SIS Futures

News and information from the South Island Careers Team

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What to do if you haven’t a clue. Choice of Degree Course.

The ‘you’, of course, refers to students, not parents. Nevertheless, this can be a source of anxiety for both.

While the USA ‘liberal arts and sciences’ style of degree offers the chance to change majors or even apply undeclared, most H.E. destinations presume that a student knows the course or field they wish to specialise in.

The introductory section of the Year 12s’ ‘Personal Action Plan’ tackles this issue:

Haven’t A Clue ??

This ‘Personal Action Plan’ assumes that you have some ideas already on the sort of subjects or courses you wish to take at college / university.

For those now shaking their heads in despair, bear in mind the following:

· Your choice of IB/BTEC courses is probably a fair indication of the broad areas of interest and the type of learning you enjoy.

· You may wish to try a quick diagnostic exercise on or try the Centigrade Online questionnaire that will give you a fuller report at a price – see

· There are many Combined and Modular degree courses that don’t require you to specialise but allow you to study a variety of options. Some HE destinations like the USA offer greater flexibility than others.

· You won’t really know if you’re interested in a course unless you know exactly what it involves.

Have you been to the Careers Centre lately??

The ‘Centigrade’ questionnaire referred to here is something we used to offer to the Year 12s, in the same way we offer the Morrisby Profile to Year 11s, as an optional pencil and paper exercise that involved a cost. Though it focuses on the UK and brings up UK degree courses in its results, applicants to other destinations also found it useful in identifying fields of study that aligned with their preferences and academic profiles. Therefore, where students are unsure of their direction, we recommend that they consider spending the 20 pounds sterling and the 30 minutes or so necessary to fill out the online version referred to above.

Otherwise, we encourage Year 12s to go about ‘Choice of Course’ in a self-reflective and organised fashion by providing a grid of criteria as part of their Personal Action Plan. They are encouraged to develop a system of their own if they wish, as long as it is considered and logical. We will expect them to be able to articulate their approach to both ‘Choice of Course’ and ‘Choice of College” in the formal H.E. Interviews in May/June.

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Navigating the Options Process: Years 9 and 11

If you are a parent of a Year 9 or 11 student, you will have recently attended an options evening, and will be giving a lot of thought to what options your child will choose for either the IGCSEs or the senior school. We wanted to give you some guidance from a Higher Education perspective, with regard to the future implications of options choices.

For the Year 9 students the pressure is somewhat off, because there is not a great deal of choice. The subjects that sometimes are specified by universities are taken care of, with us having a ‘core’ set of IGCSEs that every mainstream student takes; including Maths, English and Science. These are not always required by all universities for all courses, but if they are specified for courses such as Business or Teaching, it is usually required at a grade C. Where there is a choice of subjects, we always recommend students in Year 9 choose subjects they are interested in and can be successful in. IGCSEs are important in university applications simply because they are the only ‘fact’ (final result) on the application form, so it important to do as well as possible in these.

Things are slightly more complicated for students in Year 11 because there is more choice. The general rule indicated above still holds true: students will need to do well in whichever path they take, so it is sensible to choose subjects they have a genuine interest and, if possible, a demonstrated ability in. In the IB, the enforced breadth of the course is helpful in keeping many doors open at university. However, students should consider what their interests might be in at university, because in destinations like the UK, offers can be highly prescriptive in terms of Higher Levels. For the BTEC, the fact the student chooses to be more specialised does not generally prove problematic, as it tends to follow that students often want to pursue a similar subject at university. Equally, there are a lot of courses at university that are classed as Ab Initio, where you do not need related subjects from your high school education because you can learn it from scratch.

To really put your mind at rest you could visit the course search at and you can get your son/daughter to go onto the PLC, Y11, Term 1 on the VLE to see several resources that would be helpful with this, in particular the ‘prerequisite cheat sheet’. Your son/daughter will have an interview with his/her Head of House to go through their options, as well as with their H.E. Counsellor so any questions can be asked at these, and on a drop in basis, as the Careers Office is always accessible to students.

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How Useful Are Rankings?

