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Thank God it's Friday

Monday: Today is the deadline for Oxford and Cambridge applicants to submit their UCAS forms. We have about 16 students a year who try for Oxbridge, encouraged by their predecessors who come back to school to talk about what it's really like.

The five other university choices they have to make is made more complicated by stories that some will delay offers until it's known if applicants have been offered their Oxbridge place. I plan to monitor which institutions make offers and when. Meanwhile, my advice to students has to be to choose the course and place they like the sound of, without worrying about the politics of their choice.

Tuesday: I'm glad I bought a large box of paper handkerchiefs to school as I talk to the girl who tells me that "everything is going wrong". She doesn't know what to apply for, can't settle down to work and thinks she's useless as everyone else seems to know exactly what they want to do.

As she sobs into a wodge of tissues I reflect sadly on a system which puts such pressure on 17-year-olds to decide their future so early.

This student is by no means unusual: a lot of them seem to feel that all their peers have found the right course in the right place and are bound to get the grades they need.

I liaise constantly with the careers officer who is responsible for interviewing our post-16 students. She organises regular lunch-time sessions on how to write a personal statement - the most daunting section on the form. Those students who lead full lives, in and out of school, only have the problem of how to edit their statement to fit the space available. But a few show me rough drafts which say little more than that they think the course sounds "really interesting", that they enjoy "socialising with their friends" and have "no firm career plans at present". I do wonder if they've read the Students' Guide I've written specially for them which takes them through the whole process.

Wednesday: A couple of embarrassed-looking boys appear at my door asking for more sample forms to practise on. (I send off for these from UCAS; they are invaluable.) So what happened to the first one? "Well we sort of made a bit of a mess of it" is the reply. With any luck and after their tutors have checked it, they will be able to fill in the real thing without making mistakes: tippex and glue being out of the question.

Thursday: With a Year 13 of some 300 students and 85 per cent applying for degree courses, the processing system has to be highly organised. I talk to the sixth form tutors about what to check for on the forms and give them my Guide to writing UCAS references. We pride ourselves on sending off as many as we can by half-term: the evidence suggests that offers may be slightly more generous to early applicants, so those of us who are writing references treat it as a priority.

Friday: The week has gone by in a blur. Every spare minute of the day is taken up with talking to students and checking their forms. I know that my teaching suffers - and my punctuality as I am stopped in the corridor by the refrain I hear in my dreams: "Can you just check my form please?" At the end of the afternoon I talk to a girl about her choices. In the end she says "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it." I make a suggestion and her response is "Brilliant, that's what I'll do. Now don't say any more !" As I pack a folder full of forms to take home for checking at the week-end, I think that most people would probably like their decisions made for them like that.

Bridget Patterson is head of sixth form careers at Northgate High School, Ipswich

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