POWERING OUR FUTURE #2: UNI Application like a Pro

On June 27, 2016 we went back to where it all began (for me at least) and hosted our second Powering Our Future Event at BSix Sixth Form College. Shout out to my old sixth form and to the wonderful panelists who shared their stories with our audience: Shenaid Tapper, Umamah Tarvala, Priscilla Masasu, Olaide Olumide, Tennessee Watt, Mara Livermore.

The topic of choice:

Applying to university

Application season is coming! It seems just like yesterday when I was walking in those  shoes, trying to answer dreaded questions like: “ So what do you want to study at uni? Where? How? When?”

With the memories of those days behind us but still fresh in our mind, and with an arsenal of amazing panelists with a wide range of uni experiences, here are a few lessons we took away.

#1 Do You


When we put out the question “what do you think are the key things to keep in mind when applying to university?” someone in the audience gifted us with this maxim. Do you. Don’t go to university to study x subject because everyone says that you should. Maybe your parents have always imagined you as a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant. And maybe that’s also your dream. But if it isn’t, remember that university is amazing but it is not a walk in the park. It is hard work. What will keep you going when you’re dealing with a last minute deadline because you love to procrastinate and are pulling an all-nighter? It won’t be the promise of a well-paying job if you absolutely hate or can’t deal with what you’re learning. But passion and a genuine interest in what you’re studying will.

We couldn’t stress this point more during the event and we will keep stressing it until we’re blue in the face.


#2 Research Research Research 


All of our amazing panelists couldn’t say this enough.   

Choosing what or where to to study? Remember that you’ll spend the next 3 years or more studying x subject in x part of the country. You should be asking yourself:

  • What does the course entail? Maybe you love a certain period of history and the university you’d like to go to doesn’t cover that period. What then?
  • What does the city have to offer? Is it too hot, too cold, is it big or small?
  • What are professors like? What kind of support the university gives to students?…

And many other questions. The only way to answer them is to do your research. Go to open days (here is a tool to find out the open days of your would be uni). Talk to your teachers and ask them if alumni from your school have gone to study a specific subject or at a specific university and ask them if they can put you in touch. Google stuff: google is your best friend and so is The Student Room.


#3 – Bring the Personal into Your Personal Statement


How many of us wrote the first draft of our personal statements and wanted to cry? That was definitely me. I got the amazing lady in charge of UCAS admissions at my school to read it and she said it felt like an essay.

It is easy to feel slightly annoyed and scared at the prospect of writing about you after having been taught for years to kill the personality out of your essays (balanced argument essays anyone?). And let us not get started on science based subjects where you deal with hard facts. Instead of dreading it, think about it as an opportunity to get to know you and what motivates you. You say you want to do medicine? Great, why? Is it because you love the idea of helping people? Or is it because you love biology but love the idea of putting your scientific knowledge to practice?

The personal statement is your golden opportunity – for once –  to write about you; to tell the admission tutors how your (learning) experiences have led you to your decision to study x subject and how they will also help you cope with university life successfully. Don’t waste that opportunity by just showing them that you know stuff. Show them that you’re curious, that you would be an absolute pleasure to teach because you’re not just regurgitating stuff others have fed you about the subject and why you should study it. BE YOU, Do YOU and bring who you are into your personal statement.


#4 – Proactivity is your new best friend


The universe won’t give you things if you won’t go for them yourself. Applying to university takes time and commitment. If you want to deal with this period of your life and come out of it like a pro you need to go for it. This means really really going for it. You’ve come across this person at an event/open day/whatever and they’re awesome and could be of help? Get in touch. Ask for a way to get in touch with her or ask the people who’ve organised the event if they can put you in touch. You’re curious about something – maybe it’s about that specific university’s sports facilities because you’re a keen basketball player, go for it and be proactive. You want to get into a top university but so far you’ve not put enough efforts in your studies and you know it? Go for it and work hard. You’ll do well, I promise.


# 5 – Ask for help


You don’t know where to start with your personal statement or maybe you’ve written plenty of drafts and you want a second opinion? Ask for help. But beware, take their advice with a pinch of salt, especially if you’re asking someone who doesn’t know you really well. If they’re your friend or someone who knows you like the back of their hands, do ask them if your personal statement reflects who you are, or if there’s anything they would suggest you do different.

Remember first and foremost one thing. Don’t allow your personal statement to feel impersonal.



Where should I go to uni?

Mara: Consider this holistically. Does my prospective university offer sports? Does the location have job prospects (especially if you plan to work whilst studying). Maybe that specific university is amazing but doesn’t live up to what you want.

(Mara speaks from experience. She decided to turn down Oxford to study German and Philosophy at Manchester, where the course was exactly what she wanted)

Priscilla: Go to open days to help you decide.

