university advice
29097 Helping Your Child Choose a Degree in X “Easy” Steps

The time has come. The time to answer that question tugging at your mind whenever parent life pauses for breath. Red lights on the drive to school. Tea breaks at parents’ evenings. That day you spent nursing your child back to health after he’d eaten a cup of flour on the bus for a dare…

“What will my child do after they’ve finished school?”

The ideal answer is ‘whatever’s best,’ because that’s what you want for them. But that’s also a hard thing to define. Perhaps there’s a safe future in your footsteps, because if it worked out for Mum or Dad, it’ll probably work for the kids too. Or maybe you’re not too happy with the path you took, and you want things to be different this time. Better this time.

And this time, for better or worse, unique or in echo, they’ve chosen to go to university.

So what degree are we going for?

It could be that high-flying economics degree. Or that safe career of medicine. Or even the business course that you took, back in the day. But there are other choices too. Interesting choices that you know nothing about. And soon, the whole thought process becomes a swirling stew of career prospects, prestige, financial security and a thousand other factors.

Maybe you’ve staggered clear, triumphant in the knowledge of what your child should do. Or maybe, after chasing those thoughts around your head like a weathered old train set, you just don’t know. And the anxiety is starting to get to you a little bit.

Step 0: Realise You Don’t Need to Have All the Answers

As your children grow up, their questions get bigger too. And this is often difficult to admit because you’re the parent. The protector, provider, nurturer. You’re the person who explains why the sky is blue and how pigs work. And it’s so easy and so natural to assume that you’re the person to answer this one too.

But the sad, sometimes liberating truth is that your little one’s questions have begun to outgrow you. They’re dipping their toes in the big, wide world and forming their own opinions and dreams that live in places that you may not have visited before. And it’s nigh on impossible for you to tell them whether to do that photography degree, when you went straight from school into a job. Or to pick a career for them when you’ve got a different story, passion and skillset.  

This will be the first big life decision that your child makes and, while you can’t make it for them, your support as a parent is indispensable.

They’re just as worried and anxious as you are about all of this, if not more. And you, with your experience and knowledge of this young person in front you, can provide a safe place to explore the courses they’re considering. Deep down, they probably have some inkling of what they want to do. But what they may lack is the bravery and confidence to say it and chase it.

So, while your child may not need your answers as often anymore, they will need your strength and patience.

Step 1: The Discussion(s)

Alright, depending on your kid, this will fall somewhere between the simplest decision ever and the most painful series of discussions since the last time you tried to pick a family holiday destination…

But it’s important to sit down with your child, plate up some nachos (optional) and have a chat. Because you’re worried, they’re worried and a little talk could make things easier for everyone.

Now, everyone is different. You know your child best, so you get to decide how you want to approach this. But it’s important to recognise that your child may have their own ideas and their own plans for university. They may share them willingly, or you may need to coax them out. Either way, both you and they could benefit from discussing their ideas and both of your thoughts on them.

Perhaps the most important consideration is their enjoyment and interest in the degree. While it’s very tempting to fixate on the long-term benefits of possible careers or salary brackets, it’s important to remember that at least three years of your child’s life will be spent poring over this subject. So, pouring money and years into a course they don’t like may simply result in a burnt-out, disillusioned, unhappy adult.

However, the future beyond the degree is still worth thinking about. Again, your child may have been toying with this for a while and may even have a detailed plan. Of course, it might be a plan that concerns you, and it’s good to voice that because you may be thinking something your child hasn’t considered before. On the other hand, they may have some pretty good answers for your worries, so do keep an open mind.

And if they have no ideas at all?

Then steer the chat towards what they like, what they’re good at and what kind of life they’re hoping for in the future. It’ll be complicated and may require some notetaking because adolescent interests and hopes are notoriously sprawling and erratic… But, between you both, you can combine a few of those ideas into some degree options, and maybe even some career ideas.

The key to all of this is to remember that the answers are buried inside your child, and they may need your help to dig them out and piece them together.

