Student accounting ambassador Mahmoona Begum is in her second year of a BSc Accountancy and Finance degree. Earlier this year, she wrote an award winning essay. Here she shares her journey on studying for a degree as a mature student.
It’s amazing to think that eight years ago, I was working in a solicitor’s office and the prospect of going to university was very slim.
But here I am, at the age of 25, studying for a BSc in Accountancy and Finance at Bradford University School of Management with the aim of becoming a Chartered Accountant.
I didn’t find it hard to choose Bradford. Not only because it had been ranked as one of the best business management schools in the North, but there was a major focus on employability which was an important factor when I was deciding which university to go to.
I also liked the fact that my course offered a year out in industry – gaining work experience within a finance related role was just as important to me as studying within a professional and challenging environment.
Although studying at Bradford University School of Management has been a steep learning curve, I have learnt so much and here I share with you the skills that will help you in your career, my tips for getting the best out of your student experience and a five point plan to secure a work placement.
1. What skills have I learnt?
Teamwork isn’t something you learn in a day. University and the world of work are similar as you may end up working with people you do not get along with. Demonstrating that you can work in a team is incredibly important and you get plenty of practice at university – from competing in business challenges to attending mock assessment centres.
Being organised is really important. University can prepare you to deal with challenges you may face at work as studying for a degree teaches you to work under pressure, meet deadlines, stay motivated and plan your time effectively.
Developing excellent communication skills is essential in every aspect of business. As this is one of the best business management schools, we students learn to write reports, deliver presentations and even attend mock interviews. We are also given assessments that test every area of our communication skills.
2. How can I get the best out of being a student?
Get involved in extracurricular activities – university isn’t just about getting a first! There are a lot of extra-curricular activities available and it is really important to get involved as these will help you keep the balance when studying gets too much. Not only that, but it will also help you to develop new skills that will look great on your CV and give you the opportunity to make new friends.
Be organised and have a schedule. The best thing you can do for yourself is buy a planner on your first day and use it to remind yourself about deadlines (if you make a note of them!), when to attend events and things to remember after each lecture. Planning your work beforehand will save you from panicking!
Start a study group – it’s amazing how quickly you’ll go from week 1 to week 12. Study groups can be really effective because you help others and share ideas.
Don’t just depend on your reading list – this isn’t a must, but if you’re the type of person who likes to engage with different types of learning material in order to understand something then I would suggest looking at alternatives.
Lots of lecturers at Bradford University School of Management upload links, documents and audio files on blackboard, so make sure you check these out.
Youtube is another great (free) resource! I managed to revise my entire macroeconomics module with the help of 10 minute revision videos by Paj Holden.
Get feedback on your work – many students worry and feel their tutors are unapproachable but this hasn’t been my experience. Tutors and lecturers can give you practical advice and feedback on how you can improve the quality of your work.
Attend guest lectures – I would definitely recommend this to students as this is an opportunity to meet employers and people working in industry. And more often than not, many students end up securing internships and placements.
3. My Five Tips to Winning a Placement
Get your CV checked – the process of applying for a placement starts with an up to date CV and we are lucky as the School of Management has a dedicated careers team who will help bring life to your CV (well, not literally- that would be like something out of Hogwarts) and check your cover letters.
Don’t leave your placement hunt to chance – draw up a list of employers and placements you’re interested in, start learning about them and their application process. Being proactive in searching for employers and attending careers fairs will be a major advantage when you come to apply for their jobs. If you’ve had contact with them before, chances are they will remember you and realise that you’re interested in their organisation.
Deloitte, for example, have a “buddy scheme” which is open to students. If successful you can meet their staff and get to know their business areas. They even offer to answer any application questions you may have.
Practice, practice, practice – take advantage of the many workshops and seminars that run throughout the semester (and even after exams!) such as mock interviews and assessment centres. If requested, you can even get access to practice online tests. In most cases, the interview process for a placement is the same process graduates go through so the more familiar you are with the interview questions or the assessment, the easier it will be for you to perform well.
Be passionate – employers like to know what your motivations are and why you applied to them. Unfortunately, saying that you need a placement to complete your degree won’t quite cut it and you need to demonstrate a passion for what you want to achieve and the area you’re interested in, be it accounting, banking, financial planning or insurance.
Nailing a hard ball interview question that tests your industry knowledge could actually set you apart from the other candidates as someone who doesn’t just repeat facts taken from Wikipedia. One of the ways I have stayed informed on topical financial issues is to sign up to Deloitte’s Monday Briefing which is emailed to me every Monday!
Be prepared for rejection – most students have to apply for a number of placements before being successful so don’t get too disheartened by the rejections. Although, the application process can be stressful and time consuming, my advice would be to keep persevering.
For instance, I started my search for a placement at the beginning of my second year and eventually got my first offer after it had finished. In between, I received countless rejections.
4. Why being a mature student has helped me
I have found that being a mature student and accounting ambassador has given me an advantage when applying for placements. More often than not, employers tend to look favourably on mature students because they can demonstrate skills and experience and are more focussed on what they want to achieve. Remember, the more life experience you have, the more examples you will have to draw on in interviews and applications.
5. What I want to do after I graduate
Once I graduate, I want to complete my professional qualifications and then find a challenging graduate training programme within public or private sector accounting.
I would also consider further study because the School of Management has opened up so many opportunities for me. One of the things that interests me is the Innovation, Enterprise and Circular Economy MBA which offers a unique insight into the circular economy business model, something more businesses are moving towards.
How have you found being a mature student? What advice would you offer prospective students and does being a mature student give you an advantage with employers?