With University application season in full swing, Mr Hooke explains how Harrodian prepares Upper Sixth Formers for their destiny-shaping UCAS decisions
A week or two ago I ran into Alex, a Lower Sixth Former freshly back from Harrodian’s annual visit to Oxford University (above) and asked him what he’d made of the trip. According to David Behan, our Head of Sixth Form, only around 10 per cent of students will have decided on a degree subject when they start their A Levels so for many Sixth Formers, this day, which this year took in Balliol, Brasenose (and its library, below), Somerville and University Colleges, represents a first toe in the uncharted waters of higher education. For Alex, who is considering an engineering career, his encounter with the ‘Dreaming Spires’ had clearly ignited a spark. ‘Beforehand, I was thinking I’ve got no chance of going to a place like Oxford,’ Alex says. ‘But since I met the alumni who showed us around, I’ve been thinking that if those Harrodians were able to do it, then I might too. It’s a dream but it’s an attainable one.’
When they start their A Levels, only around 10 percent of Harrodian Sixth Formers will have decided on a degree subject.
A year on, such ambitions are no longer just the stuff of dreams for our Upper Sixth students. As I write this, their destinies are already taking shape. UCAS forms have already winged their way off to universities around the UK and the offers are steadily flowing in. ‘It won’t be long before students will know what their degree subject is, where they might be studying it and the grades they’ll need to get next summer to achieve their ambitions.’ Mr Behan told me last week. ‘This is the moment when it all gets real.’
So how do we prepare Harrodians for this big moment? The dispatch of the UCAS form or, in some cases, the application to art colleges or overseas universities, marks the final culmination of a carefully coordinated and intensive campaign managed and overseen by our four-strong Harrodian team: Sixth Form Administrator, Helen Ryan, UCAS and Aspirational Universities Coordinator, Dr Rachel Thompson, pastoral specialist Alison Heller and Mr Behan himself.
By November, destinies are taking shape. UCAS forms have already winged their way off to universities around the UK and the offers are steadily flowing in.
For our 2020 A Level candidates, the 'business end' of the application process kicked off in earnest back in June. After a short break to get their breath back following their Lower Sixth examinations, the students embarked on a University and Colleges Focus, a two-day programme, devised and created by Mr Behan and Dr Thompson. This starts with a nuts and bolts introduction to the UCAS process and goes on to cover all the key things students need to know and the decisions they need to make to get a place in tertiary education: how and when to apply to British, European and American colleges, how best to research institutions they fancy, and the myriad course choices that are available.
At the end of an intense two-day University and Colleges Focus in June, students are asked both to make an inventory of achievements and to take a first stab at the crucial ‘personal statement’.
An aspect of this course that makes me proud is the part our wider school community plays for the Harrodian team. As with the Oxford trip, former Harrodian boys and girls are always willing to provide their take on academic and practical questions: what studying law involves or how to plan a gap year, say, or dos and don’ts for university freshmen. At the end of an intense two days, students are asked both to make an inventory of achievements and to take a first stab at the crucial ‘personal statement’. Based on this and their initial subject choices, students are assigned a personal mentor from our 28-strong body of Sixth Form teachers who will provide specialist knowledge of course choices and guide them through the application process.
The message of the Focus course is simple. If you want control over your destiny, consider your choices of course and destination and act now
The central message of the Focus course is a simple one. You have reached a decisive moment. If you want control over your destiny: consider your choices of course and destination and act now. So, what do our students make of it? The response of Izzie an Upper Sixth student studying Art, Graphic Design, English and French is not untypical. Izzie didn’t let the grass grow under her feet last summer. Already keen on studying Graphic Design she embarked on a holiday mission to discover what a career in the field might offer, undertaking work experience placements with two different consultants and visiting six or seven exhibitions. When she got back to school in the autumn, she was ready to go. Her ‘inspirational’ mentor Miss Edenbrow helped with her choice of courses and portfolio preparation, while Dr Thompson provided essential advice on honing the personal statement. ‘It’s an effective process and they seem to think of everything,’ Izzie says. ‘I’ve already had an offer from my first choice.’
It's an effective process and they seem to think of everything. I've already had an offer from my first choice.
Izzie, Upper Sixth Former
George Claassen, who finished his A Levels at Harrodian last year, is also a big fan of the system. ‘They really want the choice to be yours and if you have a goal in mind, as I did, they will do all they can to help you achieve it,’ says George now working in a gap year role as our Mentoring Assistant before starting a BA in 2020 studying Music and Enterprise at the University of Leeds. ‘On the other hand, if you are unsure where you’re going then the support is still just as unconditional. You know they’ll work just as hard to help you research ideas and options and, whatever your ambitions or abilities, the school will help you take the next step.’
If you are unsure where you're going, you know they’ll work just as hard to help you research ideas and options
George Claassen, alumnus and Mentoring Assistant
It’s satisfying that Izzie and George’s faith in the effectiveness of our UCAS process seems to be shared not just by the majority of A Level candidates but by their parents too. I’m pleased that, if Harrodian mothers and fathers do have doubts about the courses and destinations chosen by their children, they are usually prepared to hold their breath, to let go and to entrust the decision to their children’s judgement.
Our UCAS performance in recent years shows that the confidence, courage and commitment which teachers, students and parents have collectively invested in the process have been amply rewarded. Harrodian’s A Level results last year were striking not only because they set a record high for the school which closely matched students’ predicted grades, but also because an unprecedented 80 per cent of students (below, at the Leavers Ball) succeeded in entering their first-choice college or university.
A Level results last year set a record high for the school which closely matched students’ predicted grades and 80 per cent of students succeeded in entering their first-choice university.
However our students perform in their A Levels next summer – and I’m sure they will do well – it seems to me that, thanks to Mr Behan and his expert team, we are striking the right balance in our approach to the university application challenge. As our young would-be fliers sit on the academic runway preparing for take-off, they do so confident in the knowledge that it is they who have selected the flight plan and chosen the destination. And, thanks to Harrodian's well-oiled UCAS machine, they have the extra thrust required to carry them to new heights.