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How COA's programmes help inform students' careers and HE choices

We are all too aware of the difficulties that young people face when embarking on a career. Competition for places on graduate and other training schemes is fierce. Young people who develop knowledge of the area or job in which they are interested, can plan ahead and build up an interesting portfolio. Part time, voluntary jobs or services, undertaken during their time at school and university, can demonstrate their commitment, develop their ‘people skills’ and even time management skills, especially when they are juggling academic work and a regular job. In addition, knowing what employers are looking for and paying attention to detail when making choices, can make the difference between success and failure.

Our programmes help students to reflect on their personal interests, abilities and potential career areas . They help them to make informed choices at different stages in school and develop important skills for life. They learn to record their achievements and realise the importance of a balanced portfolio, when they have to persuade employers to choose them for the key role they are seeking.

Click on the links below to find out more.


Further information


Probe - an introduction to careers research

Probe is a programme which helps a young person to become aware of their own preferences and helps them to discover how different jobs might appeal to and be suitable for different people.

After answering simple questions, the student receives some printouts suggesting different jobs which might be of interest and then the student researches these to discover key requirements for different jobs. They learn where to find more information in the careers library or perhaps on useful websites.

As a result they should be better informed if they have to make a GCSE subject choice at this stage and realise where they can find information for themselves.

Preview - focusing on careers areas and sixth form subjects

If your son or daughter has completed the Preview programme, they have been given an opportunity to do an in-depth questionnaire which ascertains the key careers areas which might be of interest. Research has shown that people are more successful and happy in their career if it matches their interests in some way. The programme reveals key career areas of interest and lists job titles within these areas, which the student can consider. The programme also takes on board any careers areas in which the student is already expressing an interest.

Interpreting the Preview workbook

The top careers areas in their Interest Profile become the focus of more detailed information, provided in the worksheets, which forms the basis for further investigation. The Overall Match feedback helps students to think about underlying supporting areas, relating to the main career area, which are usually an important part of the work involved.  If they appear to have less interest in a particular aspect (although sometimes discussion can help to clarify the position) this might mean the particular career area under consideration, is not as good a match as other career areas. Overall Match also helps the student to understand the different demands jobs might make and thereby helps the student to develop a more realistic idea about the job itself, whilst fine-tuning the matching process. It is hoped that with the help of an interview the student will choose a selection of jobs to research in greater depth.

The Subject Selection Chart helps them to see the relative importance of certain subjects studied at AS/A or IB level in relation to careers areas. In terms of their choice of sixth form subjects, there are of course other factors to be taken into account, including likely levels of success and advice from academic staff.

The Careers Investigation section gives them a structured approach to their research so that they develop a habit of asking important questions both now and at key stages in their future. It encourages the in-depth research and the My Careers Room facility gives them an area where they can access their feedback and other useful information including The Careers Directory, which they also receive in book form. There are areas where they can note their research findings and rate the websites they use. The Portfolio section has been designed so they can note examples of skills developed, achievements, work experience and hobbies. This information can be used to provide the support and justification which is a key factor in writing Personal Statements. In addition they are useful sources of records for CV writing. They can use this area until they are 24 years old. This process should also help them to develop an awareness of the importance of forward planning in terms of preparation: for choice of courses in HE or other options, for internships and graduate training schemes and jobs.

Preview 1-2-1 interviews for students

If your son or daughter has had one interview as part of the Preview programme with a COA interviewer then they will have looked at the feedback in the workbook and considered issues arising. They should have an idea of jobs and areas to focus on in the investigative work which follows.

If they have had two interviews then the second one will give them an opportunity to discuss the findings of their early research and also consider in greater detail the issues surrounding their subjects to be studied in the sixth form as well as thinking about possible opportunities for experiencing the world of work and developing key skills in the future.

Centigrade - exploring higher education choices

Centigrade - exploring higher education choices

If your daughter or son is in the first year of the sixth form course, they will seem to hardly to have settled into their new areas of study before the question arises what will follow at the end of it. For those who decide that they wish to take a course in Higher Education, Centigrade can help.  It is designed specifically for students who are doing AS/A levels, PreU, IB or equivalent examinations and intend to apply for a degree course, either in the UK or in a European university which has courses taught through the medium of English.

