Going to university can seem like a daunting prospect as well as an exciting one. There are so many things to consider, from what to study to writing that all important personal statement. But don’t worry – UEA can help.
We’ve collected insight and advice from our school advisers and current students to help you make those all important decisions.
We are also running regular live webinars on personal statements, subject tasters and general higher education advice which give prospective students the chance to submit questions during the session. They are free and easy to join.
Choosing the right course
Have you got a university course shortlist as long as your arm? It’s not unusual to feel a bit bewildered by all the different options available.
This guide from current undergraduate student, Louise Fitzgerald, will help you to whittle down your options by making you think about how you study and choose the course that’s right for you.
What do you want to study?
Do you want to continue with one of your A-Level subjects, or try something completely different? There are a huge range of courses out there, for example, did you know that you can do a degree in Viking studies? Me neither. Use the UCAS search tool and university websites to get a feel for what courses are out there.
Questions to ask yourself:
If it’s something you currently study, will you still be interested in three years’ time?
If it’s something new, do you know what it involves?
If you have a career goal in mind already, do you need to study a specific undergraduate degree subject?
Where does the course and university rank?
Don’t get too obsessed with University League Tables. They rank universities on slightly different criteria and are a good indicator, but should not be the only comparison tool you use. It might be more useful to look at websites like UNISTATS and the National Student Survey results for a more detailed breakdown, and to hear what recently graduated students thought of the course.
Questions to ask yourself:
What do other students think of the course or university?
Are you only looking at the highly ranked universities based on perceived reputation? If so, why not try looking at a few others?
How do the ‘official’ and student league tables compare?
Which is best for you: Modular or structured courses?
Some courses have a set structure, whereas others give you lots of choice about what you want to study. For example, I study Environmental Science at UEA, and get to choose from a huge range of modules such as Aquatic Ecology, Low Carbon Energy and Environmental Economies. Picking a course with lots of options is great if you’re not sure what you want to specialise in.
Questions to ask yourself:
Do you like being able to choose what you study?
Do you have a diverse range of interests?
Do you know what you want to specialise in, or do you want to keep your options open?
What are the course grade requirements
You have five choices on your UCAS form. Find the courses that appeal to you the most with entry requirements that are realistic. You’ll probably want to choose a few safer options that you know you’ll get the grades for, but also consider those more aspirational courses that will stretch you. Based on the universities that make you an offer, you’ll then have to choose a firm and insurance choice.
Questions to ask yourself:
Do you have a sensible spread of grade requirements across your five options?
Have you included a safe and more aspirational option based on your predicted grades?
Does your insurance choice have lower entry requirements than your firm?
Try and go to university open days
My best advice for picking a course is to try and go to as many open days as possible. Being able to visit the university will give you a much better feel for the place than any of the pictures in the prospectus. Take advantage of the opportunity to talk to current students and academics about life at their university. If you can’t make it to an open day, try asking on The Student Room.
What happens if I choose the wrong course for me?
Most students choose a course and know it’s the right thing for them. But what happens if after hours of research and university visits, you start your dream course and it’s not for you? It’s not the end of the world and there might be the option to alter your field of study.
So my advice for you would be to do your research – look at university websites, use comparison tools and league tables and speak to your teachers and advisers. Visit as many university open days as you can to get a feel for the course and find the university that’s right for you. Remember, going to university isn’t just about the subject you study, but what you make of all the other opportunities open to you when you’re there.
Starting university might feel a million miles away, but that all important January 15 UCAS deadline will creep up on you. However late you’ve left it, you still have right up to the deadline to create a great application before pressing ‘submit’. Take a look at our Top 5 tips on how to make sure you get the best possible application finished before the deadline to put you one step closer to securing a place at your first-choice university.
1. Your personal statement
In theory, personal statements seem quite straight forward. Just write a few paragraphs about how wonderful you are and your first choice will fall over themselves to give you a place. In practice, this isn’t the case, so you need to make sure your personal statement stands out.
