Applying to university

By Tashi Carmicheal

 

  1. Applying procedure

Applying to university can be a daunting but exciting procedure. A new chapter in your life that is very different from college or school. In the UK, all university applications are made through UCAS. This is a website (www.ucas.com) you will become very familiar with during your two years at college/ sixth form.

You can apply to UCAS as an individual (home student), through college/ sixth form or another organisation. You will need to fill in the relevant compulsory questions such as Personal details, Choices, Education and Employment. Information on how to do this is given on the UCAS website and your college/ school should give you some information and help too. UCAS will allow you to choose up to 5 universities to apply to in rank order with the exception of medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences with 4 choices being allowed with their 5th being a non-competitive course option. You can also apply to either Oxford or Cambridge but not both Universities through UCAS. Other universities you have applied to will not be aware of your choices or what your rank order is. After filling in these choices a Personal statement is needed to summarise you as a person and your desired subject in about 4000 characters. This is not a lot and you have to ensure your statement will stand out from others (more on personal statement is covered later.) A reference from your college/ sixth form is also required by UCAS which University staff will look at so make sure you’re hard working and generally well behaved! There is a fee normally costing around £24 payable with a credit or debit card.

Finally after all these sections are completed along with any student finance if its required, (www.studentfinance.direct.gov.uk)  you will need to send this off first to your head of college/ sixth form and then to universities. All competetive courses and Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge Universities) will have an earlier deadline for your personal statement around mid-October time whereas other courses will have a mid-January deadline instead. Some Art courses will have a longer deadline till the end of March. However it’s important to remember that the earlier you apply to university it will allow more time for application staff at universities to take a closer look at your personal statement.

You will then hear back from your universities with conditional offers or hopefully not many rejections. Once you have received all your offers/ rejection you can then ‘firm’ your University choice and make an ‘Insurance choice’ in case the required grades aren’t met.

 

Remember to pray to Allah Almighty about your University options and your results as well as writing letters to beloved Huzur (aba) for his blessings and prayers.

  1. Things to consider when applying (distance/ accommodation etc)

Often during the 1st year of college/ sixth form many students go to visit universities they are interested in to get a feel of the place and the chosen course they want to study. It is really important to pick a University that you like and can imagine yourself at as you’ll be spending three if not more years of your life there! A lot of time should be spent thinking about university options and the specific course – how students are taught (lecture based or problem based learning) and examined at each university.

One very important aspect to consider is whether you want to study close to home and commute or live out in halls at a university away from home. Both have pros and cons but it’s a decision you have to make with your parents and remembering your sanctity as an Ahmadi Muslim student.

University close to home University away from home
Have extra support from home More chances to make new friends
Don’t have to pay for food/ accommodation (less money) Learn independence by cooking/ cleaning for yourself
Won’t get homesick Live close to campus, less commuting
Cost of commuting to/ from uni (often much less than accommodation!) Need to be able to resist social pressures
Can be afraid of missing out meeting friends (but long-term friends tend to be the ones on your course who you will meet in lectures etc anyway!) Can get homesick as well as distant from Jama’at activities if you don’t stay in touch!

 

At university you have the chance to meet lots of new people all from different walks of life. If you are choosing to stay at home for university it is important to make sure you don’t feel left out of university life by joining clubs and societies that interest you. Likewise living in halls you must remember the social pressures and ensure you make the right sort of friends as they will become your close family when you’re away from your own family.

Choosing accommodation is important if living away from home- you need to choose halls you like as you’ll be living there for the year! Speak to your university early about organising female only accommodation. Accommodation is usually chosen after you have set your firm and insurance universities around May/ June time. Choose something you can afford and think if you would like an ensuite or to be catered for. Find out other amenities of the halls you’re considering such as if it has a communal room, how many rooms in one flat, what kitchen utensils are provided etc.

  1. Advice on writing a Personal Statement

A personal statement should be unique to you and reflect you as a person. University staff will go through thousands of personal statements each year so it’s important to make sure yours stands out.

Depending on which subject you’d like to study at university this will determine the structure and content of your personal statement. But usually 50% is spent on your chosen course and why you’d like to study this course while the other 50% on work experience, yourself and your interests. It can be very hard starting or knowing what to include in a personal statement so make sure you read previous personal statements of students who have applied for the same course as you as well as finding out what universities you have applied to are looking for in a prospective student. Check out the example personal statements on our webpage.

An example structure is

  • Introduction
  • Why I am interested in this subject
  • The work experience I have done to get to know the subject better
  • Academic extracurricular activities (e.g. attending lectures, reading magazines on the subject etc)
  • General extracurricular activities (e.g. Duke of Edinburgh, charity work, tuotirng etc) – something to show your not just a book worm!