Step B: The Research

Here is where we level the playing field. Not everyone goes to university, so not everyone knows how the madness works. But, once you and your child have got a few ideas for courses, you both can start researching them. Or just let them do it and ask about it later. Some useful questions to consider before diving into Google’s bowels, or your graduate friends’ psyches, might be:

Once you’ve both learned more about the implications and details of the courses, your child can now eliminate some of them for concrete reasons. And they may also want your reassurance that something that makes sense in their head isn’t real-life lunacy.

Phase Gamma: The Experiences

So now your child will hopefully have a couple or maybe even a single degree in mind. The next step is to earn some extra parent points by doing what parents do best: the practical stuff.

You can help them explore the career path they’re semi-set on by lending a hand with some work experience. Use your contacts, colleagues, friends and family – this would make the world of difference for your child because arranging work experience with utter strangers is surprisingly difficult when they haven’t got a foot in the door.

Additionally, you probably have a wallet and a means of transport. Those are the things that mark a true adult, after all. And, since you are a true adult, you could use these things to accompany your child to university open days, to explore the place and pick the brains of current students. They’re a fun day out and prospective students often come away with a good sense of whether they could be happy studying in that atmosphere.  

Finally, if your child is approaching certainty about a course and might benefit from some pre-university experience, that wallet could come in handy again. Summer programmes like those run by Immerse Education can give your child a taste of what it’s like to study the course at university. There are lower stakes, their career isn’t riding on their performance yet and they can come back with either a firmer conviction or a wish to study something else.

And if they want to study something else?

Repeat Step 1… Consider taking up yoga…

After all is said and done, you care deeply about your child and their future. For them, choosing a subject to read at university is a stressful decision that comes alongside the anxieties of exams, adolescence and moving away from home for the first time. But, as a parent, you can provide the support and reassurance they need to make this transition to higher education as smooth as possible. (They’ll thank you later when they’re rolling in enough cash to take you to the Bahamas.)

Categories: Articles, University Advice Tags: , , 12725 Top 5 Books for Prospective Engineers

Engineering is an incredibly broad field, spanning the construction of humanity’s tallest and largest structures, and the fine control of our smallest physical and digital machines. As such, recommending a single book or author for the budding engineer – who likely has not yet decided how they might specialise – can be challenging. Here I have tried to present a varied list of engineering books that are above all pleasurable and easy to read, while providing useful information and inspiration to the reader. Whether you want to build machines and buildings or understand why they fail, develop new materials and chemicals or new software for the modern world, I think there is something in this list for you!Made to Measure is a great introduction into how interdisciplinary engineering can be. It looks at recent developments and trends, which include bespoke engineering, to highlight some of the coolest applications of the latest technology. This is particularly insightful for those with an interest in medical engineering as it touches on complex topics such as skin grafts. It discusses the development as ‘ideas of the future’ and it’s great to reflect on what’s been achieved 20 years later. Overall, it’s a very accessible read and packed with interesting examples.Philip Ball is a highly accomplished science writer, with over 20 years experience at the journal Nature. He has published articles in widely read publications such as New Scientist, The Guardian and the New Statesman. It is no surprise then that his book is highly accessible to the budding engineer. Ball describes modern revelations in materials science – self-repairing materials, new synthetic polymers, data storage, synthetic diamonds and more. Engineers will have an interest in this for many reasons. First, in order to build structures and machines, we need to understand the benefits and limits of materials we use. Also – and this is something Ball discusses – by developing new materials we can reach newer and better engineering solutions. It should be noted that the book does not have as strong a focus on metallurgy as some other introductory materials science texts. Let Ball’s approachable writing style guide you through an introduction to the science of materials.

Perhaps not the obvious choice for budding Engineers, but this is a great resource for any maths-related subject. It takes a progressive approach, starting with the basics and gradually guiding you through more complex concepts. Better still, it’s filled with exercises so you can put theory into practice and check your understanding as you go. Useful no matter what your mathematical ability.Engineers will, fortunately or unfortunately, have to do a fair bit of maths in their time. How to Think like a Mathematician teaches you how to read a maths textbook (it is not like fiction!), how to think logically and how to approach independent problem solving of the kind you are expected to do as part of an undergraduate degree. This excellent book is recommended across the physical sciences at top UK universities, through engineering and the maths degree itself. It is perhaps most relevant to those looking to specialise into “maths heavy” engineering, such as fields related to computer science. Here, being able to whip out a proof at a moment’s notice is an invaluable skill, and this book will teach you how to do it. However, a solid grounding in the fundamentals of doing higher mathematics would be invaluable to any engineer.

To Forgive Design is a strong introduction to some of the world’s most famous engineering failures. However, Petroski goes beyond explaining what went wrong to highlight the importance of learning from these mistakes. This is key to engineering but to any problem-solving exercise. Samuel Beckett lays claim to the phrase ‘try again, fail again, fail better’ and never was this phrase more relevant to a discipline than Engineering.No list of top engineering books would be complete without an entry from Henry Petroski. A staple in the field, Petroski has written popular engineering books for a wide audience since the 1980s. Petroski makes the point that some of the most interesting engineering problems are raised when systems fail. Petroski focusses on bridges, but discusses a wide range of engineering failures: oil spills, plane crashes, even computer programming disasters. He describes the importance of “human machinery” in engineering disasters. Understanding how and why engineering solutions fail is vital to any budding engineer.

‘Why buildings stand up’ is one of the most fundamental questions associated with engineering. This book effectively traces the history of this question by taking the reader round the world to explore the engineering behind civilisation’s architectural accomplishments. It covers a number of core engineering principles making it a fantastic and archetypal work that everyone should read, not just engineers.Salvadori’s colourful writing style brings to life not only the structural engineering of famous buildings across the world, but also the pleasures of historical architecture. From the Eiffel tower to the Pyramids of Egypt…Salvadori explains why they stand up! This book will interest structural engineers, and especially those looking to understand the relationship between architects and engineering realities in the modern day. For anyone looking for a “part two”, check out the appropriately named follow up book from the same group of authors: Why Buildings Fall Down.

This is another maths-focused book which I think highlights the importance of mathematics in engineering. It’s a great read, highly engaging and covers fairly complex maths in an easily digestible manner. That said, it is neither patronising nor self-congratulatory in this fact. It talks the reader through the importance and relevance of maths in everyday situations, for example, the design of anchors, giving real-world application to theory.

Dr Tom Körner tells us how applied maths helped solve a cholera outbreak in Victorian London and crack the enigma code in World War II. Seeing these important real-world problems solved provides motivation to those looking to do just what Körner has shown us: use maths to improve the world around us, as engineers. As well as being an informative and enjoyable read, the book has maths exercises woven into the text, which follow on naturally from the approachable writing style. They really can be exciting and enjoyable to solve after understanding why you are solving the problem you are working on. This provides a small taste of the pleasure many established engineers feel in their work, as well as some valuable practice.

There are a wealth of books, articles, journals and blog posts that serve as excellent introductions to the world of engineering. What this selection of books demonstrates is the inter-disciplinary nature of engineering. An undergraduate will learn, not only about various subfields within the world of engineering, but also about advanced mathematics, architecture, history, chemistry, biology, computer science, the list goes on. That’s why this is such a fascinating subject, full of possibility and opportunity. Many engineers may be tempted to forego reading in favour of practical experience, however what each of these books highlights is that practice makes perfect and there is much to be learnt from the mistakes of others.

engineering Categories: Guide Tags: , 10356 How Important Are League Tables When Choosing My University?

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As a relatively recent graduate myself, when I think back to the applications process for university, I remember what a stressful time of year it can be for prospective students. With so much to take into account with regards to your choice of university and course, it can easily feel like an overwhelming process with so many factors to take into account. The location of the university, the facilities available, the academics who work there, the nightlife of the city, the cost of living… and so on, and so on!

