Friday, 30 March 2012


Well, it's finally happened. I've received all my responses from universities, and I've selected my 'Firm' and 'Insurance' choices. Really, the only thing left is exams - if it's possible to say 'only' about exams...

I applied to universities via UCAS on October 7th and I got my fourth and fifth replies this week, about 5 months later, days before the provisional deadline. That's fair enough, the universities have in several cases thousands of applications to sort through for individual courses. I was lucky enough to hear from my Firm early on, so I was luckier than many of the people around the country who will have been kept waiting until this point to hear from their Firm choices, and perhaps might have to wait until early May.

One university I replied to sent me emails every few months informing me that 'my application is still under consideration.' After the initial panic attack that comes from seeing an email from a prospective university in your inbox, I guess it is good to receive assurances that your application hasn't been lost amongst the hundreds of others they must be looking over!

Another thing that has been great is when universities get immediately involved as soon as you get an offer. Receiving an email or a letter with leaflets along with the UCAS update is really nice, along with invitations to offer holder open days. I know these things are sent out to all offer holders, but it gives you a sense that the university cares about you and, if you were to pick them as your Firm, wants to get involved straight away to ensure that the transition from school to higher education is as easy and exciting as possible.

Anyway, replying. I got my final reply two days ago, but waited a little while before finally taking the plunge and choosing my firm and insurance. Five months of twiddling my thumbs meant I knew what I was going to do dependent on the replies from the last two unis, but I wanted to think to myself again to make sure I knew I was making the right choices. That, and I guess I was a little scared as well! Once you have all 5 replies, UCAS Track gets a little box on the left hand side informing you that you must reply to your unis by a certain date. The penalty for not replying by that date is that all your offers get automatically rejected. So, it's important to get your replies in on time, that's for certain...!

Once on Track, you click on 'Choices' and then 'Reply to Offers' at the bottom. Drop-down boxes then appear beside the unis you have received offers from, saying Firm, Insurance, or Decline. I selected my Firm, my Insurance, declined the others, then spent about 5 minutes checking and rechecking that I'd not made some sort of embarrassing technical error that would result in me rejecting the lot. Don't worry, it isn't hard technically, but I guess when so much is riding on it, you're going to be worried even if it is really simple! Finally, I sent them off, and then went back on Track not many minutes later just to make sure that I had actually replied properly!

Well, that's over then, and it's been an eclectic mix of emotions along the way. What next? We've just broken up for the Spring holidays, so I guess revision will begin pretty soon (ha ha). I'll continue posting about things like open days and all of that, because while the application process may be over, I still feel very very far away from actually going to university! As always, if you have any comments or queries, leave them below and I'll get back to you asap.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

Key messages

It's finally true... the whole university application process has really begun to wind down. With one week to go until the suggested normal deadline for university replies, I'm still waiting for two out of my five, showing, perhaps (un?)encouragingly, that universities can also be as last minute about these things as I sometimes am about my homework!

There's been a definite change at my school - the focus is now on the Year 12s. Us old Year 13s are busy hearing details about gap years, whereas the Year 12s are the ones who head off to higher education evenings to hear about the intricacies of the UCAS process for the first time... which happened tonight, and I was lucky enough to be invited to give a talk!

I'd really encourage those of us who are in Year 13 to share everything we've learnt with people who still have to face these challenges. Fear of the unknown is pretty serious, and if you remove the 'unknown' element of that, we've all found that, over time, it can become - gasp - exciting! I've adapted some of the stuff I said tonight to make it relevent for more Year 12s, so if anyone finds the prospect of reading my ramblings intriguing, continue on...

The first time you really can turn your attention to universities and UCAS is once the exams are over and you head back to school. I know it seems a bit difficult to have to drag yourselves back into school at that point, but trust me, that last half term was one of the most enjoyable for me out of my whole time at school. We were allowed 3 days out to visit universities for open days. This was something I messed up a little bit last year, as I didn’t decide to book any until the last minute, and they fill up very fast, so I didn’t get to visit a couple of universities I would have liked to have seen. However, most unis also hold open days in September, so you can see them more than once if you want. Once you get to an open day, don’t waste the opportunity – try and see as much as you can. Everyone there will be really willing to answer questions, so ask as many as you can. Taster lectures are always worth attending, and at most open days you can also explore accommodation as well. As well as attending open days, in the last half term your form tutors will start to help and encourage you to write your personal statement. I looked back at my first draft of my personal statement before today, and it wasn’t that great. I was worried I hadn’t achieved enough or done enough to write about, but there’s one big opportunity you’ll all have to build your personal statements, which is the summer holidays!

