Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 08 Nov 2007

Should my grandson take a year out from university, get some work experience, then go back to try for a First?

Hillary's Advice

The assumption behind your query is that the boy will only get a second-class degree if he continues straight through his studies, but with added experience and a more mature work ethic he will have a good chance of a First. Since his subject is robotic engineering, a work placement would seem a great idea. As with any vocational qualification, hands-on experience can only help. And since he is likely to be looking for a career in this very specific field, the combination of work experience and a First would seem an obvious winner – provided, of course, that neither the financial burden of extending his degree, or the psychological one of aiming for the top, is going to be too great on him and his family.
But going all-out for a First is not always a sensible option. In arts subjects it will almost certainly mean cutting out other things to do all the copious reading necessary, and even then it can be an enormous gamble – recent research has shown that even the size on the font that essays are typed in can tip students’ marks.
Obviously, if you are aiming for an academic career, or the very highest rungs of banking or the law, you will calculate that it makes sense to put in this amount of effort. But if not, you might remember that most employers are looking for evidence of a bright, well-rounded individual who can get on with others and who knows how the world works. And these sorts of skills, they tend to reckon, are not honed by hours in the library.