League tables can tell you a lot

First things first, I am not here to knock league tables completely. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, however much experts tell you not to take them as complete gospel – a message which I will heartily endorse during this article – everyone looks at them when they’re applying for university and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

University league tables can certainly be useful tools, as they take into account a wide variety of different factors, including student satisfaction at that institution, entry standards, research quality and the all-important graduate prospects. Of course, you can look at league tables for a particular university, but the more useful rankings are for your particular course at that institution. Important information you can learn from a league table includes knowing that a particular university has improved in their research output for a particular subject, or has plummeted majorly in the student satisfaction ratings; outcomes which are definitely worth looking into further.

What they can tell you (in detail)

Although different league tables can vary in what they prioritise – with the Guardian table relying more heavily on student experience than the Times Higher Education one, for example – all of them will take into account all of the following factors.

  1. Student satisfaction scores

These can be a helpful measure of the day-to-day experience of students at that university, showing how they of how students rate elements of their university experience. However, as should also be taken into account, these scores can become distorted and slanted by that university’s current issues, which are often not related to academic matters. Still, given you want to live at that university, it’s worth finding out how students rank their university experience – even if you take the results with a pinch of salt.

  1. Student to staff ratio

This is also used across all of the league tables, and gives you an idea of how your university of choice might invest in its staffing, with a high student to staff ratio not being a particularly good sign. This will not tell you factors such as how many contact hours (hours of teaching) you will receive per week, however, or who will be teaching you. This is information you can find out by researching your course website.

  1. Graduate prospects

This may seem like the most important factor – after all, who isn’t thinking about their graduate prospects when they apply to university these days? – and it gives you a snapshot view on what graduates from that institution and course go on to do after leaving university. That said, these figures are only a snapshot, as they are collected six months after leaving university (when many graduates are still working out their career options/planning their graduate gap year travelling), so bear this in mind as it may not tell you where graduates begin their long-term careers.

  1.  Entry grades

These can majorly impact subject rankings, but this is definitely not something to obsess over. Plus, in the long run, of course, how well students actually do at university – a factor which is not usually measured in these league tables – is far more important than their A-level grades they achieved beforehand. Students usually achieve more UCAS tariff points than the actual entry requirements needed to gain entry to a course, and in some cases, students are admitted with lower grades than the entry requirements. Make sure you check out UCAS for entry requirements and don’t take them too seriously or worry about them too much.

But they don’t tell you everything…

Although they are useful guides, it is important to say that league tables absolutely do not give you all the information you need to make an informed decision about which universities to apply to. If you deliberately applied only to the top 5 universities for your subject, you could well end up with a fantastic university experience, but (and there is a but), you might not, if you haven’t taken into account factors which are never included in the league tables. These include the number of contact hours on your course, the costs of living, the kind of city in which you will be living, the distance from your hometown, the price of the average takeaway and gym… and so on!

Plus, if you don’t get an offer from the top university for your subject, or even decide to go there, that’s perfectly fine! I received an offer from a higher ranking university for English for my undergraduate degree and intentionally chose my undergraduate university (Birmingham) instead because I loved the city, the whole atmosphere of the city and the people I’d met there on my open days. And, as often happens with league tables, Birmingham now ranks higher for my subject than the other university I rejected!

So, if this article can teach you anything about league tables and university applications, I hope it is this: they are useful tools for when you start looking at potential universities, but should not be used as your only guide. Do not allow yourself to be pressured by the ever-changing and somewhat unreliable league tables when you are picking your university of choice: there are far more important reasons to choose the place where you will be spending the next three or four years of your life. Good luck!

university Categories: University Advice Tags: , 10275 7 Ways To Push Yourself in the Subject You’re Best At

So, you’re doing really well at a subject at school – that’s great! You’re achieving top grade after top grade in all your assignments, all your friends want to borrow your notes, lessons are an absolute breeze for you, and, quite frankly, you’re not sure why others seem to struggle so much with your subject in question. What could possibly be better? Well, counter-intuitive as it may seem, when you feel like this about a particular subject at school, it is time to try something new.

It can be easy when you’re confident in a subject at school to become somewhat complacent and not put in the effort you need to really push yourself and to make sure that you keep getting better, especially if you want to study it at a university level. With this in mind, read on and find out 7 easy ways to go the extra mile in the subject you’re best at. If you follow these tips, you’ll end up with even better results and a real love for the subject in question which will take you through to university and beyond.

Caring is key: Remind yourself why you care

It’s the oldest adage in the book, but it’s completely true. If you are really passionate about a subject, you will do better in it, it’s as simple as that. Even if you feel that you are just good at a subject and that you don’t really have an outside interest in it (as can be the case for subjects such as maths), see if you can find an element of the subject which really lights your fire and focus your energies on that and the results will come in.

Read outside of the curriculum

Of course, if you want to go beyond what is expected of you, speaking to your teachers about what might be optional, or outside the curriculum is an excellent way to really push yourself beyond your peers and to gain a deeper understanding of your subject.

The curriculum is bound to be limited by time and practical considerations, such as the need to fit the subject material into an examinable format which students can learn and memorise in a given time frame, and you will certainly experience a great sense of satisfaction by being able to move beyond that. Naturally, I have to say, it is important that you keep your primary focus on making sure you can boss what is on the curriculum – as you also have to do well in these exams – this is just an added extra to top up your knowledge and take you to the next level.

Make sure you contribute in class

As mentioned before, it can be very easy to become a little overconfident when you are so good at a particular subject – which can sometimes result in you feeling that you do not need to contribute in class, since you already know the answers anyway. This is not the best attitude, and it’s an easy trap to fall into. Think about it this way, by speaking up a reasonable amount (and not overdoing it, obviously!) you are sharing your knowledge with the rest of the group and showing your teacher that you do actually know what you are talking about.

Oh, and it goes without saying that if your teacher never sees you contribute then you might not get the best reference to go and study your subject of choice at university as you are not showing an engagement with the subject – even if your grades are top notch. So, in short, make sure you speak up!

Ask for more work

Yes, I am serious about this recommendation. But only if you want to, and you do actually have to do the extra work. If you’re wanting to make sure you’re stimulated in your subject and you are finding the class material too simplistic it might be time to see if there are additional tasks you can take on in order to push yourself beyond your current ability level. Make sure you give your teacher some warning before writing fifteen extra essays you need marking though…

Keep abreast of developments in the outside world in your subject

All in all, this is by far the most important advice I can give you. For all of those moments where you might be wondering what relevance learning from books can have in the outside world, keeping yourself grounded and connected with the latest developments outside of the classroom can be an excellent way to really push yourself to think about your subject more seriously – and will set you in excellent stead for university. Again, if you’re great at something like maths and you’re not sure what the latest developments are in your subject, just ask your teachers – they’ll be delighted to help you find out more.

Help your friends out

Sharing is caring after all! One of the best ways to ensure you really understand something and to take this understanding to the next level is to explain it to someone else. The key is not to just tell your friends what they should know, but to help them reach an understanding themselves. Of course, they can do the same for you in subjects they are better at in revision periods, and you will find that you all get better results as a consequence.

Alternatively, if you would find this process an awkward or uncomfortable one (or your friends might not take it so well), you could always offer to start tutoring younger students in your favourite subject – and you could end up being paid for it pretty well too. Win, win!

Check out the university syllabuses and get ahead

If you are at the stage of your life where you are thinking ahead to university, looking ahead at what the university syllabuses look like for your subject is a great idea, without letting it panic you. Remember, at the moment, you’re studying at least three subjects at A-level and having to divide your time accordingly, but by the time you’re at university, you will be able to focus on just one subject, with the support of amazing academics in your field and all the other students.

So, in summary, if you find yourself feeling complacent at school with a particular subject, or you’ve reached a bit of a standstill in your grades, enjoy using my seven easy ways to boost your performance in your subject of choice. This will also help make that transition to university-level independent study as easy and enjoyable as possible!

subject Categories: Articles, Guide Tags: 10261 10 Reasons Why You Should Study Abroad

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With an increasing number of students deciding to spend at least part, if not all, of their university degree in a foreign country, you might be wondering whether this is the right step for your own studies. To help you out, I’ve put together a list of reasons why you might want to step outside of your comfort zone and study abroad, and the real benefits which this can have for your social life, happiness, and even your future career.

