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.



  1. If things go well when making an application, then I say good for you, but if not chasing them up has proven to be a nasty experience, put it short I was given a verbal offer to complete my final year in IT at a better university, with no conditions. then when I applied via UCAS, I got a response saying I was unsuccessful. confused I was I phoned the Uni, up got transferred and was told I can get a reason by email. did that and got a reply she was sick, so I used the alternative email, which turned out he/she was out of office.

    what is my experience at Uni? well academically it is much more complex than what you learn at school of college, with no lecturer giving you any hints. the social aspect is great, because we are all on the same boat and chances are you will meet some amazing people, or friends for life, which I am fortunate to have.

    Although I am in my gap year, it has changed me as a person, as I am much more confident in myself than before I stepped foot through the door.

    i am optimistic things will go well for you, because you sound like you got the drive to chase what you want. will it go perfectly? it never really does :( but I don't deny you cant get through whatever decides to get in your way. then in the end you will live a life of luxury. (im too lazy to pursue that ;-P)

    1. That's ridiculous that they messed you around so much! I'm sorry you had to go through that :( I'm glad you've enjoyed your experience at uni though, it sounds so amazing, I'm really excited to make that next step and I hope I'll enjoy it too. I'll definitely try and take a gap year at some point, or go travelling and earn some money, it seems really character building. Yeah I guess you're right, the good times always come with bad ones but having bad experiences make the good ones even better. Thank you for your nice comment! :D

  2. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!