Centigrade fits very well into a school or college’s tutorial programme designed to help sixth formers cope with all the issues surrounding their choice of course and the transition from sixth-form to university. Most schools or colleges will have explained how their programmes are designed to help your sons or daughters, and if they are using Centigrade will probably have given you details and integrated it into their programme. This is undoubtedly the most effective way of using it.

However, if this programme has not been offered then it is possible for your son or daughter to do it independently online. The feedback they receive is either in the form of a printed workbook or a pdf file of the same.

What is the Centigrade workbook?

  • The Centigrade workbook contains an  Interest Profile which shows the top course areas for the student. Each of these top areas has information on specific course titles, universities offering them and other useful links.
  • The Overall Match feedback should help the student to better understand the demands the courses might make and fine-tune their choice. The suggestions are made for a specific tariff band so that they should be realistic in terms of your son or daughter’s likely examination results at the end of  sixth form .
  • The Checklists  and  Course Analysis Forms  help in the systematic research process which your son or daughter should follow on receipt of the feedback. Careful attention to detail is important in the research process. There are many questions to be asked and answered: How many hours contact time will I have in terms of lectures? How is the course assessed? Can I study abroad for part of this course? Am I gaining valuable experience by living and studying in a different country? Will this experience increase my employability?  These are just a few, and the question of the cost of the course, living and travel is equally important. In some European universities the cost of the course is nil but living costs can be higher, so comparisons must be thought out carefully.

If your son or daughter is about to spend three or more years in a new environment, it seems prudent to check in advance, by visiting the university itself. Particular care needs to be taken if decisions are made after examination results and plans change due to offers in the Clearing Process.

Making mistakes can be costly not only in terms of money and time but also in the stress it causes for all concerned. Our advice is to spend time on research and have alternative plans in mind.

Programme reliability

Psychometric evaluation and test validation

We place the technical quality of all our careers programmes and aptitude tests high on our list of priorities.

Dr Charles Johnson, a well-established professional psychologist ensures all our programmes are psychometrically sound, which means that each interest questionnaire and aptitude test we use has been shown to be valid and reliable in helping students select appropriate career areas.

We conduct regular surveys into students' AS,  A level or IB selections and their eventual career paths, comparing them with the careers areas and subject choices originally produced in the reports. These checks ensure we are confident that our programmes continue to meet the highest psychometric standards.

For those who would like more in-depth information on the tests, technical manuals are available for Cambridge Profile Aptitude Tests, Centigrade and Preview. In addition, Preview and the regional variations of this test have been reviewed and registered by the Psychological Testing Centre (PTC) of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

COA assessment philosophy

The COA assessment philosophy

The COA programmes are designed to help students to make better, more informed decisions about their future education and career choices.  To do this, the programmes use a combination of guidance materials, self-assessments, independent assessments and objective assessments to provide information on students’ interests, abilities, motivations, attitudes and values.  The assessments are provided through a mix of questionnaires, tests, qualifications, interviews and teacher assessments.  The central concept is that students will do well in their future choices if they have the right mix of abilities, motivation and understanding.  The programmes do not, however, make use of personality tests or learning and thinking style inventories.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Firstly, the programmes are run with students who are still developing and maturing.  Although some aspects of personality may be fairly stable over time, others change with experience and learning.  In addition:

  • Courses and jobs have many facets.  Different personalities  and learning and thinking styles can be effective in different aspects of a job.  It is very, very unusual for one personality type or one style of thinking  to be the only one relevant  to an academic subject , profession or job.
  • People can adapt their behaviour to cope with different personality types and styles  of thinking and learning if they are sufficiently motivated.
  • Assumptions are often made about the relationship of preferred personality types and learning and thinking styles to job success which turn out to be wrong.
  • Personality assessment is a highly skilled activity.  We consider it unsafe to provide personality assessments to untrained individuals who are in danger of over-interpreting or mis-using such information.
  • Providing simplified feedback on personality test results or assessments of learning and thinking styles are likely to mis-represent the student.

So, at COA we avoid making use of such information and focus on the information about achievements, abilities, motivations and attitudes that we do collect.

Opening doors of opportunity