Academic discovery and personal development: the Pre-University Summer School

Untitled design 2As we said farewell to the 255 high school students who joined us this summer for the Pre-University Summer School it struck us once again how dramatically the programme has grown since its inception in 2013.

Starting with 50 students in its first year the programme now looks and feels very different, but its core objective remains the same: to offer students a taste of university life in London at one of the world’s best universities, King’s. With a packed timetable of lectures, seminars, group activities and skills based workshops this two week programme allows students to experience the style and demands of undergraduate level study and to build their skills and confidence for the future. Many of them also opt to live in our halls of residence which provides a valuable cultural opportunity, as one student put it, “to understand how people from all around the world think and live”*. It is an intensive and highly rewarding experience and as we begin to plan for our 5th summer we have been reflecting on the successes of this year’s developments to inform our approach.

Diversifying our offer
Summer 2016 was when we launched a newly designed Pre University Summer School. It had a lower cost to participants than previous programmes that we had offered and had a larger range of academic course options that we’d been able to offer in the past. As a result, we were thrilled to receive 40% more students on to campus and into our learning community.

Medicine, Psychology, Law, Business Management, Politics opened King’s doors to a whole new set of students. The appetite for the health-related courses in particular was huge. Student feedback suggests that in the case of vocational subjects, where study involves a heavy investment of time and energy, the chance to ‘try out’ the subject and find out what it entails is an attractive proposition –“I came in being unsure about my future prospects, I left almost positive that I wanted to pursue psychology”.

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Developing the curriculum
We recognised that the students applying to our summer school had strong academic capabilities so we designed the 2016 programme accordingly to be as challenging and immersive as any of King’s rigorous undergraduate level programmes. An extended timetable included afternoon seminars in the daily schedule, allowing students to engage with academic literature and case studies which would feature in degree-level study. All courses also set their students two assignments, designed to mirror the undergraduate assessment patterns of the relevant subject. One class was even asked to submit their written assignment (to critically assess a referendum as a decision making tool for government) via the plagiarism software Turnitin.

Summer learning is a natural extension of King’s faculties’ teaching agenda and so summer students get access to the same active and experiential learning as year-round degree students, with hugely popular visits to laboratories, research facilities and training centres. On the Medicine course, for example, students spent a morning gaining valuable clinical skills experience at the Chantler Simulation and Interactive Learning Centre and this was cited as one of the best aspects of the course in the end of course evaluation. With 96% of students stating the programme helped them develop their academic skills and with a 10% increase to 91% of students agreeing that the overall programme met their expectations we will continue to challenge and extend our students through a dynamic and rigorous academic offer.

Enhancing our pastoral care
At its heart the Pre-University Summer School is also designed to offer an insight into university life: independent living, being a responsible adult and building positive relationships with a new and diverse group of people. As such, and with a 54% increase in the number of residential students this summer, we implemented a change within our pastoral staffing to better support students outside of the classroom. Every year King’s employs current King’s students as student ambassadors to supervise the Pre-University students due to their age (mostly under 18). However, this year we refined the staffing structure and placed a greater emphasis on the role of specialist pastoral ambassadors, who were assigned a discrete group of students within the accommodation for the duration of the programme. These ambassadors were instrumental in enhancing the feeling of a safe and secure environment and we therefore scheduled more time on arrival day for introductions, icebreakers and briefings about the programme which were all conducted within these pastoral groups. This allowed students to get to know their assigned ambassador, and vice versa, but also fostered a sense of community within these small groups. One of our returning students noticed these subtle developments, commenting that it “was amazing to see that by the end of the programme the flats were more like small families”.

 

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