How past students can inspire current students

One of your top resources as a teacher offering higher education (HE) guidance is your student alumni, now at university. So how do you keep in touch with past students and make the most of their experiences?

Be prepared to invest time and energy in nurturing your student alumni. After all, who knows better what a university or a course is like than someone who is actually there at the moment? And whose opinions will be most easily understood and appreciated by your Year 12 students?

Your alumni can make a significant difference by:

  • providing high quality, accurate and up-to-date advice
  • promoting aspiration among current pupils
  • being effective role models to sixth formers as well as younger pupils.

Ways to work with your alumni

Organise an alumni afternoon

Invite a group of alumni currently at university to come and speak to Year 12 about their providers and courses.

How to organise the event:

  • Email invitations well in advance. Remember university holidays can differ from school ones. The last week of spring term/first of the summer term in Year 12 can be good times, but check university term dates.
  • Ensure the event is booked in your school calendar and organise catering, rooms, IT etc.
  • Brief Year 12 on what to ask etc, so they get the most out of the occasion. Ideally break it down into smaller groups so that, for instance, all those wanting to apply for medicine/science subjects have a Q&A session with alumni representing those subject areas. If you have a lot of alumni you can do the same for universities.
  • Brief the alumni — ensure they cover areas such as managing money at university, organising workload, accommodation, course structure and the application process. Don't forget freshers' week and the settling in bit! Ask a teacher to chair each session/group.

Ensure returning students are warmly greeted, that staff are aware who is returning and that you provide refreshments to convey the importance your institution attaches to the relationship. After all, when these alumni enter the world of employment you may also wish to draw on their experience, professional knowledge and expertise to help with your careers programme.

Head of Sixth Form

Ask alumni to assist with interview practice

For your current students applying for subjects which commonly interview, such as medicine, primary education, speech therapy or to Oxford or Cambridge, past students can provide a well-informed resource to support you in preparing students for interviews.

We asked three of our alumni at medical schools to help out with an MMI practice interview afternoon and, with a teacher and our careers adviser, they manned three interview stations and provided excellent feedback to the Year 12 applicants.

Careers Adviser

Form an alumni advisers' group

Setting up a directory of alumni who are willing to offer advice over issues such as course choice, interviews or accommodation options can be a real asset. You can direct your current pupils to contact the right person via social media/email. It takes time to establish and requires careful monitoring, but will be worth the time and effort.

Plan a university visit around a group of alumni

If you have a group of alumni at one provider, include them on the itinerary for a university visit. Often the university's schools liaison team will have organised student ambassadors to talk to your group. However, setting aside time for current students to meet up with past students will add a personal and inspiring element to the day.

Why not do a set of mini films on the visit where the uni students talk about their experience? This can be shared with groups of students back at school.

How to keep in touch with your past students

So your former Year 13s have collected their results and gone off to university, work or on gap year travels. Even with social media it isn’t always easy to keep in touch, so try these ideas:

  • Collect email addresses before they leave and explain how and why you want to enlist their help in future.
  • After receipt of UCAS' final list of destinations in September, send out an email circular wishing them all success on their course.
  • Set up a Facebook group for past students - this can be an excellent means of alerting them to school activities and putting them in touch with current pupils.
  • Set up a tracking system on your school’s system to ensure destinations, courses and even degree outcomes are recorded.

No one understands our pupils as well as our alumni, they truly care about their future and show younger pupils that it is truly possible to succeed from where they are now. Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn are opening this door by helping us to grow a dynamic alumni network to help our pupils bridge the social mobility gap.

Hilary Tait, Head of Careers, La Sainte Union School