How to use your summer break productively following Year 12

The exams are over, school’s out for summer, and you have six weeks off before embarking on a new phase of life as a university student.

It’s understandable if all you want to do now is take time off and think about anything other than studying and revision. After all, you’ve probably spent most of the last two years with your head in a book or staring at a screen, preparing for and sitting exams.


However, the next few weeks offer a golden opportunity to prepare for the rest of your life.

Here are our top tips for using the long summer break productively:


  • First it is important to make time to rest, relax and recharge the batteries.
  • Take at least couple of weeks off to have a proper break.
  • Go on holiday, have a change of scenery or just go out and enjoy the world; anything that helps refresh your mind and body.


  • If you don’t already have a part-time job you could look for work to see you through the summer break.
  • Working will not only allow you to save some money ready for university, but it will also help you learn some valuable skills that will enhance your CV.

Take an internship

  • A summer internship can also be a great way to experience the world of work and gain useful transferable skills. You’ll also give yourself a head start before your university degree gets underway.
  • If you can find an internship in a company or organisation that is in some related to your degree, or a career you are interested in pursuing, you will also gain a valuable insight that will set you apart from your peers and give you an edge in the competitive graduate jobs market.
  • For more information on internships, visit the Prospects website.


  • Volunteering, whether overseas or closer to home, is another great way to enhance your skills, while helping others in the process.
  • Not only is it a rewarding use of your time, it will also boost your CV.
  • There are many options you could try,  from taking part in an organised volunteering programme to helping at the local charity shop.
  • Website ‘Save the Student’ also has a helpful guide to volunteering.

Prepare for university

  • More study might be the last thing on your mind after two years of rigorous academic effort, but in the last few weeks of your break it is a good idea to start preparing for university so that when you arrive as a fresher you are not totally out of your depth. Buy some of the textbooks you will need and start reading around your chosen subject area.

For more advice on how to make the most of your summer break, check out these useful guides from Prospects and The Complete University Guide.

Suggested reading and resources for your summer holidays

Whether you have another year of sixth form left and want to get ahead with university applications or you’re heading off to university in a few months’ time and want to prepare for your lectures and seminars, the summer holidays are a great time to do some useful reading.

The top UK universities are not only looking for students with a solid understanding of the core A-Level curriculum, they’re keen for students who are engaged with their subjects beyond their school studies and who find alternative ways of exploring the topics they find interesting.

Read ‘deeply’

You may have heard the phrase ‘read widely’ used often in the context of university reading, but it can be hard to know what this actually means and whether it’s really the best approach to tackling your summer reading list.

If you’re keen to do some reading that will help with your personal statement or potential university interviews, here’s our top tip:

Pick fewer books than you might think you need to read, but read them ‘deeply’

Although it’s good to read ‘widely’, i.e. wider than your A-Level set texts, it’s also important to know the content of your wider reading in depth. Choosing a few books and reading them well is much more productive than reading what seems like an impressively long list of books but only scanning the introductions to each one.


Universities will be far more impressed if you know a few books extremely well and can write or talk about them in detail than if you’ve ‘read’ a big list of books but are unable to discuss the content of any of them in great depth.

Remember! In university interviews, the lecturer or tutor may ask you to talk about some books you’ve mentioned in your personal statement, so make sure you feel confident talking about their content in detail and are able to give your opinion on anything you’ve read or any resources you’ve listened to.

How to go the extra mile

If you’re preparing for potential university interviews, it’s a good idea to have some knowledge of what’s going on in the world around you. Interviewers will often expect you to be aware of current affairs, particularly if a theme that crops up in your reading is topical in the news at that time. Reading short articles is a quick and easy way of bringing yourself up to speed and giving yourself the confidence to talk about the context of your wider reading, so make sure to have a check the BBC online news pages or other news outlets regularly.

Alternative resources

If you’re keen for a more relaxing way to find out more about a subject you’re interested in, try watching documentaries or listening to podcasts, as these can often be more helpful and more impactful than reading a chapter of a book.

Compiling your reading list

Why not make a list of books you’d like to read or podcasts you’d like to listen to over the summer, which you tick off as you go along? You could also keep a notebook to make notes alongside your reading and listening.

To kickstart your summer reading regime, we’ve put together a list of useful resources and reading material that you can add to your summer reading list:




Oxford suggested reading and resources:

Oxford University podcasts:

Cambridge University podcasts:

In Our Time:

Open Yale Courses:

Warwick University Courses:


BBC documentaries:


Department of Justice:

Judiciary of England and Wales:

Counsel Magazine:

Guardian Law pages:

BBC Law in Action:


Medieval and Modern Languages:

Read newspapers and magazines, watch TV and films and listen to the radio.