Don’t let running short on time leave you with a sub-standard end product; be sure to re-read and re-edit your statement until you’re 100% happy with it.
Hand it around to get feedback from your friends, family and teachers, but don’t give them too much control.
Remember it’s you that’s looking for a spot at your top choice, not them.
You could also have a look at our tips for writing your personal statement.
2. References for UCAS applications
That teacher you’ve been avoiding these past few weeks, you may need to pay them a quick visit, because your references are just as important to your application as the parts you complete. Just remember that they need time too! Don’t pester or rush your teachers. You want them to write something positive about you, not about your lack of time management skills.
3. Take time to check
After you’ve sent your application over to your College or Sixth Form, it’s easy to assume your application is complete. Be careful though, because this might not be the case.
Make sure you leave enough time for final adjustments.
Spelling mistakes, incorrect grades, and poor grammar might be flagged by your school for you to amend.
Build in some time for corrections to be made – you will avoid that last-minute panic and calmly make the deadline.
4. Money, money, money
Money: the subject we all love to hate. Don’t forget that your UCAS application will need to be paid for.
UCAS charge an application fee. If you’re applying alone this can be paid online, or your school or college may ask for your payment so they can supply UCAS with one lump sum. However you chose to pay, make sure you factor the cash into your budget; you don’t want to miss your deadline over the cost of a meal out with your mates!
5. Technology glitch
When deadlines loom, it’s easy to forget that technology isn’t always on your side. With thousands of students all cramming to get their applications sent over to meet the same deadline, the worst could happen – internet issues.
Make sure you allow yourself time for eventualities such as this.
Submit your application in advance of the deadline, or send it over in a place that you know has a stable internet connection.
Do anything you can to prevent you from staring blankly at a loading screen with ten minutes to go before the cutoff point.
The whole application process can seem intimidating. Ideally you’ll be prepared well in advance and avoid that last-minute rush. But if not, try not to panic. It will all come together if you follow the advice above. It’s probably just a case of sitting down and getting stuck in. UCAS have produced this handy checklist so you can double check you haven't missed anything. Once it’s submitted, reward yourself – after all, you’ve made the next step on the path to an exciting new adventure.
Writing personal statements
Your UCAS personal statement is your chance to show universities why you deserve a place on their course. It’s also your opportunity to stand out against other candidates with similar grades. We’ve put together this list of things to avoid when writing your personal statement, to help you get a place on the course you really want.
Don’t use quotes
The clue is in the title; the personal statement should be all about you. A quote doesn’t give you the chance to show why you should be given a place on the course and can use up a significant proportion of your 4,000 characters.
"Don’t mention particular university names in your personal statement. Make us believe we are your top choice"
Don’t use clichés
Hundreds of personal statements include lines like ‘since I was a child’ and ‘I’ve always been fascinated by’. If there was a particular event or moment in time which sparked your interest for your subject, talk about that instead. Make sure you mention concrete examples, not your wishes and dreams. Not only does it make your personal statement more individual to you, it will also give you something to talk about if you get called to interview.
"Use concrete examples to back up statements and facts"
UCAS will run your personal statement through plagiarism software so don’t be tempted to copy and paste anything off the internet! Never lie about anything on your personal statement - don’t say you’ve read a book when you’ve only read a chapter. If you are invited for an interview, your personal statement will shape the discussion, so don’t get caught out.
"Don’t write anything you’re not prepared to expand on at interview"
Don’t forget your personal interests
The most important part of your personal statement is where you talk about the subject you are applying for and why you want to study it, but your non-academic hobbies and interests come a close second. Admissions tutors want to see what you’re like as a person, so use your hobbies and interests to show examples of your skills. If you’re a member of a sports team you could use this to highlight your team-working and communication skills.
