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Career Guidance – What students need to know

Career guidance is more important now than ever and if you’re wondering what role parents and the schools themselves should play in it, we have a few answers for you.

Finding a job after school is difficult enough, but finding work that you actually enjoy doing and have the relevant skills for is even more difficult. Because of this, getting the right advice early on is key. Here, we pose questions to personnel at five international schools in Singapore – and one student – to get their points of view.

#1 What role does your school play in career guidance?

Johanna Fishbein, Head of University Advising, UWCSEA Dover

We approach this topic with students and parents based on the understanding that there will be many careers in the future that we don’t know about yet. We encourage students to think about what interests them and plan their applications accordingly.

UWCSEA hosts a “Careers in Focus” programme on a monthly basis, where professionals from various careers have an informal chat with students. There’s also a large annual careers fair organised by the Parents’ Association, and we encourage students to reach out to alumni around the globe, working in a range of professions, for their advice.

In Grade 10, our Personal and Social Education curriculum encourages students to explore their interests and think about careers that may align with their strengths. It is the role of the school to support this exploration while also reassuring students that it’s more than okay to be unsure of career plans for the future. We provide students information about careers while also encouraging them to enjoy the academic and social exploration that’s possible in their high school years.

Another element of our support is to provide course selection guidance for students and their families when choosing academic courses. This is important because for students considering careers in specific areas – medicine and engineering, for example – there may be very specific subjects they must have in their high school qualification to be considered for admission to one of these courses in university. Not all students will need specific courses for their future plans, but it’s the role of the school to provide information to those who might.


#2 What questions should students be asking potential universities?

Joan Liu, University Advisor, UWCSEA East

A very wise counsellor once said, “The questions you ask will inform the answers you receive.” So, push further. Rather than ask, “Do you have international students on campus?” – which you can look up on the internet – ask questions that will give you a more qualitative sense of a university, such as “What kind of student is a good fit for this university?” “What kind of student is not a good fit?” “What do students wish they’d known before coming to your campus?” “What do students like most about their experience at your university?” Any question that gets you “beyond the surface” will help you in finding a university that will be great place to study and reside.

#3 How do you help students make informed decisions?

Zoe Williams, Head of Careers and University Guidance, Tanglin Trust School

Discussions about potential careers get fully under way in the Senior School through Q&As, 1-1s, information sessions, as well as parent-teacher-student consultations.

Starting as early Year 7, students are provided with opportunities to explore the world of work and to meet professionals from many different industries. In Year 10, students can undergo a variety of psychometric and aptitude tests to help clarify skill sets and interests. The work experience they undertake allows them to gain first-hand experience in the workplace and to consider their future careers.

All our students are supported on a case-by-case basis meaning that we know each of them very well and can support them towards achieving whatever university course or career they choose.  The University and Careers counsellors help students research different career options, understand what skills will be required and consider the employment outlook for a particular career, opportunities for advancement, main duties and why the career choice is interesting to them.

Our team constantly scan the horizon, keeping informed as to the changing landscape and supporting students with insights into jobs of the future and the skills that 21st century employers are looking for. We also regularly host careers fairs and visits from returning alumni, university representatives and inspirational speakers, all of which give an insight into ‘real life’ experiences beyond school.

In addition to this bespoke guidance, our dual pathway offering at Sixth Form (A Levels or IB Diploma) gives students choice at a critical stage in their education to help prepare them for their future career path. As a result a high percentage of our students get their first choice university.

To find out more, book a tour here.

Tanglin Trust School
Practical guidance at Tanglin Trust School

#4 How do you manage the transition from school to university socially and academically?

Zoe Williams, Head of Careers and University Guidance, Tanglin Trust School 

Year 12 students embark on a three-month carousel of activities that focus on preparation for university, enhancing life-skills and promoting wellbeing.  As well as equipping students with the skills and support to navigate unfamiliar situations, the sessions are a welcome and refreshing change from the ongoing pressures of their academic studies.