You’ll probably hear this again so many times, but I think a personal statement is all about showing you’re not just content to sit in lessons and doodle, and instead that you actually have academic curiosity. There’s no better time to get busy and follow your interests than during the summer, and there’s a lot of ways you can do this – find some books you’d like to read, attend lectures, borrow relevant magazines, and use connections to get work experience if you can. I’m going to be studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics next year, so I worked at BIS for two weeks, which was a big commitment as I was staying in London away from my family, but ultimately it was so worth it because I got to talk about amazing things like attending a Public Accounts Committee hearing that I wouldn’t have been able to touch if I hadn’t committed myself and gone there. If you don’t know anyone personally who can get you doing something relevant to your degree, ask around in the rest of your year, because there’s sure to be someone who knows someone and you can all help each other out.

So, after I’d done all that in the summer, I got back to school in the autumn and it made such a difference in terms of how confident I felt. I’d read around for economics, for example, and I suddenly found myself grasping new ideas far quicker because I had a deeper background knowledge. For the autumn term, I’d also really recommend the Extended Project Qualification, which I found really interesting, and once again you’ll get a supervisor who is really supportive so you can keep to deadlines and stay on top of the extra work.

When it comes to finally making choices and sending off your UCAS form, enjoy it. I really liked my final personal statement as seeing the stuff I’d done laid out like that made me think that maybe I wasn’t so useless as I’d previously thought I was. I’d been a little bit worried after my AS level results as I did badly in one of my favourite subjects – I thought it would stop me getting an offer from my first choice university, so for a while I thought about not even applying there. However, I eventually applied anyway, and I got an offer, which felt incredible. One thing about the autumn term - for me at least, it was the busiest I’d ever have in my whole time at school. There are lots of deadlines for things that aren’t directly related to university, like coursework, so make sure you stay on top of it all and don’t commit yourselves to more than you can handle. If you’re feeling down, remember everyone else in the year knows what you’re going through, and will happily help you out.

Overall, applying to uni is, however, however much we try to avoid it, a much bigger deal than other vaguely similar things we’ve done in the past such as changing schools. That’s definitely a good thing. As you’ve probably gathered, everyone treats it differently, and one of the best things about it is that there’s an amazing sense of camaraderie amongst everyone in the year. You might hear people cheering in the common room when someone checks their phone for emails and finds out they’ve got an offer. It’s also fantastic in that it completely broadens your horizons. For the past 14 years of schooling we’ve had our heads down focusing on end of year exams and then the holidays as a break away from all that homework, but by the time you’re applying to university the focus is on moving on to the next stage of your education and it’s a totally different system. I think everyone comes out of the process feeling a lot more confident and sure of ourselves, where we’re going, and what we’re aiming for.

Okay, that's enough from me for now! As always if you have any comments, questions, or (short) rants, leave me a message below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A sudden burst of motivation

Well, mocks are over. Our exams are condensed into one week, making for an intense period involving 8 exams for me (I'll have 9 in the summer, including one retake). I actually feel like, this time, I revised harder than I've ever done before for any exam session, and it reflected well in my results! The idea that the end is in sight is finally beginning to dawn on me, and as such revision doesn't seem like such a drag any more. You're working towards a goal at A2, whereas for AS it seems a little bit more confused and laid-bank as if you're just 'banking' points - which you are, but I'd argue AS matters just as much as A2, if not more, as for most people it's the only thing the unis have for you as a concrete achievement.

Way back in the heady days of Year 10, I remember that I'd made a timetable to structure my revision. That wasn't something I'd ever done since as I doubted my ability to stick with it. AS revision involved bursts of hard work where I'd set myself targets of pages to cover in the space of an hour, and if I met those targets, I'd get the rest of the hour off. Looking back on it, it was quite a stressful and ineffective revision method, because I'd just focus on getting through the pages quickly, rather than understanding them.

This time, as we broke up for half term, I had my usual first weekend laze around, and I felt vaguely guilty as I recognised the signs - I'd bargain with myself, "I'll start revision tomorrow," "I can wait till the day after," "Day after that should be fine," and then I'd find myself with one day to go, knowing nothing. However, on Monday, I told myself to get a grip and I actually sat down and made a timetable on Excel. This can actually be sort of enjoyable - mine was colour-coded by subject, and I decided to organise revision in blocks - one hour studying, one hour relaxing, repeated. Starting revision early means you can give yourself these breaks and I can tell now that it's way less mentally draining. I also didn't set myself targets for pages, I just made sure I used the time well. As we're beginning to reach the end of the syllabuses in most subjects it was sort of nice to sometimes get the dawning realisation that yeah, we might just understand some of it.

So, mocks happened, and then I got my retake result last week, which I was very pleased with. Interestingly it felt like I probably did the same number of hours of revision for the retake as for the real exam, I just spent it in a different way - reading rather than writing. I think I can say, optimistically, that for the first time I know a personal revision method that actually works, after 8 years of entrance exams, end of year exams, and finally public exams. Just in time for the summer!

If you have any comments, or questions, drop me a comment and I'll get back to you!