Tuesday, 2 September 2014

My University Experience: Part One

 Hello there! Today's post is going to be part of a two part special that I am going to do on my experience of University so far. Today's part will be on the process of getting in, whilst next Tuesday's one will be about my first year. I decided to split these into two parts, so I could actually fully talk about each section and each post can then apply to the different levels of University; those starting to think about going, and those actually starting this year. I suggest going to grab a cup of tea and making yourself comfortable before you start reading this!
 It can be a daunting time having to think about University, and if you're still undecided as to whether you want to go or not, don't worry. I only decided that I wanted to go after Tom had gone to a University fair and I saw the prospectuses that he brought home. I can't count the number of times that I had changed my mind as to whether I was going or not before this. This will also lead nicely into my first point about looking at prospectuses.

Looking at Prospectuses
 If you know where you want to go, and which course you want to do, then that's great! However don't knock other Universities just because they aren't the main one that you have decided to go to. As well as looking online at the Universities, I would suggest ordering a prospectus as I think they say a lot about the University itself. I know they say don't judge a book by its cover, and as a literature student I should abide by this, but you can tell from a prospectus whether the uni is going to be somewhere that you want to visit. From personal experience I was able to cut a lot of my choices down just through looking at the prospectuses. If you have one that only has a small page of information on your course, compared to one that actually details what you'll be doing and how you'll be assessed etc., then you will pick the latter. I'd say narrow it down to 6 or 7 Universities through this process and then you can compare in other ways.
 I know a lot of people look at the league tables and use this as a way of deciphering which Universities they are going to look at, which is fine, but I didn't use this as one of my main deciding factors. Yes you do want your University to be good at teaching the course that you have chosen as you are paying so much, but you could go to the best University for your course and not enjoy your time there because of other factors. When deciding which University you want to go to, there are a lot of other deciding factors other than just the course.

Open Days
 You won't know what a University is like unless you visit it first! If you can, visit as many Universities as you can before applying for UCAS. I had always thought that if I went to University I would go to my local one, but after going to an open day I knew that it wasn't for me. This made me realise that I needed to look at other Universities and see what aspects I liked and which ones I didn't.
 One of the main points of my visits to open days as well as seeing what the course was like, was to have a look at the accommodation. I know that you only live in Halls for a year, but I wanted to make sure that I would be living somewhere that I felt safe and liked, so as to ease the move from home. Before you go to an open day, decide on what sort of room contract you would like, be it catered or self-catered, or en-suite or not. I decided that I wanted to be self-catered with an en-suite bathroom, so I alway made sure to have a look at this type of room whenever I went on an open day.
 An overall open day will help you get a feel of the place, but once you have sent off your UCAS and receive an offer, you will then be invited to a departmental open day where the focus is upon your chosen subject. I found these really useful in making my final decision as I knew exactly what sort of thing I would be learning and how the course would be assessed etc.
 One of my top tips for open days is make sure you ask questions! Not only about the course or accommodation, but also about the city itself and transportation and what there is to do in your spare time. If you can, ask a student ambassador as they'll have more information first hand what the area is like and what there is to do than the lecturers will. Don't worry if you think of a question at a later date, there is always someone that you can email or ask once you are home.

Personal Statement
 Whilst thinking about which Universities you are going to choose, you will need to write your personal statement. The deadline for the whole of your UCAS document to be sent off is normally mid-January, but you can start applying from September. I think I sent mine off at the end of September/start of October time and within a couple of weeks I had heard back from one of my choices. Your personal statement is roughly a side of A4 and is all about you. What I found hard about writing one, was that I felt like I was just bragging about myself, and this made me feel uncomfortable. However after chatting to one of the heads of sixth form, and my subject teachers, I was able to produce a personal statement that I *sort of* liked (I still felt like I was bragging). It's a good idea to write numerous drafts and to not leave it until the last minute. If you can, have someone who knows you to read through it, a year head, and your subject teacher as then you cover all aspects of the statement.
 So what exactly goes into your personal statement? Basically you want to present the best version of yourself as you can, and to show a little character because when the Universities receive your application, that along with your reference are the only parts of information that they have about you as a person beside your results. You need to say why you want to study that particular subject (or subjects if you want to do a joint degree). If you have a special interest in a part of your subject, tell them. If you can, ask your subject teacher what you can read/do that relates to your subject and will help you in your personal statement. If you have a job or have done work experience, talk about that and what experiences you have. Once you are completely happy with your statement, you can upload it to UCAS.

UCAS and your 'choice of 5'
 To start applying for University whilst you are still deciding which Universities you want to choose, and are writing your personal statement, you will need to upload your details to UCAS and the grades etc that you have. This part can take quite a while, so again, don't leave it until the last minute! You have to pay in order to apply to UCAS, it is £12 for one course/University or £23 for multiple courses/Universities. Even if you think you know which University you want to go to, I would still pay the extra £11 otherwise you are limiting yourself. You are allowed to apply up to 5 Universities, and when they receive your application they won't know the other Universities that you have applied to.
 As part of my 5, I applied to a University that had higher grade requirements than my predicted grades, as sometimes they can still make you an offer if they like you enough. This is what I called my 'wild card'. I then had 3 that had the grade requirements of my predicted grades, and then one that was lower. In hindsight I would suggest actually applying for 2 that are lower, as a back up in case you don't quite get the grades you were hoping for and then you still have a choice between them.
 Once you have sent off your UCAS and have heard back from all of your choices as to whether they have made you an offer or not, you then need to decide between your first choice (the University you definitely want to go to) and your second choice (your back up in case you don't get into your first choice). I knew for certain which University I wanted to put as my first choice, but making my second choice was a tricky one (this is where I wish I had applied to another lower option). My mum and I made a list of the pro's and con's of each, and my second choice won mainly because of the distance I would have to travel if I ever wanted to come home (with my other option I would of had to of crossed London and that would have taken way too long if I was just coming home for the weekend).
*I also used the unistats site to help with my decision, as you can look at different aspects of your Universities and they compare them for you, using data collected from students at that University*

 Once you have made your first choice and second choice and have told UCAS, it is then just a waiting game. You have a nervous few months filled with exams, and worry about whether you are going to University or not. Personally I wish that our A level results had come out in July, so we would know whether we were going to University or not. I did enjoy my summer holiday last year, but there was always the thought at the back of your mind of what does my future hold?

Thomas and I before our Leaver's Ball which was a lovely send off from our sixth form before we left for the summer.

 Blimey that was a long post! This was why I decided to divide my experience so far into two parts, so I could actually talk about each part properly. If you have already been through this process, please leave some tips from your personal experience in the comments to help those who are now preparing to go through it/are going to go through it next year!

I hope this was helpful, next week's post will be part two of my University experience where I go through my first year!

Love Jess xxx


  1. And you say you are no good a writing. That was a brilliant blog!!

  2. Promising years ahead to you. Enjoy your uni life.


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