Umamah: Don’t be fooled by courses having the same name, as the content might be drastically different.

Olaide: I chose KCL because I felt that I could fit in; because it was in London, a major plus if you want to combine your studies with internships.


What should I do during my gap year?

Umamah: First thing first, tailor it to your interests! Do stuff that you love, there won’t ever be a better time for that. But also prioritise what you might need to do if you’re going to apply to university again. If you’re applying to do medicine, for example, take this time to do some work experience, volunteer, etc.

Mara: Be proactive. Ask yourself what you’d like to do later, and where you’d like to do it. Try even emailing a specific company/institution – who knows? Maybe you’ll get some work experience out of it. This is the perfect time for you to explore your options.


What if you don’t meet the minimum entry requirements for the university or course of your choice?

Olaide: Explore different routes of entry. Maybe the university of your choice offers foundation years as a way in. Here two things can definitely help: doing your research and being proactive. Email the university or a lecturer to ask information about, for instance, what kind of students they tend to offer a place to etc.

Asta: Another approach is to apply anyway and get the support of your teachers. I didn’t meet the number of GCSEs requirements needed to apply to uni ( I only had Maths, English and a BTEC Level 2 in Applied Science) but with the support of my family and teachers I had the confidence to apply to the universities I liked even without meeting all entry requirements.

Applying to different universities for different courses. Yay or Nay?

Shenaid: It really depends and you need to be mindful of the fact that you might be limiting yourself, especially because you’re supposed to write in your statement about the subject you plan to study. Imagine that the course you want to do is only offered in 5 universities across the country. Would you just apply to those 5 for that specific course or would you apply to different unis for different courses to diversify a bit your choice?


Now that you’ve been there and done that, would you do anything differently when it comes to applying to university?

Asta: Personally I wouldn’t because that experience has contributed to get me where I am. I applied to study Ancient and Modern History, got in and by the end of the first year I had been guaranteed to switch my degree to History and Politics in my second year. I’m not sure things would have turned out the same had I made different choices and I’m pretty happy with how my life has unfolded since application season has been over.

Mara: I would be more proactive. I didn’t leave my personal statement at the last minute but I could have definitely done it earlier. That would have definitely helped!

Shenaid: I would not waste a choice by applying to a university you don’t care about. You only have 5 choices: use them wisely.

Priscilla: The personal statement! Preparation is so important to write a great personal statement. It takes time to make sure it represent who you are.


We really hope this was useful. We were so happy with our first #PoweringOurFuture event, and please stay tuned for more to come. Get in touch on spectrawomen@gmail.com if you have any requests for events you want to see.


POWERING OUR FUTURE #1: How to Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals

On March 3, 2018 we hosted our first ever Powering Our Future Event at Oxford (Shout out to Jesus College who supported us).

These are the 5 lessons that we took away from the event.


#1 Step out of your comfort zone



There is a common myth that you either have confidence or you don’t

– Alexandra Galviz

We invited Alexandra to host a confidence building workshop at our Powering Our Future inaugural event. At 24, Alex has achieved a lot. She has created an extraordinary personal brand. She has set up a movement. She is now setting up a business. She’s an amazing professional coach, mentor and all around business woman. But, as Alex reminded us, while it is easy to sum up a person in their achievements, their social media profiles and their CVs, the reality is very different. Alex used to be the shy girl in the corner of the room. She showed us a video of her on the verge of tears during a public speaking exercise two years ago. Now, she gives talks to rooms filled with hundreds of people on a regular basis. In a short space of time, she turned herself around.

How did she do this? She made herself step out of her comfort zone, among other things.

Confidence is not something you are born with; it is something you have to work for. Alex forced herself to take part in events that would challenge her, continually reminding herself of her goals along the way. By doing this, she gradually became more and more comfortable in situations where she previously felt intimidated.



(Ladies hard at work writing down their goals and fears)

Confidence, like fitness levels or instrument skills is something you have to practice. You cannot expect to pick up the violin and immediately start playing Bach. The more you energy and focus you place on developing these skills, the faster you will show improvements.

We go to the gym to work out our bodies. We go to school to work out our brains. But, given society’s huge desire to compartmentalise people, we rarely stop to think what we can actually do to work on our feelings towards ourselves and how we project those feelings.


#2 Show up


Don’t just ask for support from your network, you need to also be an active supporter in the great things your network is doing. Supporting events, blogs, initiatives of others is just as useful and fulfilling as being supported

– Jamilla Ekedi-Tanenang

We hosted a panel discussion in the afternoon, with 10+ panelists ranging in age, experience and industry – publishing, law, management consulting, you name it. One thing that kept coming up is the importance of showing up.

On a really basic level – the event happened to be scheduled during one of the freak snow days at the beginning of March. Despite several trains being cancelled / delayed, every single one of our speakers showed up to the event. These are all women who we know personally and invited in, only being able to cover their travel expenses.

But every one of our speakers also left richer. They joined a community, they had a platform on which to share their own experiences and learn from the experiences not only of each other but of the audience. And they could give back.



If you take one thing away from this post, take this: showing up is just as important as asking other people to show up for you. Especially in a world that seems to love pitting women against each other, we need to remember that there is space for everyone. The more we support each other, the closer we will all get to achieving our goals.

And yes – karma works: positive energy is usually reciprocated.

(As a side note, thank you so much to EVERYONE who showed up for us on the day, from the panelists, to the brave sixth form girls, to the volunteers who shared their experiences of Oxford, and to Jesus and Brasenose who supported us to make this event happen.)


#3 – Be resourceful


(Becky Warke chatting to one of the girls)

For some, opportunities are handed on a plate. They have fathers, uncles, family friends who work a certain industry or went to a certain university and that’s how they land the most highly sought after roles. Once you land one great internship, you’re on the ladder. But how do you get that one great internship if you have no connections and also limited financial resources?

One of our panelists, Becky Warke, grew up in a small town in Ireland. When she decided she wanted to be a lawyer, she realised this was one of those worlds in which who you know becomes excruciatingly important. While all her privileged London friends were landing internships, she was stuck doing ordinary summer jobs, wondering how she would ever get on that ladder.

Now she is a Trainee Solicitor at a top City Firm. How did she do this? Through thinking outside the box.

Becky researched and researched and researched, and what she realised was that while internships are hard to come by, court hearings are free and open to all. Very few law students actually take the time to go and witness actual barristers in action. She started going to as many hearings as she could, taking notes, increasing her breadth of knowledge and developing her love of law.

So BE RESOURCEFUL. We can always make excuses for not being able to do certain things. But instead of waiting for the world to change around you, try and see what you can do right now. Go to free public lectures. Go to events. Find interesting opportunities, like Becky did. Read and research as much as you can. And remember, that all of your hustling will end up putting you in a better position than those who’ve been handed everything on a plate. Because hand holding can only get you so far.


#4 – Haters gonna hate



In our generation, it’s so easy to be distracted & put off by other people. We learn to base our self-esteem on how others perceive you – not the small circle of people who genuinely have your best interests at heart, but the hundreds of random acquaintances, who will devote precisely 5 seconds of their day thinking about you.  

Ria Ranadive, a first year English student at Jesus College, who joined our panel, is originally from Singapore and went to boarding school in India. She was one of the first people in her school to apply for a subject like English, and when she made that decision, everyone (and, of course, the boys in particular) made fun of her for it. They reinforced the taboos around humanities – branding her passion as ‘soft’ and laughing about how she won’t ever get a job. When she decided to apply to Oxford, they continued to laugh. Who was she to think she could get into a place like that? And even once she got an offer, Ria wasn’t given the space to celebrate. Instead, she grew more and more confused. She was proud of herself and knew what she wanted to do but everyone around her seemed to judge her for these choices.

What made her take the risk, was the realisation that it wasn’t EVERYONE judging her – just all the irrelevant people in the background. As much as people may disapprove of your life choices, they really don’t matter because they won’t be the ones making those choices. When you’re studying for several hours a day, for three, four, five, or six years, here’s the thing, no-one else will be able to study for you. So if you take a subject that you think people want you to take, rather than what you want to take, you will be the one to suffer.

Do what you want to do. Not blindly, of course. By all means ask yourself questions about employability.  Employability does matter. Where you study does matter. But what really does not matter – is playground gossip & the opinions of your 546th friend on Facebook.


# 5 – Don’t give up


This last tip comes from India Hill, another one of our panelists, who works in the publishing industry:

“As young women with ambition it can be frustrating to meet with the rejection of our ideas. We want our voices to be heard. Working as a graphic designer taught me to be patient and to not be too wedded to any single idea as the process of designing something can take you through countless different versions of a design.  Flexibility is a huge asset and is often more important than having one specific idea that you refuse to let go. If someone doesn’t like your suggestion, then repackage it and try again.

Perseverance and playing the long game is another useful tactic. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t only try again, but step out in a manner that no one expects. If you’re passionate about making changes then shout about it.

I’m passionate about creating a reading experience that’s inclusive for everyone and when I saw that this didn’t translate into the illustrations and images in our books I decided to say something. When my idea to reform company guidelines provided to designers and illustrators wasn’t initially acted on at a managerial level, I took it to our company’s diversity network and am now working with senior members of staff to change company-wide regulations. Have confidence in your own ideas and also never be afraid to speak to someone because they hold a position higher up than you.”


We really hope this was useful. We were so happy with our first #PoweringOurFuture event, and please stay tuned for more to come. Get in touch on spectrawomen@gmail.com if you have any requests for events you want to see.