When describing your chosen subject and explaining why you’d like to study it mention relevant articles, books you have read that have helped you to choose this subject or which career path you intend to go down after this degree. Explain why you’d be good at this course (your skills) and what interests you about it. When discussing yourself, mention roles of responsibility and what you have learned from it; any sports that have involved teamwork; what you have gained from reading articles/work experience/ books etc.

There are lots of websites relevant to writing personal statements such as:

Just remember to be concise, honest and not repeat yourself in your personal statement to ensure you use your 47 lines effectively. Think of a powerful opening and ending sentence to make sure your personal statement will be noticed by the university staff.

 

Personal statement guidelines for preparing your own statement

Paragraph 1 – introduction to you and your choice of course “Having thoroughly enjoyed the academic study of ‘A’ Level Economics and Mathematics, I have chosen a degree that will enable me to pursue my interest in Economics to a greater depth. Attending a specialist Economics conference in London broadened my knowledge of the subject and this should prove useful during my Economics degree”
Paragraph 2 – your work experience “Work experience as a clerical assistant in a busy office enabled me to develop a number of skills. Working in a small team ensured that I was able to listen carefully to others and work co-operatively with a variety of different people. In addition, at certain times I had to work independently which allowed me to use my own initiative. Such skills will prove extremely useful on my Business Studies course”
Paragraph 3 – experiences in school “Being nominated as a tutor group representative in the sixth form provided me with the opportunity to represent others in a responsible and fair manner. I had to extend my communication skills by speaking and listening to as lager group. This experience should enable me to communicate effectively in an academic environment whilst at University. In addition I have been involved in a number of drama productions as a technical assistant, working as part of a team and ensuring that stage management kept to deadlines. Further responsibility has been gained from being in a team that helped to raise money for Oxfam. I intend to seize the opportunity to take an active part in a wide variety of cultural and social events during my time at university”
Paragraph 4 – interests out-side school “Travelling abroad to a variety of locations including Spain and India has broadened my perspective on life. I enjoy meeting a wide range of people and learning about different cultures and traditions. In addition, I thoroughly enjoy going to the theatre both in the West End, seeing productions such as “Miss Saigon”, as well as going to the local dramatic productions such as “Macbeth”. I hope to make full use of the cultural activities at university especially the amateur dramatic society.”
Example 5 – sporting involvement “As a regular member of the school hockey team I am keen to pursue this interest at university. I played centre forward in the squad that won the 2002 county trophy. Team sports such as netball and volleyball are also favourites of mine. I believe that I have developed a number of abilities through playing sport; being part of a team, listening and learning from others, and helping others in a supportive way. These have helped me develop skills which I can be applied to a number of areas, such as the management of people.”
Example 6 – Conclusion “My varied interests have broadened my general knowledge, but also allowed me to co-operate with and learn from a variety of different people, which will be particularly useful for my course for university”

 

  1. Admission Tests

Some courses and Universities will require an entrance test such a Medicine (UKCAT/ BMAT), Law (LNAT) and Oxbridge (ELAT, TSA, MAT, MLAT, HAT etc.) Some of these entrance exams will require you to apply for them yourself where it’s important to apply early to get a good choice of test centre and date.

There are specific books and the Universities’ own website will help you understand what each entrance test involves and how exactly to prepare for it.

  1. Interview

Some courses and Universities will ask to interview applicants to assess your personality, motivation, communication skills knowledge and if they can see you as a prospective student at their university. Make sure you dress smartly to give a good impression and be yourself. Interviews can be daunting and it’s important to be confident and not let nerves get in the way. Active listening is the key in being successful at interviews so don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat the question or give yourself time to think of a suitable answer. They will be assessing your ability to think on your feet and answer unusual or difficult questions. Think of the obvious questions like ‘why do you want to study…?’ ‘Why do you deserve a place at ….?’ And other questions related to your personal statement that they could ask.

Could you answer these (more peculiar) questions?

  • What was the last mistake you made and what did you learn from it?
  • Imagine I have just given you a house brick- tell me how many things you could do with
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • If I gave you £1000 now what would you do with it?
  • In the course of everyday work you may have many difficult people to work with, what sort of difficulties does this cause and how do you cope with them?

 

  1. Results day/ clearing

Results day is often around late August time for A-level students and clearing will open on the same day. UCAS track as well as your institution will be open for you to receive your results. If you get the results required well done you have your firmed place! If you narrowly missed out check your UCAS track as your firm may still have accepted you but if not you will have your insurance place. For those students where results day unfortunately does not go to plan do not worry, clearing is available for students to find places at universities for different courses. There is often a good range of subjects and different universities to pick from where you can ring them up after you’ve got your results to ask for a place. Alternatively you can take a gap year to enhance your application and reapply the following year at your own ease for a course where your grades fulfil the requirements.

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