Saturday, 15 August 2015

Applying to University | Tips and Advice


It's that time of year when, if you're in your last year of school, you're no doubt being pestered non-stop by your teachers to get thinking about your future and where you're going to be this time next year. It's both an exciting and terrifying time, and the pressure can really get to some people.

But fear not! Hundreds of thousands of students go through this every year, and look at them now. These few months are particularly full-on, so here are some little tips to help you get through it.

I'm not an expert in any way, I'm just a girl who went through this process not that long ago, and this is what I learned along the way!

(NOTE: While I'm focusing solely on those intending on going to university/higher education here, those are not your only options! You can go straight into full-time work, find an apprenticeship, take a gap year, travel, take night classes, or do whatever else you like! The world is your oyster, so use that to your full advantage!)

Before You Apply

Check out some prospectuses. To be honest, this is something that should probably be done a bit earlier than now, but you can still get looking anyways! If you have an idea in mind of the subject area that you want to study, research the various degrees available at each university and see which courses appeal to you. This will make it easier to decide which open days to attend, as you can then prepare questions specific to each course to ask on the day.

Visit as many open days/university fairs as you can. I cannot stress the importance of visiting universities/colleges before accepting an offer to study there enough. During the summer before I went back to school, I booked a bunch of different open days to attend throughout September and October to help me see the type of place I could end up studying in. This proved particularly beneficial to me, because I had my heart set on studying French and Law at the University of Edinburgh, but when I visited I just didn't like the feel of the place at all. And I had no intentions whatsoever to study at the uni I'm at now, but after going to the open day I fell in love. (I was so determined to get into that uni that I completely abandoned the idea of studying Law because they didn't offer it!) Now I know that I made absolutely the right decision, and I wouldn't be anywhere else! I'm even a Student Ambassador who leads tours and talks to prospective students at our open days! Open Days influence you much more than you might think they will.

While You Apply

Make some pros and cons lists for each university. At this stage of the process (maybe October time, earlier if you're applying for a medicine-related subject/applying to Oxbridge) you will have visited most of the universities you're thinking of applying to, and that should narrow the list down to the five choices that UCAS lets you make. By making a list of what you like and dislike about each university, you can see on paper what seems like the best option for you. Possible things to consider are: the size of the town, the course, the nightlife, how far from home it is (if you want to be able to travel back regularly), geographically where it is etc.

Don't have a generic personal statement. This was drilled into me so much at school. 'Don't use these top ten starter sentences' etc. was a standard talk on Thursday afternoons for us! Now I could write a whole post on writing a personal statement, so I'll try to keep it succinct here! (Although SIDENOTE: watch out for a post all about personal statements around October! Yay for planning ahead!) Your personal statement is your chance to really shine and make yourself look appealing to the admissions officers. I'd recommend making a list (yes, another one!) of your achievements, work experience, interests related to your degree, why you even want to study this subject in the first place. There's lots of guides to writing personal statements online (such as this one), and examples of good statements on The Student Room (I read so many of these when I was applying!). The main point is: mention any type of experience/interest that you have, so long as you explain why that experience makes you an ideal candidate for that university. This is also just a personal pet peeve of mine, but don't directly address the reader or use a phrase along the lines of 'I hope that you will consider me for your university, as I would be a valuable contributor to your establishment.' That just irks me, because your statement itself will be enough to convince admissions to give you an offer, and it just wastes precious characters that you could instead spend demonstrating a time when you proved yourself to be a 'valuable contributor' rather than outright saying it.

After You Apply

Don't stress if you don't hear back straight away. Congrats, you submitted your application! Woohoo! Now comes the agonising 2-5 month wait of hearing back, and having to begrudgingly congratulate people who receive an offer from your dream university before you. Some universities will respond straight away, others will wait until the UCAS deadline has closed before reviewing all applications.  Please try to resist the urge to check your online application page every minute of the day, it's really not healthy. I know, I've been there. You will hear back eventually, and whether it's good or bad news, it's not worth the added stress of convincing yourself you're not going to get an offer because they haven't responded, even though you submitted your application 4 hours ago and omg is that not enough time for them to decide yet?!

If it's bad news, it'll be okay. Not everybody gets the news that they're hoping for from every institution they apply to. It can be incredibly disheartening if you have your heart set on somewhere, and they don't accept you, or you don't meet your conditions. If university is still your goal, you can apply for Clearing in August, apply for the following year, or take an alternative route to get there. This can include a college course that leads to a university place at the end of it, going to night classes, or even going back to school to get more qualifications. It doesn't matter that you don't get there straight away, because everybody's journey is different, and you'll get there eventually. 

If it's good news, woohoo! Now begins the next stage of the journey: getting ready for university life! I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago with some advice for incoming Freshers, so check that out when the time comes!

I wish you the best of luck no matter what you choose to do, and ultimately you should be happy with what you're doing and where you're going.

Let me know if you have any other questions related to applying to uni!

Speak soon!

Chloe x