Combining both variety and pragmatism, the programme is incorporated into the Physical, Social, Health, Citizenship Education (PSHCE) timetable and exposes students to situations they may not have experienced before. The programme includes classes as diverse as yoga, car care, financial management, self-defence, interview skills, maintaining a positive profile online, study skills, first-aid, ironing and healthy eating. Students have benefitted greatly from the varied experiences offered and the practical nature of the programme, and look forward to putting their new skills into practice as they adapt to life away from their families.

“These PSHCE sessions have been really useful, especially the ironing and the interview techniques. Hopefully my life skills have improved as a result and this will help me when I go to university.” Charlotte (Y12).


#5 How do you engage parents and teachers to support children in an unbiased way, based on the skill sets of the children?

Lisa Ball, High School Counseling Department Chair, Singapore American School

From an early age, we engage students through the context of American ideals of exploration, risk-taking, innovation, creativity, and excellence. Students are engaged to understand and own their learning process, pace, and progress through an increasing focus on inquiry, project-based learning, and an emphasis on social-emotional learning. SAS encourages students to find joy in the pursuit of excellence as they discover their interests and passions. Students enjoy a variety of possibilities to explore including inquiry-based courses, competitive athletics, fine arts classes, and after-school clubs. To take one student, Ishaan Madan, as an example: the opportunity for him to work directly with an INSEAD business school professor on an automated intelligence project was life changing. At SAS, personalised learning guided by professional mentors is part of the curriculum and a highlight of the SAS experience for many graduates.

SAS Economics Student

# 6 How do you help guarantee that a student gets a placement after graduating from university? And what can you instil in students at a school level to make them a cut above the rest?

Lisa Ball, High School Counseling Department Chair, Singapore American School

Our aim is to cultivate exceptional thinkers prepared for the future that will put them ahead of the game.  A 2015 Gallup-Purdue university study described six major experiences linked to preparedness and success after college graduation. The study found that only three percent of college graduates had all six experiences.

At SAS, 100 percent of our graduates have these opportunities during high school before they even begin their freshman year of college. Experiential and personalised learning is the key. High school students participate in semester- and year-long projects that push them to ask difficult questions and pursue answers. Our mandatory catalyst project tasks juniors and seniors with identifying a topic that interests them and requires building a project around that interest. They coordinate with a professional mentor as they start their project and receive meaningful support along their journey. These projects demonstrate our students’ ability to ask hard questions, investigate solutions, and publicise and present their findings.

For students looking to extend their learning, a two-week project-rich summer semester experience gives them opportunities beyond those offered in traditional classroom settings. High school students may also extend their learning further in Quest, a year-long project based programme and advanced topic courses which have been designed to mirror college level work.

Our goal is not to simply place students in great college, but to prepare our students to be proactive contributors in a global economy, ready and able to contribute to society before they ever receive their diploma.

Student Mhairie Flor, tells us how ISS International School helped with her choice.

#7 How do you work out if you have the right skills for the career you’re looking for?

In Grade 10, our University Admissions Department had us sit a career diagnostic test that gave us important information about our interests and strengths, and the careers that best matched what we are good at. This was followed by discussions with our teachers and University Advising department. I’ve also done a lot of personal research about careers I’m interested in. I’ve been in ISS since Kindergarten and the IB programmes that I’ve studied – in particular, the MYP – encourage us to develop a number of skills and conceptual understandings that are necessary for a number of careers.

#8 What influenced your choice, and is it a purely academic one?

I’ve always aimed to go to university as a first step. I want to study psychology so do need a degree in the field as a foundation – later, I may need to do some practical courses after my degree in order to practice psychology. No one in my family has followed this career path but I chose it as it’s an area that deeply interests me.

ISS Mhaire
Mhairie Flor performing at ISS’s Festival of Lights concert at the end of 2016

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