activities, but practical experience and the ability to show examples of where skills have been utilised are beneficial to graduates. Whether time management skills were developed through managing conflicting essay deadlines or from completing projects to a timetable in a working environment, students need to think about how they can acquire these skills.

See the ‘what do employers want?’ section within this useful article on the Prospects website for more ideas about relevant skills and how different experiences can help to develop and demonstrate them.

Enjoy new experiences and build confidence

Gaining experience through dealing with new situations and new people can be a great confidence builder. Being able to adapt to different situations can prove very useful in situations like job interviews and networking events when you may be dealing with people you’ve never met before and want to make a good first impression. The more experience you have in dealing with a variety of people and tasks, the less likely you’ll feel daunted about facing new challenges. 

Harness the benefits of networking

Through practical experience, you can meet and network with other individuals in a particular field or industry. Never underestimate the power of networking – it can help you to discover opportunities that are relevant to your interests which you may not have otherwise found. Developing good contacts and utilising relevant opportunities may be invaluable in gaining a competitive advantage over others aspiring for the same career as you!

Look out for other schemes which may be available which yield opportunities to network. At Birmingham City University, final year students can register for the Employer Mentoring scheme which enables them to be paired up with graduates of the University based on key criteria, such as interest in a specific sector or profession and what they want to achieve.

There are plenty of opportunities for students to really make their university experience beneficial to their future goals. Bear this in mind when you’re considering what and where you would like to study.

One thought on “Think to the future: gaining advantage through experience at university

  1. I am an employer and one of the things that bugs me is graduates with no work experience! Work experience can make you stand out from the crowd. With more graduates competing for fewer jobs I think it is essential! Courses that offer work experience are a really good way of getting this real life experience that employers want!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *