Trent Schools

February 3, 2022

Being committed, being determined, and finding a balance is the recipe for success in working and studying, according to Old Trident and former Head of School Ellis Cullen (class of 2019).

Ellis was an Academic and Sports Scholar at Trent College, as well as senior prefect and ultimately reached the pinnacle as Head of School. She knows all about what it takes to find the right balance for success, and she was keen to share her advice with Year 12 students, when she visited Trent College to give a presentation about her experience of choosing to take the route of a Degree Apprenticeship, to achieve her career goal.

Ellis discussed her role day to day and what this entails, balancing the professional workload and networking with time spent in university lectures and additional time studying. “It is hard work. You have to want it. Finding the balance between work, study and down time is really important. There are times when something comes up at work and I can’t go into university on my scheduled day but, lectures are available online and I have to catch up”.

Ellis chose to take the Real Estate pathway at Nottingham Trent University and is in the third year of Degree Apprenticeship study, working as a trainee surveyor with NG Chartered Surveyors, Nottingham. It is a worldwide recognised career path, which involves a total of five years study, including the two years required for chartered accreditation.

“There are so many advantages of taking the apprenticeship route. You get your work experience, so you are earning whilst you are learning. By the time you achieve your degree, you have also started to build your professional network. So once qualified, you are not starting at the bottom of the ladder, you are already starting to climb.”

Ellis was keen to encourage the students who are planning to go to university full time, to strongly consider doing a degree course combined with a placement year, so they can benefit from work experience. Not only does she believe it helps to inform future choices, but Ellis also believes there is an improved chance of getting the graduate job they seek.

Ellis was inspired to take a hands on approach to her studies, having seen her older sister Niamh (class of 2017) flourish in her accountancy apprenticeship at Cooper Parry.

“I knew I wanted to work in property, and I would spend ages looking through online property searches. Through my first Trent College work experience placement, I realised what area of property I didn’t want to work in and by seeking out another placement, whilst I was in Sixth Form, which was still property related, I realised what I did want to do”.

Ellis was fortunate in obtaining her Degree Apprenticeship job, but that’s not to say that her fortune didn’t come as a result of hard work, commitment and determination. Her work experience placement with Nottingham Chartered Surveying Firm, NG reinforced her career decision. The firm was so impressed with Ellis’s work ethic, they offered her a full-time job and, despite not being a firm that offered apprenticeships, they offered to take on the Degree Apprenticeship programme for her so that she could combine her job with degree study.

“Being in a smaller organisation has given me a wide exposure to all aspects of the business. I was thrown in at the deep end from the start. I knew nothing about surveying and had no understanding of the technical language they used. I didn’t even know was a lease was”.

Now in her third year, Ellis has her own client portfolio, leads on client meetings and her completed deals include a £1m hybrid building, the letting of a 31,000sq. ft warehouse and transactions to a value in excess of £3m in three months.

“The Degree Apprenticeship has exposed a wide network I wouldn’t have had at university. I was thrown in at the deep end and it was overwhelming. But it was short term overwhelm for long term gain of knowledge and experience”.

Ellis encouraged students to “Explore your options. Don’t limit yourself at this point”.

Ellis went on to tell students about the broad range of careers now available to qualify for, through Degree Apprenticeships, and how it is possible to move away from home to seek a qualification at alternative universities. Whilst some apprenticeship employers do stipulate a preferred university, Ellis suggested students choose a city they would like to live and study and review the Degree Apprenticeship options.

Ellis is flourishing in her job at NG and really enjoys the networking opportunities it brings especially the many events.

Ellis explained how she feels one step ahead. She knows that when she graduates and receives her Chartership, she is already a few rungs up the career ladder.

She told students “If you know what you want, and you are ambitious, then go for it. You have to want it because it is competitive. Be committed and be determined”.

Students were keen to ask questions

What was it like entering the workplace at 18?
“Scary. I was thrown into a professional workplace. The youngest one there (I still am). I didn’t understand anything about the professional world. I work for a very supportive firm and my mentor has been brilliant.”

What about uni life?
“I still get the uni life experience. I play hockey for NTU, training twice a week and playing matches on the weekend. I have access to the Students Union and of course, there’s the nightlife! It is all about creating a balance, and I have been able to do that. Year 1 was a massive learning curve!”

What is your future aspiration?
“I would love to go to America. The real estate market over there is immense. I am really happy doing what I am doing where I am doing it for now, in Nottingham, but if I were to move away then I would love to move to America one day.”

Head of Careers Fiona Starbuck told students that if they are interested in the Degree Apprenticeship route they should start thinking about this now, as it can be just as competitive as applying for a place at Oxford or Cambridge. The Careers Department will be running lunchtime sessions for students, where they will offer support in apprenticeship research, writing applications and preparing for interview.

Ellis will be returning to Trent College in April, to represent her business sector at the school’s Careers Fair.