Oxbridge or apprenticeship?

By Steph Hobbs, Year 13.

Coming to Gordonstoun for Sixth Form was a huge shake up to my life. I had led a sheltered existence in a small, single sex day school in the Home counties for 13 years of my life when I was awarded an Academic Scholarship to come and study at one of the most prestigious schools in the world. I had never been on an exped, and spending 7 days on an 80ft sail training vessel was inconceivable to me. Suddenly my life of having ample spare time to watch Grey’s Anatomy with my mum in the evenings had been replaced. I was now running round campus going from Chapel to lessons, Fire training to taking minutes at council meetings, sometimes followed by a 1 hour and 15 minute refectory duty at Supper to keeping the library under control during prep time. My responsibilities as a Colour Bearer and a Year 13 taking 3 A Levels mean I sometimes don’t set foot in house between 7:30am and 9 at night. Finally I feel like I’m being productive, and busy, rather than doing my prep then putting my feet up, and I feel all the better for it.

So when it came to an Open Day at a leading London university back in June, I sat in a lecture hall listening to French and Management tutors talk about the many wonderful aspects of their University course. I was excited by the prospect of a year abroad studying in Paris, and learning more about the world around me (a curiosity picked up through my years as a Business and Economics student). I was accompanied by my Dad who, in typical embarrassing fashion, wanted to ask a question at the end of the presentation. This idea was vetoed immediately, so I enquired on his behalf as to how many hours a week you were taught by a member of the Academic staff. After a bit of thought the answer was 9 hours a week. I almost laughed. I was asking myself, “what was I going to do with the other 6 days a week?”, if I was comparing it with my standard Gordonstoun 13.5 hour day.

So, back to the drawing board. In order to include things for my personal statement I had applied for a 2 day taster session at one of the Big 4 global accounting firms, as part of a student recruitment drive. I did this over the summer and actually rather enjoyed it. I did some research on similar firms and found that most are starting to invest heavily in student recruitment, specifically school leavers. Lightbulb moment. I could get onto one of these programmes with my predicted grades (3As, in case you were wondering), earn a decent salary and avoid the debt associated with University, get myself onto a professional ladder and qualify as a Chartered Accountant, with the next stop becoming the George Clooney A-List celebrity of the financial world. Or maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself?

I read online that Ernst & Young (now known as EY) had opened applications for their Business Apprenticeship in Audit for September 2018, so I applied with my George Clooney image in mind. There were several stages to the application process:

  • An application form, as well as a copy of my predicted A Levels and my CV
  • Online tests in situational strengths plus business behaviour and ethics
  • More online tests on numeracy and verbal reasoning ability
  • Assessment Centre in Glasgow. This was the first time I was to meet people working at EY, and other people applying for the same job as myself. I was a nervous wreck, but felt slightly relieved when I arrived in EY’s waiting room to find similar nervous wrecks. My Gordonstoun education served me well at this stage. One of the hosts suggested an ice breaker - “let’s go around the room and tell everyone a fact about ourselves”. We had someone who was born abroad, the owner of the largest hamster in Ayrshire and someone who crocheted in their spare time. But only one volunteer Firefighter.
  • The final stage: an interview with a partner in the Edinburgh office, where I would be working should I be successful. I had to prepare a presentation on a business issue, and respond to questions on how I would cope in certain situations I might find myself in.

I received a telephone call less than a week after my final interview, telling me they would like to offer me a job, starting in September 2018. So that is my plan for the next five years. All being well, I will not be going to university unlike many of my peers, but I will be spending the next five years living and working in Edinburgh, training towards completing my Chartered Accountant’s qualification. I can understand why people choose to study at university. For some careers, it is the only way in. Some students enjoy the freedom of living away from home and having the mix of extra curricular activities and studying to occupy them. It also helps to have time to make decisions about their future. But for me, I know what I want to do, so I thought I’d grab my opportunity and start the process of getting professionally qualified and starting my career as an accountant.