1. Expand your worldview

Geography lessons are great and everything, but you will learn so much more about the world through actually living in a different culture and talking to people. It can be easy to be caught up in your own bubble and to not see what is happening all around the world. Living abroad will broaden your horizons, and will automatically ensure that you meet people from a different culture than your own, making you a more worldly, sympathetic and interesting person to be around when you return home.

2. Enjoy travel opportunities

This one is obvious: if you’re abroad already, those countries which used to feel out of reach will suddenly feel so much nearer, just because you’ve already taken the first step of moving outside of your home country. I guarantee that you’ll find yourself taking some incredible trips around your new country, or elsewhere, that you would never have done from home.

3. Boost your language skills

Of course, as a native English speaker, if you move to Amsterdam, New York or Toronto, this might not be so applicable, but moving abroad can also do wonders for your grasp of a foreign language. If you’re immersed in a particular language, you won’t be able to help improving your proficiency at it: something which will put you in an excellent position for an international career in the future. These language skills can, of course, be taught in a classroom, but there’s nothing like practising with a native speaker to really improve your abilities.

4. Boss your job applications and open up graduate opportunities

Putting your study abroad experience on your CV is highly attractive to both future employers and graduate school admissions tutors, as it shows that you are willing to take on challenging opportunities and are independent minded. It shows them too that you are open-minded and care about what is going on in the world outside of your own country. Plus, while you are abroad, you never know what opportunities – travel for work or graduate school – might open up for you: there will be opportunities out there that you never even imagined. Why not go and find out?

5. Learn about a new culture

There is no better way of understanding a different culture than actually living there. Travelling abroad can certainly teach you this – especially if you take time to visit museums and heritage sites – but you will experience the culture of a place in far greater depth if you actually live there. Plus, with a new culture comes delicious new food to taste and this can certainly be a major bonus of living abroad. It would be rude not to try all the food you can, right?

6. Learn about yourself and your own culture

There is nothing like a bit of distance from your own culture to teach you something about it which you will, doubtless, take for granted at the moment. Talking to people from outside your country about what they think of your home can also teach you a lot, and highlight aspects of it which you are blind to at the moment. Whether these are positive things or negative things, you will return to your home with a new, and more balanced perspective than you left with.

7. Become independent and overcome challenges

I’m not going to pretend that moving abroad to study doesn’t come with challenges – it does. Moving far from home to a new country where you don’t know anyone, where you are not fluent in the language and even studying at a university which could well have a very different teaching style than you are used to is bound to present you with challenges, but that is really the point. Overcoming these day-to-day challenges will make into a stronger, more independent individual and give you an immense sense of personal achievement at the end of it. If you’ve managed to study and live abroad independently, what else might you be capable of?

8. Make incredible friends

Moving abroad for studying will also open up avenues for making so many interesting friends that you’d never meet at home. Even if you move abroad for study alone, you won’t leave alone, and in some ways, it is better to go alone, as this allows you to have a completely clean slate for making new friends. Whereas if you move with another person from home, you might be tempted to stay within your comfort zone and only socialise together. Whether you make friends with other international students – and enjoy working through the fun challenges of living abroad together – or residents of your new country, I guarantee you will meet some incredible people during your studies and open up yet more avenues for travel in the future.

9. Challenge yourself to be the best you can be

On a similar note, when you move abroad, no one will have preconceptions about what kind of person you are, and that can be a truly liberating experience. If you’ve always wanted to skydive, start a band, take up bareback horse racing, or whatever else it may be, now is your chance to dive in and become the version of yourself you have always wanted to be: something which is bound to increase your happiness and self-confidence in the process.

10. Find a new home!

Finally, there is a chance that you will fall so in love with your new home that you’ll want to spend more time there in the future, and maybe even settle down there. You never know until you try it.

Bearing all of the above in mind, I hope you can see that studying abroad can bring huge advantages to your social life, career and general happiness. So, what are you waiting for? Draft your application now!

study abroad Categories: Guide Tags: ,