Friday, 21 February 2014

(1) Doing Uni: How to choose your course + make your long list

Hello and welcome to the first official post of this soon-to-be-internationally-famous mini series! (I joke!) Words you might hear a lot when you're starting to think about uni are "long list" and "short list". A long list is essentially a list of around fifteen to twenty universities that you're considering, which you then cut down to perhaps six to eight. This post, however, is going to be about the lovely long list which you should start making at the end of February.

Before you can do this though, you need to know what course you want to do - what you want to study for three (or four, god help you!) years, and what you're going to end up paying £27,000 for in tuition fees alone. For me, this decision wasn't much of an issue: the only subject I really excel at is English language, and I find it really interesting and also relatively easy. I'd say, if you're not sure what you want to study, to just pick your favourite subject and go from there. You like biology and chemistry? Think about medicine related courses. You're a history fan? Maybe consider something like Ancient and Medieval History. You love both maths and psychology? Don't worry, you can do both! Get on the UCAS website and start making use of that lovely course searcher they have.

I know it sounds so cliche, but the possibilities really are endless. You can combine almost any two - and sometimes three - subjects so don't worry about the topics being too different. However, the five courses you apply for must be closely related or you're really going to complicate the application process for yourself as you can only write one personal statement (we'll get to this in, like, July, no need to hurry).

Once you have an idea of what you'd like to study, you need to consider where you want to study it. For me, the "where" is nearly as important as the "what". League tables are your new best friends. Using more than one league table is going to give you a more reliable result (one of my unis which was middle ranking on the Guardian was way lower down on CUG). I think the best three league tables to use are The Guardian, The Complete University Guide (CUG if you're too lazy to type it out), and The Sunday Times.

In terms of choosing your universities, I'd say you definitely need to consider your academic ability. If you're p. smart, look at Russell groups unis and anything else in the top 20. If you're a bit of an average student (like me, yo) maybe focus more on middle ranking unis such as numbers 30 to 60. And if you're perhaps not as academically talented but still have a passion for your subject and want to go to uni, I'd say the bottom third of the table is a good bet. I know this is a kind of harsh way to do it but it does put things into perspective. 

But you have to be realistic with your choices. I really cannot stress this enough. Don't aim too high. I have friends who did and who are now freaking the frick out because they've accepted offers for AAB when they're BBC students. I know people say the sky is the limit, bla bla, but you make things hard for yourself when you don't make realistic choices. Sure, you need a couple of ambitious ones on your long list just as much as you need a fail-safe option for if it all goes wrong, but please don't overestimate your ability. That's not exactly inspiring, I know, but it will save you a lot of trouble! Also, don't look at factors such as distance away from home for your long list unis, just ones which have courses that interest you. You can always cut out a university at the short list stage, but don't miss out anything that looks good at this stage.

Once you've made your long list, get on each uni's website and make sure you're happy with the course content because even the topics covered in one subject can vary from uni to uni. If you're not satisfied, cross them off the list. Request prospectuses from each institution (they'll send them to you for free) or book your place on a UCAS convention. Conventions are a great way to meet professors and students from the universities you're interested in. You can ask them any questions you have and pick up prospectuses from them, plus there are usually freebies like tote bags so get there early!

That's all for now - a nice, slow, leisurely start for you into this uni application experience - but there'll be more around the end of April so have your long list ready for then! Happy choosing.

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