Q & A with Absolutely Education magazine

Absolutely Education online 

Natallia Rayson-Patsaluyonak and Luke Gunning – Consultants at Gabbitas, answer typical questions relating Higher Education in the UK.


Is Sixth Form College a Better Option than staying in school?

The question is really a level of compatibility with the school environment, and whether your child’s ambitions can be successfully realised at their current school. Budding artists may find the emphasis on discipline to be a hindrance to their development, while other, more academic students relish the small classes and focused atmosphere they receive in a school environment. However, we have worked with students whose poor performance at GCSE is reflective of a rebellion against their current environment – these students often thrive and receive top grades with the greater freedom offered in a sixth form college.

On the whole, it is worth having a frank and open conversation with your child when they approach the end of Year 10 – are they currently happy and couldn’t bear to be torn away from their beloved school, or are they itching to be set free?

There is a school of thought that suggests children in single-sex schools thrive in moving to a mixed 6th form, however, I would not accept this wisdom at face value. For girls looking to get ahead in maths and sciences, there is clear evidence that better results are received in single-sex schools, but the waters are muddied somewhat when it comes to other subjects. Again, we would centre on the child in question, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.


Do I take a gap year?


Gap years have become more popular recently – are they valuable life experience or a year-long party? It really depends on the nature of the young person- when to take a gap year is different for each child. There are clear benefits of the gap year: students become more self-assured, independent and confident, they gain valuable work experience and develop their transferable skills. The gap year provides time for the student to decide if their chosen course or university is the right course of action for them.


How to choose the right University or College course?


A starting point for what to study should always be what are you good at? People tend to enjoy what they find makes sense – if it’s a slog it should be a no-brainer not to continue. Most students will have a favourite subject and it is worth exploring new alternatives that open-up at university. History buffs might go for international relations, chemistry whizzes for toxicology. Our principle concern would always be can they study the subject for three/four years and come out with success having learnt something and be on the path to a successful and fulfilling career. Think outside the box, as you might come across courses that you have never even heard of previously. Create a shortlist of courses/universities/colleges. Go to the open days. Think about course modules, facilities, location and career opportunities.

How best to Approach the Application Form


The other key question apart from the choice of course is how to approach the application, in particular the personal statement. Most schools offer support for this, but parents should be aware of what will be required. Things to avoid are: pompous cliches, made up scenarios, fraught analysis of books you’ve never read, or worse, those from the curriculum. What all universities want to see in principal are three things: does the student have the academic ability to study this subject, do they have the motivation to do so, and do they understand what the subject is?


Therefore, any statement must contain evidence of a strong interest in the subject, but also a fairly brief, but comprehensive, analysis of a key issue(s). Evidence and examples bring the statement to life, and always use the Point Evidence Explanation (PEE) structure. Only reserve a small paragraph (max 100 words) for reflection on personal achievements.

Your personal statement should focus on the positives, so avoid irrelevant information (some applicants feel obliged to mention everything they have done in their life). Do watch out for typos and spelling errors!


Empty nest syndrome… How to cope with your first child going off to University?


Parents of school graduates are on a massive roller coaster of emotion at the end of the Summer. On the one hand, they really can’t wait for their child to go (teenagers are hard work). On the other hand, parents are feeling a loss… Pieces of advice: talk to your child about practical aspects of living independently… share with them cooking tips… help your child to calculate roughly how much they can spend daily/weekly/monthly… explain to them how to strike a healthy balance between the demands of work and free time…spend more time with your child before they go to university, try new hobbies… there are loads of books to read… talk to other parents whose children have already left home. It will not be long before the end of term when they are back with a bag load of washing to be done!


What are the implications for Changing Course or University?


Changing course or university can be a more complex process if the decision is made part way through the academic year. it is not an unusual for students to have some doubts about their chosen course or university at some point. In some situations, changing the course or university does make sense although students need to be aware of academic, practical, financial and visa implications before making a final decision. The first step is for the student to talk to their tutor and to work out whether the current course is definitely not right for them. Then the student needs to think about alternative options. Entry requirements and availability of places must be taken into account. In most cases, the student should be expected to start the new course at level one. For international students changing course/ university will have significant visa implications.