Sarah Newton has been helping youth and families for over 17 years of her life, initially as a police officer in the Met and for the last 10 years running her own youth consultancy business. She has worked with and transformed some of the most difficult and empathetic young people and regularly appears in the media, giving her expert opinion. The rest of the time she is a happy mum, loving wife, adventurer and closet 50's Diva.
When it comes to getting into the college we want, to study what we want, we have to think smart. Just completing the application and hoping for the best is no longer good enough. You need to sell yourself from the very beginning and hoping just to ride on the results you get is not going to cut it, I’m afraid.
When it comes to securing the college course you want, you have to think beyond your grades to what is uniquely special about you. I do a lot of mock interviews here in the UK and what I find with youth is that they are not so good at summarizing what they do outside school to make it sound like they are the right person for the job or college in question. For example, all those late night on World of Warcraft may seem pointless to anyone else, but what about the teamwork skills you learn and how you have had to build a social structure around you to ensure that you get to the next level? What about your dedication and concentration, not to mention the skill it has taken to get you to the level you are on? And how about the fact that it always challenges you above your skill level, so you have to step up?
It is so easy for us to forget that we learn outside school as well as inside school.
So how can you apply this knowledge?
Firstly, think about the course/college you are applying for and the potential career it will take you on and think about what skills and abilities someone in that job will need. It is also a good idea to really study the college website and their values and ethos.
When you have this list of qualities, and I say pick the top five at least, make a list of everything you do outside school, however trivial you may think it is, for example any awards or certificates you have won, or overcoming your fear of water at 5 years old to eventually be entered into a swimming gala, showing your determination and courage.
Look at the two lists and think how you can match each quality needed for this college course with what you have done in the past. If the college values responsibility, then your nights spent babysitting your younger siblings count to show how responsible you can be. If they love a caring attitude, then the fact that all your friends share their secrets with you counts for something. If they value leadership, then that time you fought for equal lunchtime rights for all students may come into play.
Really play and challenge yourself to find an answer for each of the abilities you have on your list. This is not easy and often I find that the gems are found in things for which we get told off for or the things that adults feel are inappropriate. My final school report said that I talked too much, had a contagious sense of humour and would never amount to anything… what did they know? I make my living now by talking, A sense of humour means I find the good side of most situations and my insolence, as seen at school, means that I am not scared to say what is true for me and stand up and be counted.
Our strengths are often made up of what we and others see as weaknesses.
When you have your list complete, think of the questions they may ask you and how you can answer them weaving in the conclusion you have just come to. If they ask what makes you think this college is good for you, tell them how you see that they value leadership and give them a rundown of how you have showed leadership skills in the past and how you often run World of Warcraft missions. Even that time you got the class to go out on strike may play in your favour!
You are so much more than the piece of paper you get from the school measuring your academic ability, so show them!
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