Alex's story

It took Alex a couple of attempts to find the right route through education for him - but now, in his second year of university, he has won a scholarship, completed an internship at the Treasury and set up his own education charity! 

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Alex's story

What qualifications did you take at school?

I tried to follow the traditional GCSE route, but after facing a series of personal issues, I switched to a BTEC First and left school with the equivalent of four GCSEs.

I knew I eventually wanted to go to university, but after finishing school I really wasn’t sure what to do next. I started a BTEC National course in Vehicle Technology but soon realised the course content wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. After a year I decided I wanted to switch to Mechanical Engineering. It was a bit of a dilemma because I didn’t want the year I had spent doing Vehicle Technology to have been a waste of time, but I equally didn’t want to have to wait another year to start the course I was actually interested in.

Eventually, I decided that I would start the Mechanical Engineering while I finished the Vehicle Technology – effectively doubling my workload for a year.

So did you make it to uni?

Yes. I considered applying for business and computer science courses but I really enjoyed studying Mechanical Engineering and decided to apply to courses in the engineering field. I have just started my second year at Loughborough University studying Engineering and Management.

Did you have any problems applying to uni using BTECs rather than A levels?

Not really. Some of my friends from college were told that the entry requirements were different for BTEC students and there were conditions on performance for certain modules. However, this is similar to a conditional offer that requires you to achieve certain grades at A level.

Unlike most A levels, BTECs have a lot of optional units, so universities sometimes ask for a copy of the specification or details of exactly what you are studying. They want to make sure that you have a firm understanding of the topics you studied and that the topics are relevant to the course you are applying for.

I decided to go to Loughborough, but had offers from other top universities including University College London (UCL) and London School of Economics (LSE).

You’ve just started your second year of uni. How are you managing financially?

I’ve taken out a student loan but I was also fortunate enough to be awarded the Ironmongers’ Scholarship, which has helped.

Fantastic! How did you win the scholarship?

I was looking into possible grants to help with the cost of university. The interview was tough and I didn’t think I was going to be successful but was really excited when I found out I had got it!

Having studied vocational qualifications, do you feel that you will have an advantage when you start applying for jobs?

Taking a BTEC gave me a good starting point but the employment market is really tough at the moment. I’ve already started thinking about what I can do to make my CV stand out.

What makes your CV stand out at the moment?

This summer I completed a two-week unpaid internship at the Treasury. It was quite tough to get and I sent out over a hundred emails to cabinet ministers before I got anywhere.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I was offered the internship and was worried that I might end up spending a week making coffee.

Fortunately, I was given a project to compile a report on how five other countries have been cutting costs. I also got the opportunity to shadow a minister, so I learnt a lot! I also did an internship at Edexcel, advising on online resources for students and how to improve them.

Many students get involved in clubs and societies to develop extra-curricular interests at uni. Are you involved in anything like that?

I’m a trustee for the student union which has given me a chance to learn about the legal and financial side of how an organisation works. I’ve also used the inter-university society network to support the setup of my own charity, Future4all.

You’ve set up your own charity? That sounds like a lot of work!

I wanted to find a way to support young people and give practical advice on what options are available. After heading in the wrong direction a couple of times before finally finding the route to uni that was right for me, I wanted a way to share my experiences.

It started with me talking to a few friends at different universities about my ideas, and them talking to their friends. We now have a network of advisors at over 50 universities who can talk about applications, aspects of uni life at their university and about how they got there.

Setting up the charity was free, as was developing the website, but I hope to climb Mount Everest to raise funds. We are also applying to organisations like the Prince’s Trust for help so that we can grow and develop the services we offer. 

Fantastic – we wish you luck!