Applying for Vacation Schemes on a Four-Year Course with a Year Abroad

By Lotte F.

At the beginning of the second year, I remember doing a Google search to see what I could find out about applying for commercial law vacation schemes during my year abroad and on a four-year course. There wasn’t much out there tailored to exchange students specifically. Now that I have lots of time under coronavirus lockdown (and lots of applications later), I have decided to write the step-by-step guide I think I would have liked. A lot of it is common sense, but I hope this blog post flags up the practical issues to consider when applying for vacation schemes during your year abroad. 

  1. Looking for second-year opportunities on a four-year course: 

Although you may not be eligible for many vacation schemes since this is not your penultimate year, there are still various opportunities open to you. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of opportunities to look out for (correct as of 25th March 2020): 

  • Slaughter and May’s Work Experience Scheme: “If you are on a four-year course and will be spending your third year overseas, you are welcome to apply in your second or third year.”
  • A&O First: “Currently in first or second year of a four-year course of undergraduate study.”
  • Linklaters Pathfinder Scheme: “Pathfinder is our 2 day insight programme for first year students, or those in their second year of a 4 year course.”
  • Open Days: Whilst some Open Days are geared towards first-years, lots of them are geared to people at various different stages of the application process. 
  • University Career Events: Whilst you are in the UK, take advantage of having various relevant career-events offered to you on campus… this is not something you will have during your exchange year. There may be an opportunity to have your participation registered on your Higher Education Achievement Report. 

… and there are doubtless lots more opportunities! 

Second-year is a good time to put yourself out there and build up some experience of the application process (whilst you are still in the UK!). Personally, I found that my unsuccessful applications were constructive. It has been useful to reflect on how I could have improved some of my initial (and admittedly completely awful) applications. 

  1. Writing applications during your year abroad… 

Before you write applications, you need to find out whether the firm will require you to fly back to the UK if they invite you to an Assessment Centre. If your host university is too far away to be able to travel back to the UK for interviews, then you may have to apply for vacation schemes and training contracts in your final year. Given that your host university’s term dates may be quite different to UK university holidays, it is also very important that you start by going through the dates of vacation schemes. I made a table where I divided the time I would have into three “slots” (Easter, Summer 1 and Summer 2). I then spread out my applications across these three “slots” in order to try and increase my chances of getting a training contract. 

  1. Travelling back to UK for interviews 

Usually, law firms will cover the price or part of the price of a plane ticket (e.g. perhaps capped at £100). Sometimes they will also cover the cost of accommodation the night before – check this with the firm directly. What I will say is that you should be prepared for a temporary black hole in your budget owing to flights and accommodation costs! Law firms tend to be really good about refunding them, but it of course won’t be immediate. 

Travelling back to the UK for an interview can be a pretty full-on experience – especially since they tend to fall alarmingly close to exams and you have to be organised. Before one of my interviews, I shelled out for a copy of The Economist for the plane. I can’t claim that I used anything I read in the interview, but it calmed the nerves and passed the time! Needless to say, the time spent travelling is not the optimal time to do your interview prep. And as a side note, based on one particular experience, I also recommend bringing painkillers and blister plasters just in case!

  1. Talking about your year abroad at interviews 

I have found that law firms view the year abroad very favourably (although it is definitely not the be all and end all). You can use it to show your interest in a particular jurisdiction and the range of experiences you will have had can help in competency interviews. Some people say that their year abroad was the focal point of their interviews. For me, it was not the focal point of either of my interviews but it certainly did come up. 

  1. Reflecting… 

Deciding whether or not you want to apply for vacation schemes during your exchange year is an entirely individual decision. On the one hand, you could leave it until final year when it will be easier to travel to interviews and you will have the benefit of three years of university and various other experiences behind you. Otherwise you can take it as a chance to get as far as you can with applications before the ⅔ weighting of the final year. Both are entirely legitimate options and it’s up to you. 

As you can probably tell by now, I took the latter option. Regardless of whether or not my applications will have been successful, I feel like I have learned a lot about the recruitment process this year. I found writing applications and preparing for interviews was a big task but I am grateful that I can now sit down and reflect on my applications and how I can move forward, reflect on how I can best work towards getting a training contract. Still, make sure you balance this about the other lovely experiences which your exchange year has to offer. The year abroad is a fantastic opportunity of the kind that does not come round often, but you will have time for vacation scheme applications should you decide to go down that path! 

I hope this blog post has been in some way helpful and best of luck with the application process! 

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