Higher Education & Careers

Boys are particularly successful in achieving places on degree courses sponsored by financial services companies, and on art foundation courses

ISI Inspection 2015

At Sherborne School, we encourage our boys to aim high. That means providing well-informed advice to help boys enter the university or career of their choice.

Our 10-strong Higher Education and Careers Department works hard to keep abreast of developments in the sector, including alternatives to university.

We have visited 150 universities in recent years, including all of those within the UK. We annually survey two cohorts of recent leavers about their university and employment experiences, and each year we offer a Lower Sixth Form Careers Convention to help boys think about their next steps.

At the heart of our approach is a commitment to guiding boys’ research, rather than prescribing what they are to do next. We provide one-to-one, tailored support to those who are drafting UCAS Personal Statements, and we work closely with our academic and pastoral colleagues in discerning and responding to every boy’s needs.

We have recently helped boys win places on highly competitive programmes sponsored by firms like EY (Ernst and Young), KPMG and PwC. In addition, we help boys get into top-flight universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, as well as specialist universities in areas like Medicine, Art, Music and Land-based studies.

Philip Rogerson MA
Director of HE & Careers

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” (Emerson)

“The Sherborne Sessions literary festival is the best thing that has happened in my first term at Sherborne.” This comment, about a superb series of workshops and talks last October, would have been heartening, if it had come from any boy, but it was made remarkable by the fact that this Third Former had made time to attend almost all 16 sessions. There are some boys who are prepared to get out of their comfort zones early. I remember telling a Third Former, who had spent what turned out to be a stormy weekend tied to a tree outside School House to raise money for charity, that, whatever else he did in the school, he would be remembered for that. He went on to become Head of School.

“At the age of seven, when growing up in Asia, I would return from UK visits with a stash of Percy Pigs to sell to my friends at 200% profit;”  “I have run my own pork business since I was 14.” In some the entrepreneurial spirit starts early, and these Upper Sixth Form applicants for Business Management programmes had no problem in finding an eye-catching first sentence for their UCAS Personal Statement for university application. In the Careers Department we encourage all boys to believe that they have a Unique Selling Point relevant to their proposed area of study, which should be highlighted with evidence early on, to differentiate them from those who profess hyperbolically that they have “always been fascinated/intrigued/captivated” and “will be a great asset to your department”.

“On the first night of five consecutive months I woke up at midnight to complete the online Cambridge Chemistry Challenge.”  It might be thought that this level of commitment is unparalleled, but he was not the only Upper Sixth Former to be doing this. Moreover, academic passion can be shown in a variety of ways. The applicant who justifies his claim that “the most iconic cars also have interesting engines” by referring to the “426 Hemi made by Chrysler between 1964 and 1971” shows that he has a deep-seated interest in the subject.  A research project on the role played by British deception tactics in World War II provided an engaging entrée to an application for War Studies. A formally assessed project is not necessary, but a depth of reading that distinguishes an applicant from the mass certainly is: “War influences everything. In the nineteenth century shoe sizes were created during the age of industrial war because of the need to shoe armies.”

Several years ago, when our daughter arrived at university, we were given a lecture by the Pro Vice Chancellor, in which he stressed that the new students needed to ditch their AS/A2 modular thinking and needed to explore links across categories. This is another way in which UCAS applicants can show that they are undergraduates-in-waiting: “My interest in Darwinian evolution and my love of computing led me to attend a lecture at Imperial College about finding optimal solutions to problems using simulated evolution.”;  “I am considering becoming a lawyer after obtaining my degree. I was interested to learn about Benford’s Law, which fascinated me because something as simple as abnormal distribution in accounts can lead to a conviction for fraud. This makes me feel that a degree in Mathematics will be invaluable to me in the future.”

Curiosity is sometimes sparked closer to home: “Following the financial crisis in 2008, the decision by the Government to reduce the size of the Army saw my father intimately involved. It was then that my interest in economics began. Would my father still have a job? Would the Army still provide him with a house? Would his pension be safe?” Curiosity about what is observed can happen on one’s doorstep: “Partly due to my upbringing in Guernsey, I have been interested to learn more about the coast.” Or the seed might have been sown further away in distance and time: “When I was eight, living in Ghana, I wondered how such a poor, seemingly chaotic country functioned and why the British were represented there. I was not aware that I was thinking about politics, but it intrigued me.”  Testing an interest by spending a period in the workplace can also be a valuable catalyst and highlight the USP: “Shadowing the CEO of Wowee, a business that creates musical speakers that vibrate differently on diverse surfaces, I learned the importance of risk and reward.”

Shirburnians can take advantage of opportunities: “During my visit to Barcelona in June 2014 the abdication of King Juan Carlos was announced. Conversing with locals I learnt that whilst many acknowledged his role in steering the country from dictatorship to democracy, recent scandals had caused his popularity to plummet.” I am reminded of the Old Shirburnian who, after leaving university with a determination to get into broadcasting, wrote a hundred requests for internships, and eventually was offered an unpaid position at the BBC. He happened to be there on 9/11, when the journalists were going to catch ‘planes that were not leaving; he was put with David Dimbleby, who recognised his potential; he went on to edit both “Newsnight” and “Question Time”; and by the age of 35 he was a Senior Executive for Channel 4.

We encourage each boy to research post-Sherborne destinations with an evidence-based approach, rather than blind reliance on dodgy league tables and brand-name prejudice. Similarly, we encourage both applicants in their Personal Statements and colleagues in their references to quote supporting evidence for their statements. Is this effective? To judge from offers received, I think so. The Head of Admissions at Durham said that our higher than average offer rate there was probably due to the quality of our Personal Statements. This in turn is a reflection of the extent to which the applicants’ intellectual curiosity has shone through. One of the great things about Sherborne is that the boys have a wealth of activities in which they can develop their curiosity and passion.

A Personal Statement that begins with a sentence declaring a distinctive personal interest and then shows evidence of personal reflection by, for instance, contrasting two books or articles on that subject is worth far more than one that gives a list of books read. The latter almost certainly means that the applicant has not read any of them. Moreover, one applicant mantra in a Personal Statement should be “Never start (or end) with a quotation.”

By Philip Rogerson
Director of HE & Careers



Sherborne is committed to helping boys realise their potential, so they can pursue whatever path is best suited to them upon leaving the school community.

For many, this involves study at university. The majority of our boys go on to places at Oxford and Cambridge and the most competitive universities in the Russell Group. A number of boys also go to those universities that provide specialist training in areas such as medicine, music or land-based careers, while more recently there has been an increasing interest in studies at American universities.

When it comes to supporting boys in the next phase of their education, our focus is on helping them discern the option that will best suit their skills, attributes and ambitions.