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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any requests for events you want to see.