Le Monde:

Suddeutsche Zeitung:

El Pais:

Corriere Della Sera:





Oxford Department of Politics and International Relations:

Political Studies Association:

UK parliament:





The Economist magazine:

Institute for Economic Affairs:

National Institute of Economics and Social Research:



British Sociological Association:

British Journal of Sociology:

BBC Thinking Allowed:



Current Archaeology Magazine:

British Museum:



Discover Anthropology:

Royal Anthropological Institute:

Association on Social Anthropologists:



Ian Ramsay Centre for Science and Religion:



Philosophical Society:



Oxford Classics Outreach:

The Roman Society:

The Hellenic Society:



Royal Academy of Music:



Reviews in History:

British Museum:

History Today Magazine:

BBC History:

Historical Association:

Royal Historical Society:

Fitzwilliam Museum:

Ashmolean Museum:


History of Art:

Royal Academy:



British Geological Survey:

Geological Society:

National Geographic:

Geographical Association:


General Science Interest:

New Scientist Magazine:

The Naked Scientist Podcasts:

Oxford Science Blog:



Richard Feynman lectures:

Institute of Physics (including free membership for 16-19 year-olds):

British Physics Olympiad:


Biological, Biomedical and Life Sciences and Zoology:

Wellcome Trust:

Educational resources at the National History Museum:

Institute of Zoology:

Botanical Sciences at Kew:



Chemistry World Online:

Biochemical Society:



Dilnot, Andrew & Blastland, Michael, The Tiger That Isn’t

BBC Radio 4, More or Less:

Millennium Mathematics Project:

Institute of Mathematics:

Plus Magazine:

Further Maths Support Network:

STEP website:



Online library and Engineering web forum:

Royal Academy of Engineering:

Institution of Civil Engineers:

Chemical Engineering Resources and web forum:


Computer Science:

Oxford’s Geomlab:

The Guardian’s list of Computer Science resources:

Medicine/Veterinary Medicine:

British Medical Association:

Royal Society of Medicine:

Radio programme on medical ethics:

Oxford Medical School Gazette:

Institute of Biomedical Science:

Physiological Society:

British Veterinary Association:

Kay, Andy, This is going to hurt

Marsh, Henry, Do no harm

Westaby, Stephen, Fragile Lives


Geological and Materials Sciences:

British Geological Survey:

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining:

UK Centre for Materials Education:


Psychological and Behavioural Sciences:

British Psychological Society:

The Psychologist Journal:


English Literature:

The British Library, Discovering Literature:

Poetry Society:

Literary Review:

Times Literary Supplement:

Meet MIT student Sam Turton from Tenby who has first-hand experience of both US and UK universities…

Sam Turton pic

This week, we spoke to Welsh MIT student Sam Turton who met with Cabinet Secretary Kirsty Williams and our Seren students on the YYGS programme last week to discuss the importance of building relationships between Seren and US universities.

Having done his undergraduate and masters degrees at Cambridge University and now doing a PhD at MIT, Sam has first-hand experiences of both US and UK university systems.

We asked him all about the differences between the two, why he decided to apply to MIT and what advice he’d give to Seren students who are considering applying to US universities.

This is what he said…

 Why did you decide to do a PhD in the US?

One of the main reasons was that it was a great opportunity to live and study abroad in such a big and exciting country. It’s incredible how many more universities there are over here, conducting world-class research.

A standard PhD program in the US is also quite a bit longer than in the UK. Some people find the prospect of being a graduate student for 5-6 years quite daunting, but I think it gives you a lot more time to focus your research interests by working for different professors in the first couple of years of the PhD. I really liked that I didn’t have to start working on my thesis as soon as I started at MIT, but instead could spend some time figuring out what exactly I wanted to work on.

Another big attraction for me were the greater teaching opportunities that you have in the US. My funding is conditional on me teaching classes every semester. Not everyone enjoys doing this, but I think that learning how to be a good teacher is an essential part of excelling in research.

What’s been your experience of studying at MIT so far?

I’ve had a really positive experience. On the whole, MIT has a very collaborative and diverse atmosphere. Every day I work with people from very different academic backgrounds, and this has really helped me to push my research in different directions and out of my comfort zone. Boston is also a great city to live in as a student. There are so many world-class universities in the Greater Boston area, and this draws students from all over the globe. However, I’ve yet to meet another Welsh student at MIT, so it would be great to see some more in the future!