Here at the Careers Department, we are not the biggest fans of university rankings, because they seem to gain too much attention from students (and parents!) in the decision making, when it would be more sensible and interesting to think about criteria such as facilities, course details and location to assess the fit of an institution. However, they are a part of life and as such we wanted to draw your attention to a couple we think could be useful. It can be more meaningful to use subjects tables rather than overall institutional rankings such as those produced by the Guardian newspaper at, as this is the main experience a student will be getting when attending any institution, particularly in the UK.

Equally, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings have just released a different kind of ranking, one that is decided my major employers. This ranking also has limitations – it is UK employers and predominantly from the Business, IT and engineering sectors and unsurprisingly some of the names you would expect are well accounted for in the top 10. However the University of Manchester, St Andrews, Edinburgh and Bristol are also named as top picks by employers. Equally, just outside the top 10 are some excellent institutions which often do not get the same considerations from our families in favour of the London schools and Oxbridge. The likes of Nottingham and Leeds are not only well respected by employers, but are often much more affordable and with lower entrance requirements, thus providing many bonuses for a student putting them on their final list.

Another really important point to note is that one of the top aspects a employer would look for in a recent graduate is professional experience, much more so in fact than where they graduated from. This is supporting the anecdotal evidence we have heard for a number of years, where it simply isn’t enough to attend a ‘brand’ institution in order to be successful in the world of work. Students must make sure they undertake internships and work experience to make themselves stand out.

Go to for full details.

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The Importance of Work Experience

We have been told time and time again that universities are looking for focused students who have an idea of what they would like to do in the future. This goes without saying for careers such as Engineering, Medicine, Physiotherapy, Architecture, Nursing, Veterinary Science and Dentistry. Students need to have relevant, recent work experience that shows that they have an understanding of what the career involves and have also shown a commitment to developing themselves. One top ranking university, for their Medicine course, for example, is looking for:

  • a realistic interest in medicine;
  • relevant life skills;
  • a wide range of interests;
  • acts of altruism and voluntary work;
  • communication and interaction skills

Many of these will come from the CAS elements of the I.B. and Advanced Diplomas and outside interests, but work experience and volunteering are essential in developing character and life skills.

We have found that work experience plays a huge role in preparing students for a positive time at university and beyond. It helps to focus personal statements and allows students to demonstrate that they have a real desire to continue to pursue a career in their chosen field. We sometimes struggle to find enough placements for all of our students - particularly students who are newer to Hong Kong. If you think that you could offer a weeks work experience to our year 11, 12 or 13 students we would love to hear from you. It doesn't need to be in any of the previously mentioned careers, just anything that will give them a taste of a workplace and some new skills. If you can help, please email
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Unique Institutions – Deep Springs College

A free, self-run, all-male two-year college of only 26 students located on a remote cattle ranch in E. California certainly qualifies as unique. On its website, it describes itself thus:

Founded in 1917, Deep Springs College is a unique institution of higher learning. The educational program is built upon three pillars: academics, self-government, and manual labor. The school is located 40 miles from Bishop, California on an isolated cattle ranch in Deep Springs Valley.

Between 12 and 15 students are admitted each year. A scholarship covers the costs of tuition, room, and board for every student offered admission. In exchange, Deep Springs students are expected to dedicate themselves to lives of service to humanity. Alumni have gone on to exemplify this ideal in a wide variety of fields, including politics, science, journalism, academics, agriculture, medicine, law, business and design.

Most academic classes have fewer than eight students and require a high level of student participation, generally in seminar-style discussion. Professors are attracted by the highly motivated students and the close intellectual relationships that can be formed in such a setting. Topics range throughout the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Credit from the two-year program can be used to earn an Associate’s of Arts or transferred toward pursuit of a Bachelor’s at another institution.

The Student Body, which fluctuates between 24 and 30 members, is responsible for deciding admissions, hiring faculty, reviewing student performance, and many other aspects of running the college.

In addition to academics and self-governance, students are expected to participate in labor for at least 20 hours each week. Labor includes farm and ranch work, but also other daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and maintaining facilities and vehicles. Not only practical, the labor done by students is considered to be essential to the educational program.

Believe it or not, we have had at least one applicant in the past, though noone who has actually attended. It is very selective and has the highest ‘yield’ rate (the % of those accepted who enrol) of any college in the USA. It isn’t for everyone but females may be able to apply from next year.

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