Students from less advantaged backgrounds are more likely to drop out of uni than their more advantaged peers, and even prefer ‘less prestigious’ unis despite getting higher grades.
For a lot of these students, uni carries a ‘risk’ that can’t be afforded. Plus, the stereotypical scene expected at some of the UK’s top universities can seem daunting.
Providing the opportunities for these students to network with mentors and access internships can make a huge difference to their confidence.
As we launched the iQ Thrive Academy, we spoke to upReach alumna Tiegan’s story about overcoming financial and class worries to work in her dream role in government.
I grew up in a rural village in Gloucestershire where there are little to no opportunities for young people seeking careers like mine. I grew up in a working-class household, similar to many of my peers at the low-performing state school I attended, and conversations about politics or society weren’t something that took place around the dinner table.
My day-to-day life was preoccupied with other worries. I relied on free school meals for fuel inside the classroom, and sometimes my family relied on our local food bank for fuel outside of the classroom. I also had caring responsibilities for siblings from a young age, and I worked part-time as soon as I was legally able to.
So, going to a Russell Group university as a first-generation student, and then moving to London to work in Westminster seemed like a faraway fantasy and I definitely was not prepared for either of those.
Before joining upReach, I was really confused about the exact career route I wanted to take. I knew my interests, but I wasn’t sure what roles to apply for within that broad category of ‘’the public sector’’.
Considering my background, I was getting into a panicked state quite often because of the uncertainty that came with graduating. I was so scared that I’d be unemployed and wondered how I would pay rent or buy food just like how I used to worry about that as a child. So I found the prospect of graduating quite difficult.
But being part of the supportive community that upReach had created really helped me with both of these things. My amazing programme coordinator, Niamh, helped me figure out that applying for the Civil Service Fast Stream would align with my skill set and desire to eventually become a leader in government. She also listened to all my concerns about employment in our 1:1 conversations and she really helped me to rationalise them - and to put in place processes for handling those emotions. This was during the pandemic, so the support she provided was really crucial.
When I first joined upReach I was incredibly shy and never would have agreed to deliver a speech about my background to a group of strangers.
Now, through gaining confidence by having countless 1:1 conversations with Niamh where I was able to share my concerns about graduating, bond over our mutual interest in social mobility, and I have a cheerleader in my life for every career move I have made, I have done things like speaking at the MP of the Year Awards in the Houses of Parliament about the importance of diversity in elected politics.
After completing my upReach programme I had gained so much confidence in pursuing my career goals. I used to hear the phrase ‘’knowledge is power’’ quite a lot at university, and upReach made me realise that this is definitely true.
Going into interviews, I was able to articulate my experiences and values so clearly - and actually link them well to what the organisation was looking for - because I understood what the jobs would require of me on a deeper level than just reading the job description. So this was a really key insight that helped me shift my attitude in terms of confidence.
I think every element of the programme has had a huge impact on getting me to where I am now, but if I had to choose one thing it would be the exclusive Insight Days organised between upReach and their employer partners. As an Associate, I attended several of these including one with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, where I now work.
These experiences gave me the chance to meet civil servants and dispel many myths I had built up in my head about who they were, what they looked like and how they acted.
As somebody without prior connections to the Civil Service through family or friends, this was essential to putting me onto a levelling playing field with my peers who did have those connections.
Networking is crucial for any career path and is one the key soft skills that upReach helped me with. The word ‘networking’ is very daunting - I used to always think of the traditional way of it - being in a stuffy room with people all dressed in suits drinking wine. It’s really just the ability to build up a group of people by having conversations - that you can rely on for different purposes - and that can rely on you too as a member of their network.
Having completed the upReach programme, Tiegan now works as a Project Manager for the UK Government Civil Servant in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Outside of work, she’s a proud upReach alumni ambassador and board member, and a Non-Executive Director at the British Youth Council.
Read more about how the iQ Thrive Academy and upReach are supporting less advantaged students here.
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