Six tips if you’re leaving school or college during a pandemic

You don’t need us to tell you that this is a summer like no other if you're leaving school or college to begin an A-level, BTEC, apprenticeship, degree programme or your first full-time job.

Terms cut short, exams that you worked for and didn’t take place, rushed shirt-signing, no prom. But as the country begins to reopen, albeit slowly and cautiously, it is the time for you too to start preparing for your next steps.

We've asked Catherine Sezen from the Association of Colleges to tell us about the things you can do now to feel a bit more prepared.

1. I'm starting a college or university course

If you know what you would like to do in the coming year, think about what you can do to prepare. If you have applied and are moving onto college or university, look out for any preparation information they send you.

Take a look at websites - many colleges, for example, are running virtual open days and tours to help you get a better idea of what you'll be doing in September. Ask your college or university for a reading list that you can start working your way through ahead of start of term. You might also like to listen to podcasts or watch documentaries relevant to what you will be studying or your career path. BBC Bitesize has resources to support you too.

2. I want to progress into work

If you want to progress into work, think about what skills and attributes you have to offer an employer that make you stand out. Don't worry if you've not had a job before or the one you were hoping to start has fallen through. Think about all aspects of your life: have you had a part time job, been involved in volunteering, played sport, taken part in dance or drama, or cared for a relative? All of these activities will have given you valuable skills such as time keeping, communication and working with others.

Also think about key skills that employers are looking for, such as reliability, problem solving and resilience and when you have shown these. If you've done shopping for an elderly neighbour, helped to organise a charity event at school, bounced back from an injury in sport – all of these are very valuable experiences.

You could also do some research in job sectors which interest you and brush up your CV. It's worth double-checking these points:

  • Are your contact details and references up to date?
  • Do you have any new skills or experience to add?

Don't forget including things like being able to drive, speaking other languages or knowing how to use a specific social media platform really well.

You could also open a Linkedin profile as a way to network and find work, and do some research in job sectors which interest you and start looking for opportunities.

3. I'm struggling to find work

It may be more difficult to find work right now because of the impact of the pandemic, so you might also want to speak to a careers advisor at your local college, who will be able help you make decisions about what you want to do next.

You can also check out the National Careers Service, where you can find out more about the skills you have, explore careers and find a course. And BBC Bitesize also has a Careers section, with lots of articles and videos to explain the world of work, as well as advice from people who've found the right path for them.

If you apply for a job and get turned down, try not to worry. If you can, ask for some feedback and build on that for your next application. And don't be afraid to ask for help: teachers and tutors, family and friends can also give you some good suggestions if you're not too sure about your CV or interview techniques.

Finally, if you have a certain careers path in mind find out as much as you can about the roles that industry can offer. Professional bodies or associations are a good source of information.

4. I want to volunteer

You might have been considering taking a year out and travelling or volunteering abroad but, under the current circumstances you might be rethinking this. You might be able to find voluntary work here in the UK, or consider continuing in education. Some organisations might also provide remote volunteering opportunities.

5. I don't know what I want to do!

If you are undecided, or have changed your mind about your path, now is the time to explore the options available to you. Again, your local college is a good place to start; find out what they can offer. Colleges offer courses in a range of subjects from animal care to electrical, history to hair and beauty and art and design to applied science at a variety of levels to meet your starting point. You might also like to explore higher education options at university or college. The UCAS website is full of helpful information about courses and the student experience.

This summer and autumn might not work out in quite the way you imagined, so be prepared to be flexible and open to different suggestions. Opportunities might arise that you hadn’t even considered. For example, are there any apprenticeships available in your local area? Apprenticeships offer a job and training in a variety of sectors, from engineering to hairdressing. They are available at different levels depending on your skills and experience.

6. I'm worried

Try not to fret. There is no doubt, at least in the short term, that the next stage of your life and career will be different from what you expected, but schools, colleges, universities and employers are aware of this and ready to answer your questions and support you to achieve to the best of your potential.

It is natural to feel anxious about what happens next, but so will everyone else. No one could have anticipated this time last year that the whole world would have gone into lockdown. You may have experienced lockdown differently from your friends, others in your class or year group, but everyone will have been impacted in some way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. YoungMinds and Mind are two organisations which offer advice on dealing with coronavirus-related anxiety.

The most important thing to remember is that there are a range of opportunities for you to explore, new skills to learn and new friends to meet. There is no time like the present to get started.

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