I’ve written a lot of content for freshers and current university students, but not much for those at the very beginning of their university journey (if we have to give it that kind of cliche title…). That’s going to change over the next few weeks, with this little university application series. I’ll be taking you through the big questions you need to ask yourself while choosing which degree and which university is right for you, and how I made those decisions myself. This week, I’m focusing on the application process as a whole. It feels like an enormous, daunting task, so hopefully these posts should help to simplify and even speed up the process. So, here are my top five tips for your university application:
Work out what’s important to you
When you chose your secondary school or sixth form, you may have been influenced by your parents or peers. Wanting to be with your friends is no bad thing, but when it comes to choosing universities to apply to our entire focus should be on what you want from the experience, and not dependent on other people’s expectations or desires. Do you want to go to a campus-based university, or one spread out around a city? Do you want to be close to or far away from home? What facilities do you expect from your university? I’ll be covering all these questions in my posts on choosing a university next week, but it’s so important to work out what you want to prioritise when you’re making these decisions. Once you’ve done that…
Do your research
This seems obvious, but it really matters. Get as many prospectuses as you can – you can pick them up or order them for free from uni websites! (I think I totalled 21 by the time I sent off my UCAS form…) Go and visit the universities; most people go to open days, which are useful, but if there’s a clash or you can’t make it for some reason the university will often allow you to come and visit on a different day. I went to Lancaster and Sussex on totally ordinary days in term-time and was able to have sit-down meetings with faculty members, which I found to be far more useful than a generic open day. At York, the University provides you with the option of a guided tour given by a Student Ambassador if you contact them in advance. And while you’re visiting, don’t forget to check out the local area too – it’s so important that you’ll like where you’ll be living and spending time outside of university.
Aim for the October deadline
The early UCAS deadline of 15th October is reserved for Oxbridge, medicine and conservatoire candidates. I was an (unsuccessful) Oxbridge candidate, but I can’t begin to tell you just how much of a relief it was to have everything out of the way by the middle of October. I had friends who were still slaving over their applications come the Christmas holidays, and there’s always that person who’s still working on their personal statement on January deadline day. Getting your applications all sorted by October means you’ll be getting offers before fellow classmates have made their university choices, and you’ll be able to focus on other things.
Ask for help
This applies to all stages of your application. If you’re in school, your teachers will be able to answer any questions you have; otherwise, find someone who has been through the UCAS system before to give you a hand if you get stuck. However, nowhere is it more important than with your personal statement. University admissions officers consider all parts of your application – your grades, your references from teachers, and your statement – and it’s the latter that you have full control over at this point, so it needs to be impressive. Personal statements are really bizarre pieces of writing, and in my experience the best way of knowing what yours is supposed to look like is by reading other people’s. Websites like The Student Room have loads of examples you can check out, but to start you off see mine here. If you’re at school, there ought to be a staff member you can go to with any personal statement issues or questions, but if you’re struggling to get started, check out my guide!
Don’t let it take over your life
Don’t get me wrong – applying to university is a big deal. But it’s not the only thing going on in your life. Whatever you’re doing while you apply to uni, whether you’re finishing your A-Levels, taking a gap year, working, or something entirely different, your application needs to fit around it. Most people applying to uni are heading towards exams, so remember that it’s those grades which will eventually get you into university. Secondly, this process isn’t a competition; don’t go comparing yourself to others. Universities send offers at different times, and some offer incentives to students that others don’t. This process is only about you, so celebrate others’ successes as you would your own. And remember, if your application is unsuccessful, or if you change your mind, you can always try again!
I hope these tips are useful for those of you starting out with your uni applications at the moment! Later this week I’ll be running through my own application process, which might be a handy read so you have a better idea of what to expect over the coming months. Please feel free to ask any questions you have about applying for uni in the comments – and if you’re at uni, or have graduated – what other tips do you have for current applicants? Let me know!