Higher education and skills development


Skills are important throughout your lifetime, and will be the backbone for your professional and personal life. In this section, we will be looking at why skills are important, how you’re already improving them now in school, and how higher education can help you develop those skills even more! 

Some skills are very specific – like knowing how to use a power saw if you’re a builder or carpenter, or knowing how to write computing code if you’re web designer – but for Gateways, we want to focus on more general skills. These are the kinds of skills you can develop and improve in school, in social situations and as part of sports, volunteering or hobbies. These types of skills are also known as transferable skills and you’ll hear us talk about them a lot at Gateways events. 

You’re developing your transferable skills all the time already!

What skills will you develop whilst doing your GCSEs?

On the GSCEs and your options  page, we talked about why your GCSE subject choices are important, and how the knowledge you gain from them will support your progression into higher level qualifications.

But subject knowledge isn’t the only thing you’ll gain from GCSEs – you’ll start to build on and improve a whole host of skills that will support you as you progress into further education, higher education, and your chosen career. Having a list of skills that you have developed and are good at will also be really useful if you choose to get a part-time job (after your 16th birthday).

Let’s name some skills and what we mean when talk about them…

  • Written communication – Are you good at written work? Are you good at writing stories, essays, reports, etc.? Can you get your point across when writing?
  • Verbal communication – Are you good at talking to people? Are you good at explaining things to others? Can you persuade people to agree with you?
  • Listening – Are you good at listening to others? Are you good at taking instructions?
  • Team work – Do you work well with other people? Do you enjoy working with people to achieve a shared goal?
  • Leadership – Are you good at organising groups of people? Are you able to lead by example when a task needs to get done?
  • Time management – Do you make sure you get things done on time? Do you plan in advance to ensure you can complete lots of competing tasks to a good standard?

Can you think of any more skills you may develop whist doing your GCSEs? Write them all down (or use the notes section on your phone), keep them somewhere safe, and then use them as and when you need them throughout the next few years…

Why is it important to develop skills now?

Applying to university is more complex than just meeting the entry requirements with your GCSE results and your A-Level predicted grades students must also show that they have the skills and mindset to succeed on a university course. Students are able to show this through their UCAS application form, and something called a ‘Personal Statement’.

What is UCAS?

UCAS stands for ‘Universities and Colleges Admissions Service’ and its the centralised service for students that want to apply for a university or college at higher education level. You choose where you want to go to study, and then apply on the UCAS website via an online application form.

You don’t need to worry about UCAS too much at this point, but if you want more information then we recommend watching this video to get a greater understanding of the full UCAS process – UCAS How to Apply 2021 Video

What is a personal statement?

This is a statement – about a page in length – that you write to support your application to a university or college. It’s your chance to tell them why you’d like to study your chosen subject, what skills and experience you have to show your passion for the field, and how you possess the ability to succeed at their university. The personal statement is something that your school or college will help you write, and then it’ll be sent off to each college/university you apply to as part of your application.

Why is it important to think about this now?

Your personal statement isn’t just a quick piece of writing you complete in Year 12/13. It’s something that’s based on experiences that you’ve had throughout your time in school where you can talk about the activities that you’ve done, and ultimately, the skills that you’ve built up as a result of your hard work in school and your extra-curricular activities. This is why it’s important to always consider what skills you’re developing when you do something new (e.g. your GCSEs!).

What other activities/experiences/skills will be useful?

  • Are you part of a sports team?
    • Teamwork – is it a team sport?
    • Leadership – are you the captain? Do you lead training?
    • Dedication – have you part of it for a long time? Do you attend matches/training on a regular basis?
  • Are you part of another extra-curricular club?
    • Time management – are you able to do this club whilst also completing all of your other priorities (e.g. homework)?
    • Are you able to practise a valuable skill at this club that will be useful for the future (e.g. debate club)?
  • Do you do volunteering?
    • Are you willing to give up your time to help other people?
    • Motivated and dedicated – what motivates you to do this every week? Do you dedicate a given time to this every week?
    • Communication – are you required to speak to others during this? Are you a good listener?
  • Do you have work or volunteering experience?
    • Are you willing to dedicate some time to a workplace outside of your other commitments (school, homework, extracurricular activities) to show you have a strong interest in the given area?
    • Would you work for free for a short period of time to gain some experience in an area you’re interested in, and ensure this is the career for you?
    • Proactive – did you find this yourself?

These are all things that you should keep track of in order to support your personal statement when it comes to writing it. You’ll find skills and knowledge in all of the things you do!

Skills and your future


As you learn and study for your GCSEs and A-levels/BTECs, your skill development will likely be a benefit of successfully completing these qualifications. It’s unlikely that you’ll actively try and build on your skillset, but as you learn how to better manage your time, organise your learning, revise for exams, and take notes, your skillset will grow!


This is different at higher education level. At this point, students will actively try to build and develop their skills. They’ll create a portfolio of experiences and activities that demonstrate their abilities to potential employers when they begin looking for a job after graduation. Employers will be focused on finding out about your transferable skills.


What are transferable skills?


As we discussed earlier on this page, transferable skills are a core set of skills and abilities that can be applied to a range of different jobs, industries, and situations (including your personal life!). These skills are valuable to employers as they show if a person is a good fit for a team, what they can bring to a role, and what previous experience they have.


This is a huge benefit of going into higher education because you’re able to build up these skills by studying. You will also have plenty of free time to develop your transferable skills through involvement in societies, volunteering, sports clubs and other extra-curricular activities. When in a full-time job, most people won’t have time to get involved in the number of things you can at higher education level. Here is a list of some of the skills developed in higher education:


Verbal Communication Team Work Independence
Problem Solving Critical Thinking Rationalising/Arguing
Time Management Leadership Researching
Organisation Flexibility Written Communication
Adaptability Listening Analytical Skills


Now, let’s look at how students develop these skills whilst in HE. Take a look at this mind-map, and you’ll see that many different skills can be practised within the same situation. For example, volunteering will give you experience of communication, team work, time management, problem solving and leadership.

These skills will all then be transferable into a career or job that you choose to go into. Youll be able to highlight all of these skills and experiences that you have in a job application, CV or interview. However, certain skills will be more important for some jobs than others that’s why it’s important to see what is relevant for your chosen pathway.


Read on to the ‘Future Goals’ section of this webpage to start to think about what transferable skills will be the most important to you and your chosen career.

Future Goals

Start thinking about what you want for the future you and set some goals.

Read more…

Why Study?

Why not check out our Why Study? page to find out what our students really think about their courses and about student life.

Visit the University of Manchester's Why Study? page!