What have been your highlights?

It’s pretty typical to spend the first year of your PhD just taking classes. Since I had already completed a Masters at Cambridge before I started my PhD at MIT, I had already taken a lot of graduate level classes in fluid mechanics, which is my principal research area. I took this opportunity to take classes in areas outside of my field, such as in nuclear science and quantum computation. I would have never been able to learn this material when I was an undergraduate in maths, so I really enjoyed immersing myself in some totally new science!

I’ve also attended three different conferences so far during my PhD. I found this overwhelming the first time, but I’ve grown to really enjoy presenting my research. Plus, it’s always enjoyable to travel for work and see different parts of the USA.

Given your experiences of both US and UK university systems, what do you think are the main differences between them?

I think the main difference between the US and UK university systems is that an American undergraduate degree is generally much broader. In the UK, we usually apply to study a specific subject at university, that we study for three whole years and have relatively few opportunities to take classes in different areas. In the USA, undergraduates will generally study a mixture of classes in their first year or two, and then decide on a major. American degrees also generally last four years, compared to three years in the UK.

Another big difference is that vocational degrees, such as law and medicine, are not offered as undergraduate degrees. If you want to be a lawyer, for example, you would have to complete a four-year college degree and then apply to law school, which generally lasts an additional three years.

Why do you think Welsh students often don’t consider applying to US universities?

I think the obvious reason is probably that the USA is a long way from home! It’s definitely a big decision to move across the ocean to go to university. There’s a lot of stress involved with moving to a different country to study, such as applying for a visa and navigating other unfamiliar bureaucracy. However, not having the language barrier definitely makes these things easier than they might be if you were looking at studying abroad in Europe, for example.

Another reason might be that the face value cost of an American degree is generally much higher than the equivalent in the UK. However, many universities in the US have very substantial bursaries and scholarships that can significantly lower the cost of an American education.

What would you say to Seren students who are currently considering applying to MIT, or any other US university?

I’m not very familiar with the process of applying for an undergraduate degree at MIT or elsewhere in the US, but my main advice would be to start researching early! Make sure to read all of the information on university websites to make sure you know exactly what you need to do to apply to each university. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t really a centralised system like UCAS, and universities will expect you to write application essays that specifically address why you want to be one of their students.

Several top American universities have created online platforms, such as EdX or Coursera, which contain versions of the undergraduate classes they offer. They are definitely worth checking out as they will give you a taste for the style and content of American lectures.

Applying to study abroad is definitely more complicated initially than staying in the UK, but don’t be overwhelmed! America has so many incredible places to study, and it offers a very different experience to a British undergraduate degree. If it sounds like an American degree might be a better fit for you, then there is definitely no harm in applying.

What are your plans for the future?

I have another two years until I finish my PhD. After that, my current plan is to do a “Post doc”. This is a three-year academic position that you do after finishing a PhD to get extra research experience before applying for a full-blown academic job. I might stay in the USA to do this, but ideally I would prefer to move back to the UK, or somewhere else in Europe, so that I can be a bit closer to home.


Meet Joseph, whose love of engineering encouraged him to apply to the Yale summer school:

We spoke to Seren RCT-Merthyr pupil Joseph Phillips to find out whether his experience of the Yale summer school has encouraged him to apply to a US university.  Here’s what he had to say…


We also spoke to him before he left – here’s what he said before making the trip.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m a pupil at St John’s School in Aberdare and I’m doing A-Levels in maths, physics, geography and welsh baccalaureate. I’ve chosen the YYGS applied science and engineering course.

Why did you apply to the YYGS?

I heard about the opportunity from my Seren hub coordinator. I’ve been to several Seren masterclasses this year already and I’ve really enjoyed widening my knowledge and going beyond what we’re taught as part of the A-Level curriculum.

I’m currently doing an Open University course in engineering; an opportunity that I heard about through Seren. It’s great to get background knowledge and a deeper understanding of engineering. I’d like to learn as much as possible because you can’t do engineering as an A-Level.

To me, this summer school seemed like another great opportunity to extend my knowledge, experience something totally new and get an insight into university life in America.

What are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to seminars, particularly the ones on microscopy and artificial intelligence. But I think what I’m most looking forward to is being able to engage with people from all over the world. Students from 120 different countries will be attending this summer school and I’ve never been somewhere with such an amazing level of diversity before. I think it’ll be a real eye-opener.

