Access to the Professions: Inspiring and engaging students in secondary state schools
In this post, Anais Banag, a fourth-year law student at Edinburgh Law School, shares her experience of being involved with ‘Access to the Professions’, a programme that provides secondary state school students with opportunities, encouragement and detailed advice about careers in law, medicine and veterinary medicine, as well as guidance on school course choices and the UCAS application process. This article was originally published on the University of Edinburgh's Teaching Matters blog.
When discussing widening participation, attention is often focused on the last two years of secondary school. It is in these two years, principally the last, where the students feel the pressure, and this can be extremely daunting. Access to the Professions (ATTP) subverts these expectations by providing its support and services to students at an earlier, yet crucial, stage in the journey to achieving a career in law, medicine or veterinary medicine. In doing so, they embody the first important strand of the Widening Participation strategy: Aspiration and Early Engagement.
Despite having often flirted with the idea of studying law, particularly after watching gripping episodes of Law and Order, I had never given much consideration to what would be required to become a law student. I had no exposure to law and, in fifth year, when I approached a local law firm with my sparse CV I was turned away. I knew no lawyers, my parents knew no lawyers, and my school work experience had been limited to working in the local council. Common barriers that many prospective law, medicine and veterinary medicine students face are due to these subjects not existing at secondary level, lack of school knowledge, and no school or family connections or sometimes support. It is at this stage that it is very easy for students to discount their aspirations, but, fortunately, I became involved with Edinburgh’s Access to the Professions early on. I had received my results, and was wondering what was possible for me, when I remembered that I had seen their flyer at school.
The importance of early engagement is it that turns a fanciful thought into a real possibility and provides the student with a goal. In fourth year, university seemed very distant but the mere alert of their emails and notification of the opportunities available, kept my dream in my line of sight. What I appreciated most about Access to the Professions at this early stage was that there was never any pressure for me to participate. At first, my engagement was merely passive, but this allowed me to decide if law really was something that I was interested in. Access to the Professions understood that everyone moves at their own pace and that, especially at such a young age, dreams change.
The best-prepared applicants are able to show that they have a realistic view of the life, skills and qualities of a lawyer, doctor or vet.
As a high school student, this quote was very daunting. However, I was dedicated to gaining this experience, and this is where the support provided by Access to the Professions became invaluable. An example of the help is the work experience opportunity they provided. The support was multi-layered: to apply I had to write about myself and why I would be right for the role, and this allowed me to practice the kind of writing and self-promotion I would need in my application for university, and later traineeships. That was support in itself. In addition, when chosen I was not only able to develop a clearer outlook of what would be involved in a law career but also forge my own connections, which I then used to set up further work experience opportunities myself. They bridged the gap that my dedication and perseverance could not and provided me opportunities that I could then use to further my experience.
Furthermore, the various events held by Access to the Professions, such as ‘So You Want to be a Lawyer?’ allowed me to have a better understanding of what would be desired of me as a law student. I met current students, other prospective students, practising solicitors, and advocates, and became familiar with the university. The exposure to the campus, students and course also provided support in that, by the time that I had chosen The University of Edinburgh, I did not feel any trepidation at the thought of going into an unfamiliar environment. I already felt part of The University of Edinburgh community.
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