The summer ahead presents an excellent opportunity for those who have just finished their AS/A-Levels to think about the next step. UCAS requires applications to be completed by mid-January* and sixth formers will find their first term of the academic year saturated by careers advice and personal statements. University can be a fantastic experience and, in addition to a degree, will likely provide you with lifelong friends and the best environment in which to mature. To that end, it is worth considering over the summer which courses and which universities would suit you the best.
The right preparation
I recommend that a small part of your summer is spent on research and preparation for the decisions you will soon have to make.
- Visit different university towns and get a feel for how they vary. Find out what attracts you most, be it the academics, the aesthetics or the night clubs...
- Try to organise some work experience related to your prospective subject. This will provide a good focal point for your personal statement and any interviews you may have.
- Read around the subjects which interest you as much as possible.
The right course
Beware of three years spent on a subject you do not enjoy and note that, particularly at competitive universities, it is difficult to change course. Take inspiration from the subjects you enjoyed at school and investigate related areas of study.
- Languages: If you are interested in a new language, book yourself onto a taster course and if possible visit the country; you will probably spend a year abroad so it is essential to familiarise yourself with the culture as well as the language.
- Sciences: You should be able to find a modular programme for each course on the university website; research the modules which interest you and read books and articles pertaining to the different topics.
- Arts: Look at the modular programme and peruse a book or two from their reading list over the summer. Not only will this put you ahead of the game when you start, but will also provide a good insight into the next few years.
The right university
If academics are your top priority, look at league tables but if you are also interested in the other aspects of university life (social, sport, music, drama), try to get a feel of the place from newspaper articles, gossip, older siblings and ex-students. Avenues other than academia are often left unexplored by prospective students, so if you have extracurricular interests make sure to investigate the societies and clubs on offer. Consider where your friends are off to and what your parents recommend, but don’t let this affect your final decision.
Each university approaches each subject differently, and this does not just refer to the workload. Consider whether you would prefer an exam heavy or essay based course. Speak to current or previous students and ask for a firsthand account of their experience.
It is finally worth mentioning that given the vast expense, do consider other options. University is not for everyone and it may be that your true calling lies elsewhere. Investigate all your options while you have time over the summer and in particular pay attention to the required qualifications for any careers you are considering.
Best of luck!
UCAS - The centralised body through which all applications are processed for entry in to university.
Unifrog – A useful website that helps students to select the right university courses.
The Student Room – A forum where students share academic and social experiences about university.
The Complete University Guide – A website that provides information university league tables
Unistats – Provides prospective students with official academic data for undergraduate courses as well as satisfaction scores and job and salary prospects after study amongst other key information.
*Applications to Oxbridge or to study Medicine, Dentistry and Vetinary Science or Medicine must be completed by 15th October 2016.