Why do you think pupils in Wales don’t consider studying in the US?

I think pupils in Wales are often put off applying to university in the US because they hear about how expensive it can be. I had no idea what sort of financial support was available, if any. But since applying to this summer school, I’ve researched into the financial side of things and there are lots of bursaries and scholarships opportunities, so I don’t think pupils should be put off.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m not sure whether or not I’d like to apply to university in the US, but I’m definitely keeping an open mind. I’m also considering Oxford, Swansea, Cardiff, Leicester and Nottingham, and have booked onto open days this summer.

I also have work experience lined up this summer at a metal fabrication firm. I’m unsure of what I’d like to study at university; I’ve considered aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering, but I’m hoping that going to Yale as well as attending open days in the UK will give me a better idea of the different engineering courses available to me.


We hear from Cassie, Tom, Carys, Joe and Yousuf all about their first week at Yale University…

What has been the best thing about YYGS so far?

Carys: Everything! I’m loving every minute and can’t believe that we only have five days left here in the US!

Cassie: Meeting new people and making global connections.

Tom: Meeting people from all around the world, talking about our different cultures, background and accents. It’s such a good experience to broaden my horizons and find out about the world. We all come together as one community and I believe this shared experience is invaluable to all of us.

Joe: Meeting people from over 126 countries, as I don’t think I’ll ever experience this level of diversity ever again. I hope to leave the programme with friends from all over the world and hopefully meet up with them in the future.

Yousuf: The people here. I have made the best of friends from all across the globe, it’s insane. From Rhode Island to Ghana, Palestine to Jamaica, and New Zealand to Brazil, everyone is incredible and we will definitely keep in touch after YYGS – in fact I’ve already arranged a meet-up with a few of them in Boston in a months’ time!


What have you learnt?

Carys: That I love Yale and definitely want to apply to a university in the US! This programme has given me so much confidence in the fact that I can achieve my goals, and I have found it all so inspiring.

Cassie: There’s more than one way to get where you want to go, and it’s best to shop around before finalising your decisions.

Tom: I have learnt so much. I’ve learnt lots about the liberal arts system in America, in which you major in a subject whilst studying a wide variety. The American education system is quite different to ours in the UK, so it’s very useful to come out here and understand it for ourselves before navigating university applications. Although the bulk of my lectures and seminars have been about chemistry, physics, and engineering, I have a new-found interest in biology. It’s great to see how interdisciplinary all of the subjects are, and this programme has helped me develop cohesiveness between subjects.

Joe: I have been able to increase my knowledge in all aspects of applied science, which will really benefit me when applying to university as well as when I want to start a career in engineering.

Yousuf: Yale is for me, it’s not just a wild dream. We can actually get into here – it really is possible for a welsh student to do so.


What has been your favourite lecture so far?

Carys: The lecture on the chemical complexity in unconventional oil and gas extraction, as it emphasised that many “green” concepts are not always as they seem. For example, renewable energy sources don’t always have a net beneficial impact. Also, as with all the lectures and seminars, the lecturer was very experienced and engaging.

Cassie: The lecture on particle physics because A Level Physics set me up really well to understand the lecture and grasp the full concepts.

Tom: I really enjoyed the lecture on unconventional oil and gas extraction. There has been much debate in the UK about fracking, and I have followed this without really understanding the back story. This lecture used chemistry and environmental engineering to expose the real issues with fracking and brush aside the misconceptions.

Joe: The best lecture so far has to be particle physics, as I was able to apply my past knowledge from AS level physics. As a result of this, I was able to play an even stronger role in my breakout session, aiding the learning of my peers.

Yousuf: Creating Little Big Bangs – woah. I actually understood the rocket science (and it actually really isn’t that hard – it’s AS physics in a nutshell). The lecturer was amazing and I could apply my knowledge to the situation to ask thought-provoking questions and learn more about the physics at CERN and RHIC.


What has been your favourite seminar so far?

Carys: This is very difficult to choose! It was probably the seminar on the mathematics of maps – we discussed the pros and cons of various different projections and ended the seminar by mapping our own virtual 3D world. I enjoyed applying maths to the earth, and learning how to portray 3D objects in 2D accurately. Also, the seminar emphasised the importance of maths within applied science – this showed me that a strong background in maths will be very useful whichever career path I take.

Tom: The seminars have all been great! I have experimented with rocket fuel, looked at chemical engineering in the Solvay process, and discussed confirmation bias which is actually a bigger issue than you probably think. Tomorrow I am studying the art of flight which I am really looking forward to. The best thing about the seminars is the diversity, which makes us much more rounded students.

