8 Steps to Choosing the Perfect University For You

So I think it’s about time I posted this blog post. I’ve had it pending for a good few weeks now, but after having a lot of people ask me questions about the topic, it’s time.

‘LOL. Who does that?’

1. Don’t just ‘go with the flow’

So the most important part of applying to university, is applying to the universities that suits YOU. I know so many people who have gone to university and have hated it so far. Why? They chose the university that was at the top of the ranks, and they didn’t even consider whether or not they think they’d actually enjoy it there. I know your parents will want you to go to the best university so that maybe they can even boast around to their friends, but when you make your application choices, you need to think about what is best for YOU, and not for everyone else. Don’t apply to a university simply because other people apply there and don’t apply to a university just because your parent’s know someone else’s kid who is really clever and goes to that university too.

  • TIP #1: I know you’re probably thinking ‘LOL. Who does that?’ but I know so many people who have made decisions in their upper sixth year, and have ended up regretting it. They realised a few months into their first year, that they should have chosen a university that they actually liked, and not a university that liked sitting at the top of the league tables each year.
  • Sometimes the best university for someone else, isn’t necessarily the best university for you. University is the time that you get to shine – so make the most out of that opportunity and embrace that you have the options to go to whichever university you think you’d love the most.
  • Explore your course options guys! Does this university let you go on an industrial placement year? Can you also get an undergraduate masters with this course? Explore explore explore! We live in a day and age where we have internet – sometimes universities provide more up to date information on their websites and student blogs! Make it your night time reading!

You need to gather your thoughts together BEFORE you submit your UCAS form.

2. Ordering prospectuses isn’t classified as ‘exploring’ your options

I could just order a prospectus right now – but this doesn’t mean that I’ve visited the university, and experienced what life could be like if I were to be admitted into that university. Of course it doesn’t. Ordering a prospectus in only the first step towards applying to university. You need to gather your thoughts together BEFORE you submit your UCAS form so that you don’t end up regretting it later on. Now, I’m not telling you to go and visit every single university up and down the country. I’m telling you to select about seven/eight universities that you think you’d love to go to. In reality, you only need to choose five choices for your application, but you never know – even if you visit a few more than the five, you’d really be broadening your options.

  • TIP #2: Do your own research first. Companies do it. You can also do it. Search online and have a look at student reviews – what do they think about the university? Does the university offer you much support? What other programmes do they offer? Is the student life good? Are the people there nice? Is it in the city or is in the suburbs? Just having a look at TSR, Google, and even Twitter/Instagram can sometimes really make a huge impact on how you think you’ll go about choosing which universities you want to go visit.
  • TIP #3: Visit the universities. The most important thing you need to do is think with a clear mind. Don’t lie to yourself when you visit the university. Do you truthfully like the university? Can you see yourself studying there? Yes – that’s amazing, now put that on your list. No – move on, and choose a different university. There really is no point in trying to force yourself to like a particular university – it will make you depressed, and that is something that will not allow you to think clearly. Don’t be ashamed that maybe other people liked the university, and you didn’t. You obviously need to choose a university that YOU will love. You need a university that you KNOW you will enjoy being at. Don’t you ever let other people convince you otherwise.

[Update 28/10/16: Following the sale of Taste Uni Ltd, my posts from 2014 on the site will no longer be available; however, due to the increased interest and the number of e-mails I’ve received asking to be re-linked to the post, I will thereby be editing and updating my previously published posts from the website, and reposting them onto enngigi.wordpress.com and theperfectdilemma.wordpress.com in late November!]

3. Believe in yourself

You’ll spend about a few hours of so each week preparing your application – and maybe even more just before you send your UCAS form off. But one thing you need to remember is that your studies do come first. In order to get to university, you need to try your best to get the grades. You CAN do it.

  • TIP #4: Don’t hide. As a student ambassador at Keele, I’ve worked on about three open days already as a first year. I’ve found that everyone actually hides behind their parents when we guide them around the university and around university accommodation. The more you ask, the more you’ll be able to get a feel for whether or not you will like the university. Don’t be afraid to ask – and don’t just make your parents do it! It’s quite funny when we see applicants hiding behind their parents, but when you do get over it, just Tweet at the university with your question – they’ll be sure to answer it, and you don’t need to be there in person (HA)!

You think writing your personal statement for UCAS was bad?! HA!

4. Applying to North American Universities

I applied to a number of universities ranging from Fordham (Waitlisted), Agnes Scott College (offered w/ scholarship), St Louis University (offered w/ scholarship), Cornell, Vanderbilt, and Drexel University (offered w/ scholarship) during my A2 year.

  • Why? Because the majority of them offered a lot of scholarships and financial aid options that I was actually eligible for, and I really wanted the opportunity to be different from everyone else, and to study abroad.
  • But why didn’t I go to them in the end? The scholarship they offered was simply not enough, and after interviews, I realised the only one I had really wanted admission to, was Vanderbilt.
  • TIP #5: Applying to American universities is expensive. I think I spent just over £1000 applying to the US; you have to sit SAT College Admission Exams, about 3 Subject Tests, buy the textbooks/preparation courses, and spend about USD $60 applying to each university you want to go to.
  • Therefore, don’t waste your money if you know you aren’t going to be willing to put the effort in. Here in the UK, colleges and universities look at your references, your grades, and your personal statement. In the States however, their process is very similar yet much more vigorous. They look at everything ranging from your extra curricular activities, your involvement in school, how well you did in the interview they’ve offered you, as well as how much you want to be admitted to their university.
  • You think writing your personal statement for UCAS was bad? Well, the American’s use the Common Application, and if you apply to their top universities, you’ll be asked to write a LOT more (yes, that will range from writing a 1500 word essay on one place you love the most, or even make a list of all the books you’ve ever read for non-academic reasons).
  • TIP #6: Know your competition. In the UK, we prepare for applying to university in our final two years of high school. In America, they’ve been preparing for University their entire life. They even have college funds where we mainly just have student finance. If you can, in the summer before you start sixth form, sign up to do some volunteering; search for work experience placements; get a job; get some experience doing things that you love.
  • I know a small handful of people who have gone to University in the US, and they’re loving it. Therefore, if you are willing to put the effort in, and you have the grades and references, definitely consider applying (though be sure to let your school know WELL in advance – they might not know about the Common Application process, and this will definitely take time to sort out).

Where’s that?

5. It doesn’t hurt to be different

When I applied to Keele, everyone was like ‘Where’s that?’ Little did they know, Keele was actually ranked #1 on the National Student Survey for Student Satisfaction – and it isn’t at all difficult to see why.

  • Why Keele? In short, I chose to study at Keele University because I fell in love with the campus the moment I stepped out of the car in Keele. I’ve always known that I didn’t want to study in London because I wanted the chance to be able to go to a smaller university, and study at a university where lecturers are really passionate towards their specialism. I know lots of universities out there do care, but Keele has offered a lot of support in the application process, and as I’m entering second year, I feel like the university has really supported us in trying to make our transition less stressful.
  • The course: Honestly, I never thought that I’d get accepted into Keele when I applied. I had quite low predicted grades, but without being really biased and all that, my personal statement was quite awesome. I hands-down had managed to get myself so much work experience over the summer, volunteering placements, and I was, and still am, so passionate about my studies.
  • TIP #7: If you need help with your personal statement, ask people (or even ask me/via email). As someone who has worked as a mentor for younger students, and as a tutor, I’ve found that a lot of people have come to me and asked for help with their personal statement, and even interview techniques. Everybody finds it difficult to write about their amazing qualities because they’re afraid to come across as really annoying and arrogant – however, there is always a way to get around that. If you need help, just ask. In the end, everybody wants you to do your best, so make everyone proud.

Don’t apply to somewhere you don’t want to go just because they have lower grade requirements.

6. Choosing which is your first, and which is your insurance choice.

[Update 28/10/16: Following the sale of Taste Uni Ltd, my posts from 2014 on the site will no longer be available; however, due to the increased interest and the number of e-mails I’ve received asking to be re-linked to the post, I will thereby be editing and updating my previously published posts from the website, and reposting them onto enngigi.wordpress.com and theperfectdilemma.wordpress.com in late November!]

  • TIP #8: Don’t apply to somewhere you don’t want to go just because they have lower grade requirements. If something were to happen to you on an exam day, and you don’t get the results you wanted, you’ll be gutted that you’ll have to go to your ‘fall back’ option. You have to prepare for the worst. I know a few people who didn’t get their first choice come results day, but only then did they realise that they didn’t want to go to X university (their insurance university) in the first place, and that they only applied so that they could get all 5 of their offers. If you look at it now, doesn’t it seem really redundant to apply to there in the first place?
  • TIP #9: There are MANY universities out there that you will love. Find one that has a lower grade requirement than your first choice, and is a university that you can see yourself studying at. It is not only the best option for every A2 student, but will definitely help you if results day doesn’t go as planned. It is definitely better to be more prepared (and then chucking all your preparation in the bin when the results are good) than to be underprepared and making the wrong decisions because you can’t think clearly under pressure.

There is always going to be a perfect university out there for you to study abroad at.

