News and blog

University application advice from Year 13

We want to tell you about UCAS and your upcoming uni journey. We understand that this may not be the first time lots of you are thinking about universities and courses and even your future after that, but for lots of you, you may not have thought much about university until now or you may have other ideas such as apprenticeships and gap years. We are going to tell you about UCAS applications and our experiences that we have had over the past year - what we wish we had known, how your experience may differ from previous years due to Covid and some general information that we think you may find useful to start off your in-depth research.

Differences between a normal uni application year and Covid/lockdown applications

Hopefully this won’t be too much of a problem for all of you, but Covid is lingering around and has definitely had some effects on us. With corona, that's obviously meant that everything has been online, including open days, and whilst it is pretty likely that you will be able to go around in person and visit the unis and cities like normal, there may still be some things online for convenience. Definitely go to these, as they are still useful and you do get lots of information that you may forget to ask in person because there are usually live and Q and As where everyone can ask what they want to.

Plan your trips wisely i.e. look at the unis in similar areas at the same time if you can and if another lockdown does come along *touch wood it doesn’t* then don’t stress because there are plenty of videos and ways to plan uni. All in all don’t stress and don’t let corona affect your choices. The way unis deal with corona can also be a really great way of determining their organisiation and adapting to different circumstances. Whether it is clear or unclear about the rest of this year there are ways of getting around the problems and the unis want to go about it in the best way, so focus on what you can have an impact on and not what you can't change, that's out of your hands.

 How to decide which course to do

Arguably the most important reason why you go to uni is for your course. Deciding which course to pick can seem really daunting. You may be thinking, how do I pick a course that I want to do for 3 or 4 years? How will I know what is interesting? And how will decide that this is the perfect course for my future? First of all, don’t stress - some of you may know, and have known for ages, what course you want to do, while others may know now and actually when you look into it realise it's not for you - and lots may just not have a clue. Something that we realised is that you have a lot more time than you think to do your research for your course and find where and how you want to do it. Remember - the careers advisers at St Mary's are fountains of knowledge, so talking through different options with them might be useful.

Some things to note and look out for when finding your course are:

  • Check that you enjoy the modules on the course - they can differ from uni to uni especially if they are courses where there is a large scope e.g. history, geography, business etc., so check that you like the modules in your chosen unis as some can be perfect and some not so much. This is so important, because you will have to enjoy your course if you are doing it for 3 years, so check that you like the modules in your chosen unis as some can be great and others not so much.
  • How much you can customise your course. This sounds weird because you are going to uni, but some unis have a lot fewer core modules then other meaning you can have lots more optional modules so that you can choose exactly what you want to do.
  • Contacts hours - find out how much of your week is taken up by lectures, seminars and group work and tutor meetings, this is important because once again it massively varies from uni to uni and course to course and you want to make sure that you will be happy with your times and contact hours
  • If you want to do a year in industry or abroad, check that your course has an option for this, most have at least one if you want but definitely check
  • How you are assessed - just like with contact hours, find out how much of your course is essays, exams and coursework and how you feel about this depending on your own preferences.
  • If you are absolutley clueless about what course you want to do look at the a-z of all courses, or websites that let you enter which subjects you do and come up with courses most people do with those subjects.

Whether you are sure or unsure about your course currently, make sure you do lots of research using prospectuses (which are free) and websites to find details you need. Also make sure if you have any plans for the future that your course if it needs to link nicely to those plans, e.g. doctor and medicine. Lots of us have second guessed, and even changed direction of our courses and actual university choices at some point so be open minded and don’t stress if you find out that you actually would rather do something else.

 How to prepare for looking at unis

When it comes to actually looking at the university you want to go there is a vast selection in the UK, but you can also choose to go abroad. When choosing your university there a few things you can do to not only allow yourself to make easy decisions but also to eliminate the stress as much as possible.

  • Work out how far away or how close you want to be to your home and be strict with yourself because if being far away will always be a problem for you cut it off immediately. On the other hand, lots of people like to go far away so that maybe limits closer unis.
  • Order prospectuses off of uni websites. It allows you to compare and get a broad view of different universities, and also it will help you early on find out which you like and want to look around more and which you want to ditch
  • Attend open days - whether they are online or in person, make sure you go look around and get a feel for the place, but also ask questions that you don’t know the answers to, and if you can't, email the admissions team as they want you to go there so use them to your advantage.
  • Similarly, look around the town of that uni, even if it is a campus uni check out where you will be for the next 3 years as you are likely to be living in the city after the first year.
  • Talk to other people who have been to that uni or looked around it and went somewhere else and find out why and why didn’t they choose to go to that uni. Talking to people who are there or were there is the best way to find out a genuine truthful overview.

Our individual experiences

We have collected some of our own experience and have some tips about what we would have liked to know and also some things to avoid. 

  • Look at vlogs on YouTube from people who are studying at the unis. Whilst the uni YouTube channels can be really helpful and definitely look to see if your one has a YouTube account, the student ones can be more truthful and less formal. 
  • If you are considering medicine or law, make sure you think through the BMAT, UCAT and LNAT unis thoroughly before applying, and also see if your uni requires these tests as some degrees don’t require them all. 
  • Try organising your notes on how you found each open day, so you don’t forget later on - either in notes, or try putting it into an excel table/spreadsheet. 
  • Have set questions to ask at each uni so you can compare them easily. 
  • Talk to other people who are familiar with the course you are interested in, don’t just look at league tables.