As we all know, sending off university applications can be an experience which is both exciting and daunting in equal measure. With so many different factors to take into account – such as money, distance from home, the course you want to study, the graduate prospects afterwards, and so on – the applications process can become somewhat overwhelming and seem to take over your life outside of school, which, of course, is already busy enough with exam preparation and your social life!
However, in this article, I’m here to help. After attending two very different universities – Birmingham and Cambridge – and sending off my fair share of applications, I share my top 10 things to know before applying to university, in order to make the process as enjoyable and stress-free for you as possible.
1. Do not obsess over money
This is easier said than done, I know, but being a student is very much about learning how to manage money: it’s one of the most valuable skills you can learn, and then when you have a full-time income, you will be set for life! Being short of money at university is quite normal, and you can always work part-time to help keep your bank balance topped up (as long as it doesn’t detract from your degree or university experience).
Undoubtedly, studying a university-level degree in the UK in 2018 is an expensive thing to do, and will most likely require you to take out at least one loan to cover the costs. That said, it is healthy to think about this loan repayment as a kind of graduate tax: it will be taken out of your wages gradually, and, as of April this year, the repayment threshold will be raised from £21,000 to £25,000.
In other words, you now will not have to pay back your student loan until you are earning over £25,000 per year, and, as you hopefully already know, the debt will be cleared after 30 years if you’ve not repaid it anyway. For more information on how the loan repayment system works, check out this link.
In short, don’t panic, and remember, you shouldn’t allow money worries to get in the way of taking on a university degree: there is so much help and guidance out there about how to manage your cash.
2. It’s perfectly fine (and normal!) to take a gap year…
If you’re not ready to start university immediately, as you know, it’s a very popular option to take a year out between school and university. Whether you go and travel, work part-time, or get some valuable work experience under your belt, taking a gap year offers endless possibilities, as long as you make the most of your time out and do something you really want to do which is useful (clue: Netflix in bed for a year won’t necessarily be the best use of your time!).
3. But it’s not a big deal if you don’t
Equally, however, if you want to dive straight into university from school – as I did – that’s also great, and means you will keep the momentum going from your A-level studies. Taking a gap year is not the only time in your life you will get to travel, so don’t panic if you pass on the year out option. You just have to do what feels right for you, so try not to be too envious of other people’s Instagram travel pictures!
4. Go to the university you want to go to
Continuing the theme from the last point, ultimately, everyone – your mum, dad, teachers, friends, the dinner lady – will have an opinion about which universities you should apply to for your university course.
These opinions are useful, of course, but you have to remember that, ultimately, it will be you who actually has to study at that institution/on that course, so you need to put your own gut feelings first: if you get a bad feeling about a place, or it just doesn’t feel right, there’s probably a reason, and you should listen to that feeling. Equally, if you love a university and your family don’t, you should remember that your opinion is by far the most important.
5. Oxbridge isn’t everything
I wanted to put this one in as it’s very important. When I didn’t get into Cambridge for undergraduate, I was disappointed, but not hugely so, and I was delighted to study my degree at Birmingham: a choice which suited me much better. Although it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to go to Oxbridge, it’s not the be-all and end-all of your university experience, and it’s certainly not a reason to avoid going to university, unless you really feel like you would only benefit from the particular teaching style at Oxbridge and want to reapply.
6. Go in person before you apply
A university prospectus can tell a very different story to the actual campus experience, so please, try before you buy as much as possible. This is especially important for university halls of residence where pictures can make rooms look much larger, and much nicer than the reality, so make sure you check it out before sending over any cash.
7. Try not to be competitive or jealous
Whether your friends have received more offers than you or not is not a reflection on you, or something to be competitive over or jealous about, tempting as it may be. School can sometimes feel like a pressure-cooker environment and be very intense, but remember, your friends won’t be with you at university, so just focus on what’s best and important for you.
8. You may have subject-specific interviews
Even in the humanities, you can end up having subject-specific interview which you might not necessarily be expecting to happen. If it does happen, it’s nothing to panic about, just make sure you’re well versed in everything on your personal statement – and, of course, that you’ve read everything you mention on there: they’ll notice if you are bluffing it! – and that you’ve thoroughly researched the course you’ve applied for, and you’ll be fine.
9. Don’t worry about grades too much
Yes, achieving your best possible A-level grades is important, but, if recent statistics are anything to go by, it is unlikely that you’re not worrying enough about this. So, take it easy, don’t be hard on yourself, and do your best. Many universities let strong students in anyway with lower grades than they are offered, and there’s always the option of Clearing if necessary. Of course, it’s a good idea to make sure that your reserve choice of university has lower entry requirements to take some of the pressure off.
10. Finally, offers come in at very different rates: don’t panic!
This one is the most important point I wanted to make: university offers come in at very different times throughout the year, so don’t panic if you’re waiting a while to hear back, as it takes universities some time to work through all the thousands of applications they receive every year. You will receive offers in time, and it’ll be a truly amazing feeling when you do. Good luck!