Joe: My seminar on video game theory really interested me, as when I was younger I spent a lot of my time playing. Since I have attended this lecture I have been able to understand how they work and why I enjoy them so much.

Yousuf: I can’t choose, it’s impossible. All of my seminars have been so good and so intriguing that I was just immersed into every single talk and my knowledge in each of the subjects increased substantially. A lot of my seminars were centred around VR. I find this topic super interesting so I was not disappointed! It’s been great learning about other super cool things such as growing brains to survive a zombie apocalypse, detecting ripples in space and time, and also levitation. I’ve loved every single one and they were all super great in their own very unique, fun ways.


What have you enjoyed the most?

Carys: Getting to know people from all over the world, and being a part of the incredible and inspiring community that has been created here. Also, teaching people about Welsh culture and flying the Welsh flag with pride!

Tom: I have enjoyed showing off my patriotism. We have got people chanting Wales around campus and playing rugby.

Yousuf: Again, the people. I could just talk on and on about everyone here. Every single person has a life story to tell and it’s so interesting just to sit back and listen to everybody’s life and how they got here. Sitting on random tables at food times and just sparking a spontaneous conversation with the rest of the table was a really great way to make a lot of new friends that I’ll remember forever (not to sound cheesy or anything). 126 countries are represented here, and my suitemates come from all over the world from Kyrgyzstan to Tunisia to India and Michigan – I love it here.


What have you been doing in your free time?

Carys: Exploring New Haven, using the Payne Whitney Gym facilities first thing every morning, socialising and discussing different cultures with new friends from all over the world – creating lifelong memories! The programme is quite intense (in a good way!) therefore free time has been very precious!

Tom: Eating out is definitely a highlight – America lives up to its name in this sense. I have often been throwing a ball around with a group of people, and arguing whether we should play rugby or American football! I’ve enjoyed chatting, playing games, and teaching people Welsh phrases.

Joe: I have tried my best to play sports that I am unfamiliar with, I have been taught many different sports from people with many different backgrounds.

Yousuf: Everything you can possibly think of. Hide and seek at night outside the New Haven library – check; Eating out at every burger and burrito restaurant I could possibly find with my American friends – check; Playing ‘Cards Against humanity’ till dawn in our suites – check; pretending to be an American for a whole day – check; teaching Americans the word ‘peng’ and many other British and Welsh nuances – check; and a lot of other things but most importantly flying the welsh flag wherever I went (Heck we even made some people wish they were really welsh!!). I love it here, and I’m sure everybody else will have the same feeling too. YYGS has truly been an unforgettable experience, I just wish it never has to end!


Kirsty Williams joins some of Wales’ brightest students in the US

Monday 25th 4

Unless you’ve been out of the country (!) you won’t have been able to miss the news from our students this week as they’ve been settling into their US home for the next two weeks, for the Yale Young Global Scholars Programme.

The bright sixth-formers are the first seven of 16 Seren pupils to join students from across the world on a life-changing summer programme, held at one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions.

1,700 students, 126 countries, 50 US States

All part of the Seren Network, the students are joining more than 1,700 other students from 126 countries and 50 US states on Yale’s Young Global Scholars Programme (YYGS), at Yale University’s New Haven campus in the US, as part a new scholarship opportunity made possible through the Seren Network.

Earlier this week, Welsh Government Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams, joined the first group of pupils as she looks to build on links already made with the university through Seren.

The Education Secretary will also travel to both Harvard University and MIT in Boston to discuss new opportunities and collaborations.

Kirsty Williams said: “It is a huge success story for Seren that we’ve been able to broker a partnership which will see Yale’s renowned Young Global Scholars programme made accessible to students across Wales.

“I’m proud to be joining our first ever group of students to take part in this life-changing summer programme and look forward to making new links with other universities as we try to open new doors for many more of our students.

“I want every pupil in every school in every part of Wales to know that if you work hard then no academic opportunity is off-limits. I think this is a perfect example of what is possible and I want to thank all the sponsors involved in making this happen.”

The students represent 9 of the 11 Seren hubs including Anglesey-Gwynedd, Cardiff, EAS, RCT-Merthyr, Carms-Pembs, Vale of Glamorgan, Flintshire-Wrexham, Ceredigion, and Swansea.

Here’s Kirsty Williams catching up with Elli Rees from the Swansea hub about her experience of the Yale Young Global Scholars programme so far: