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GCSE students: five ways to start thinking about your future

Even if you’re not sure what you want to do yet, it’s never too early to start thinking about your future. Here are five ways to get started…

The choices you make and the experiences you build up during your GCSE years can have a real impact on where you might end up in the future even if you're not sure what you want to do yet! 

Here are five easy things you can do now to make sure your future options stay as wide as possible. If you’re not sure which GCSEs to take yet, check out our step-by-step article on making your GCSE choices.

Find out how GCSEs affect your future choices and studies, and what to do if they don't go to plan.

1. Start with your GCSE subjects

Are there any GCSE subjects that you particularly enjoy, or are especially good at? Whether you think you might go straight into work or plan to take A-levels, the subjects you’re enjoying studying – and the GCSE grades you achieve  may influence your options.

While you don’t necessarily need certain GCSE subjects to get into a particular career, most jobs expect you to have minimum grade 4 or 5 (formerly a C) in GCSE English language and literature, maths and science.

If you’re thinking of studying A-levels or BTECs (or an equivalent qualification), it's important to think carefully about what subjects you really enjoy doing and could commit to for another two years. You should also think about how good you are at the subject – could you cope with studying the subject at a more advanced level?

While there’s a lot more to consider when making your A-level choices, ultimately you need to have a real interest in the subject to achieve your full potential.

2. Get some hands-on experience

You’ll usually get the chance to do some work experience as part of your school curriculum. This will normally involve spending one or two weeks at an employer’s workplace, shadowing people as they go about their day-to-day activities and speaking to different people about what their roles entail. 

Think about what sort of work experience interests you – what types of jobs are you interested in? What kind of environment would you like to work in? For inspiration, watch video interviews (such as the ones here on iCould) of people in different roles and industries.

It can be tricky to secure some work experience, so here are our tips:

  • use your contacts: ask your careers advisers, teachers and family members if they know anybody working in roles or organisations that interest you and see if they can put you in touch. 
  • be flexible: it’s unlikely you’ll get work experience in your dream job straight away, so be prepared to start out smaller. If you hope to be a top-notch barrister one day, get in touch with local legal firms to see if you can spend some time shadowing them.
  • be proactive: look online, write lots of letters, make lots of phone calls, visit organisations if possible with your CV – do everything you can to identify potential placements.
  • play the numbers game: the more opportunities you apply for, the more likely it is you’ll secure some experience!
Be aware that some applications are only open to over 18s, so check the smallprint before applying. 

3. Get involved in extra-curricular activities 

Trying out different extra-curricular activities is not only a good way to build up skills for your CV (eg. communication skills in the debating society, teamwork skills as part of a sports club - the list goes on!), you also get the chance to meet new people and work out what you most enjoy doing.

If you love the arts or theatre, you might want to think about pursuing a creative career, either in something directly using your artistic or acting skills, or in a creative industry more generally. If you're into sports, maybe a career in the leisure or health industries might be an option?

Even if you enjoy spending your spare time on Facebook or Instagram, you could be getting yourself set for a future career in the digital world.


4. What about volunteering?

Volunteering can be a great way to develop new skills or contribute to a cause you care about, as well as giving you valuable experience in an area related to a possible future job.

If you’re thinking about teaching, you’ll find that there are loads of opportunities to work with children and other young people – helping out at youth clubs or arranging activities for younger year groups at school, for instance. Likewise, if you’re considering a career in healthcare, volunteering in a nursing home or disability centre could give you a real insight into some of the challenges of the career and help you decide if it’s right for you.

Committing to a volunteering placement – even if it’s only every couple of weeks – should not only be rewarding but will demonstrate a genuine enthusiasm that will impress employers and university admissions tutors alike.

5. Try out a careers workshop or webchat

If you think a career or industry might appeal to you but don't know an awful lot about it yet, you could look out for career taster days or webchats. These will normally offer the opportunity to meet experts in that area (online if it's via a webchat), get an introduction to the industry and the kinds of jobs there are and ask any questions you have see Gothinkbig and Guardian Careers for some helpful resources.

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