7. Studying abroad

If you had come across this blog post because you want to be able to study abroad at some point during your university studies, you’ve come to the right place! Most universities around the UK offer the study abroad and study exchange programme to a number of amazing universities across the world.

  • I know handfuls of people from Keele who will either be coming to Canada with me to study for a semester, to other students who will be heading off to Korea and Norway for the entire year! There is always going to be a perfect university out there for you to study abroad at.
  • If you’re interested in the study abroad programme, just ask during open days about this amazing opportunity – don’t be scared, they can’t bite you at an Open Day! You can even search online for your future university’s curriculum and see if they offer this opportunity.

Don’t sit at home and watch day-time TV.

8. Taking a break with a Gap Year

Many people at my sixth form took a gap year despite having really high grades. Contrary to what your parents may think, it is definitely nothing to be ashamed of. It might not be the norm, but in a few years time, it probably will be. Go travelling, get a job, blog! There are so many things you can do with a gap year, and it’ll give you even more time to realise what you want to do with your life – whether it be to go travelling, or whether it is trying to discover what course you want to do at university. Sometimes breaks are good – but one thing you need to make sure you do is: something. Don’t sit at home and watch day-time TV. Get out there and explore (…& maybe even follow some of your friends to their Fresher’s weeks)!

By the time it’s your upper sixth year, and if you still don’t know what you want to study, and/or if you’re not sure where you want to go, despite researching and visiting a lot of universities up and down the country, consider taking a gap year. Taking a gap year will definitely be a difficult decision for you, and will definitely take a toll of your preparation for university if you choose not to apply for deferred entry because you may not have the full support of your sixth form behind you during your gap year. So:

  • If you feel you need a break from being all academic (but if you know where you want to apply to university, and you know what course you want to study): Apply to University, but instead of entering the following academic year, apply for ‘deferred entry’. This will allow you to take a gap year, but still hold a conditional offer from them, based on your results from your A2 year. If you get the grades you need to hold that offer, you can do whatever you need to do during your gap year, knowing that at the end of the day, you have a place at university in the following year.
  • If you don’t know where you want to go to study, but you want to study next year on a course you really love: Continue looking around at universities. There are so many choices to choose from out there and there is bound to be one there waiting for you! Ask your parents to take weekend trips with you up north, or down south, just so you can visit the universities out there!
  • If you don’t know where you want to study, want a gap year, and know what you want to study: Prepare during your Upper Sixth year. You will get the most support with your application when you’re still in your school – because you are a priority to them at this point. Get your personal statement written, checked and signed off on – however, if you are not applying to UCAS this year, make sure you still have your teacher’s contact emails so that you can send them updated versions of your personal statement throughout the year/during the summer.
  • If you wanted to apply to UCAS really last minute: I think about five of my close friends decided they wanted to go to university really last minute. It was just before results day when they turned to me and was like ‘Imagine if I went to university next year…’, BAM – they changed their mind. What were their options now? Just after results day, many universities who have places for students in clearing, through adjustment, or from UCAS extra, have open days for potential clearing applicants. Many of my friends rang up the clearing hotlines and bagged themselves a place. You have to be careful though – when you ring clearing, you have to be really prepared to hold the line for hours – but getting a course at a university you want will definitely be a worthwhile result of this.
  • Note: you might think that clearing is essentially the easiest plan in the world, but you need to remember that NOT ALL universities up and down the country will have spaces at clearing – especially those courses such as medicine, and those universities such as Cambridge and Oxford etc.

I would say the most important thing in applying to university, alongside choosing the perfect university, is to choose a course that you know you will love. But hey, maybe I’ll write a blog post on it later too!

TIP #10: Be happy. Once you’ve made your choice, you’ve done good. Provided that you’re willing to try, you will meet your best friends at university, you might even meet the love of your life, and you will have the best time of your life!

I really hope that this blog post really helps all you sixth form students out there because I really think I could have done with a blog post like this when I was applying to university! Good luck guys!

Natalie

Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert in applying to university through UCAS since I’ve only been through this process once. But having also applied to the US and been through the study abroad application process (as part of the 2nd year international study abroad/exchange programme at Keele), this blog post is entirely representative of my true thoughts towards applying for the university that suits you.

[Update 28/10/16: Following the sale of Taste Uni Ltd, my posts from 2014 on the site will no longer be available; however, due to the increased interest and the number of e-mails I’ve received asking to be re-linked to the post, I will thereby be editing and updating my previously published posts from the website, and reposting them onto enngigi.wordpress.com at a later date!]

 

*Originally posted on theperfectdilemma.wordpress.com*

As part of my move to merge and decompartmentalize my blogs and websites, this post above has been re-published onto enngigi.wordpress.com. This blog post was originally published on the 7th August 2015.

 

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