Don’t write a generic statement
For the best chance of being offered a place, you need to tailor your personal statement to the skills and qualities universities are looking for. Look at university prospectuses and websites to see how they describe the course and the way it is taught. Make sure you address these skills and qualities in your personal statement.
When you write your personal statement, you should always use the ‘so what?’ rule. Make sure every point you make clearly explains why you should be given a place on the course, and if it doesn’t, delete it.
"Don’t be modest, say how good you are"
Don’t be afraid to stand out
Admissions tutors are looking for evidence that you have a passion for your subject beyond your A-Level studies. In order to stand out from the hundreds of other applications, you need to think about what you have done, and how this is relevant to the subject you’re applying for. What makes you unique? For example, nearly everyone applying for Economics will probably say they read The Economist and The Financial Times – what do you do that is different?
Don’t over think it
For most people, the hardest parts of writing a personal statement are the opening and closing sentences. You need to make it clear from the beginning why you want to study your chosen course. A good way to do this is by opening with something interesting, unusual or surprising. It can be stressful trying to come up with the perfect opening sentence, but don’t worry about it too much; it will suddenly just hit you.
"Get someone else to check your personal statement, but make sure any changes still reflect you."
Make sure your get someone to check what you’ve written! If our Admissions team could give you one piece of advice, it’s to get someone else to sense check your personal statement. Ask a teacher, your friend or a parent to read it through. Or better still, someone else’s parent who doesn’t know you as well – they might not know what you want to study or your aspirations for the future, but should after reading it.
Extended project qualifications
Do you want your UCAS application to stand out? Are you looking for a way to boost your grades? Or maybe you want a head start on useful skills that’ll help you through uni? An Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) could be just the thing for you.
What is an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ)?
An EPQ is a qualification awarded to students who complete a particular type of research project, about a subject they’re really interested in. It gives students a chance to show they can manage independent research and project management, which looks pretty impressive to universities and employers!
In one recent year, over 33,000 students signed up to do an EPQ, in lots of different subject areas. The project can take around 120 hours to complete, and could be worth half an A level (up to 70 UCAS points), depending on your final grade. An EPQ can be completed during the summer holidays, so it doesn’t have to mess up your study schedule.
Benefits of Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs)
More and more universities and employers are recognising EPQs when assessing applications, so it can boost your chances of getting to where you want to be.
It helps develop skills like Critical thinking, Problem-solving, Presentation, and Creativity, which are all really useful not only for university studies, but also for the world of work.
It gives you the chance to explore your passions, and become an expert in something that really interests you – this could potentially be something you’ve never had the chance to formally study.
It increases your confidence, knowing your hard work has resulted in an extra qualification, expert knowledge, and skills and experience that you might not have otherwise had.
It gives you something unique to talk about in interviews, which can be very handy if you’re running out of things to say! If it’s related to the uni course you’re applying for, even better.
It could widen your options for funding – UEA’s Bright Spark Scholarship requires students to hold a research project qualification, such as an EPQ.
What does an EPQ involve?
You’ll need to pick a specific topic that you want to investigate, and then either write a report about it (of around 5000 words), or produce a ‘product’ (such as a website or musical recording) and a shorter report. After that you’ll be asked to round everything up into a short presentation to a group of people who are not specialists in your subject.
During the project you’ll be demonstrating your ability to search for information, plan a project, write academically, think critically, build and support arguments, and record and reflect critically on your progress. These are all skills you’ll need to use at university, so getting a head start could be a blessing in disguise!
Help with EPQs
You’ll have a project supervisor (usually a teacher) who will help you through the process, and you may even have access to other educational resources locally.
Getting started with EPQs
Speak to your college or school in the first instance, as you’ll need their support to do an EPQ - they can help you decide whether it's right for you, and where to start. Some schools may not yet have a formal process for supporting EPQs, but don't worry if this is the case, as universities recognise that not everyone has the option of completing an EPQ.
If you really want to explore a particular subject, or you enjoy developing your skills and knowledge, give it a go, and good luck!