Welcome back to the University Series!
If you’ve not read the first or second University Series blog post which covered “Should I go, Should I not?” and “Writing your personal statement“, then that would be a great starting point to understand the preliminary essence of whether University is right for you or not, and all the added extras which shape your decision!
In this particular blog post, which is a part of the “pre-university” segment, I’m uncovering some things you might not have considered just yet, so continue reading below!
Whatever you’re off to University to study, you need to do some research on the institution, it’s surrounding area, what your course offers (including modules, year abroad, the academic structure) and what Students & Graduates have to say about the University.
It may sound like a lot of admin work, but it’s necessary, so to help with your admin work I’ve broken it all down into subsections below to help you!
RESEARCHING THE INSTITUTION
When I went to University, the idea of going to a non-Russell Group University was totally frowned upon by my family because of the “stigma” associated with going to such Universities. For those who don’t know, Russell Group Universities sit within the top 25 in the UK and are supposed to provide the best academic, cultural and pastoral care. They tend to have top-of-the-line facilities, and specialise within a particular area. As an example, some specialise in Humanities, the Sciences, Economics and so on and so forth.
I went to a Russell Group (University of Southampton) in 2013 and studied there for four years. I achieved a Bachelors Degree in English Literature. On reflection, we had exceptional facilities (keep in mind I don’t have another University to compare it to) and the institution was remarked as “one of the best” for Humanities. It’s currently ranked at 18 on the University League table, which is detailed further on their website.
In hindsight, my Mother didn’t graduate from University and I’m not sure where my biological father went and whether he graduated or not either, which made it an essential that I studied and graduated at a Russell Group University for my family.
My advice to you all is base your decision on the University’s academic performance, which is the most important thing, but also do some research on them outside of this; What is their reputation? What do they provide outside of their academic structure? What is their level of pastoral care like? That last question is SUPER important…
You’re going to experience many things; emotionally, psychologically and physically! Having support from your University is crucial to your development, so at the bottom of this blog post I’ve listed some questions which I would suggest you ask when visiting the Universities on open days, before making your final decision on which University is your preference!
UNDERSTANDING THE SURROUNDING DEMOGRAPHIC
I cannot stress how important this particular topic is. I based the decision on going to University in Southampton off of it’s academic reputation and the fact I had a boyfriend at the time who was studying at a nearby University – girls, do not do this! It’s great knowing someone who’s nearby that you’re familiar with, but if your heart is set on somewhere else, don’t sacrifice opportunities for the sake of familiarity.
The cost of living is extremely important. How much will it cost for you to live in halls in your first year? How much will it cost for you to live independently or in a house share thereafter? These things are important, and the easiest way to find them out is by researching the cost of halls (per term) and doing research on student rentals online through letting agencies, so you can determine how much it will cost you monthly. Luckily where I went to University wasn’t massively expensive and that allowed me to live in a Studio flat during my final year, but with cheap housing prompts the concern of security, which I’ll touch on in an upcoming post in further detail!
If you decide to go to a University in a City which has more than one University, you’ll find that it’s social vibe is constant. It may have a lot of development and a fair amount of pubs, clubs and restaurants. These things are again, important, because you’ll become familiar with the social events that the Universities or the City conduct for all Students. Equally a city which offers two University Institutions, will allow you to develop relationships with other students on various courses, but not necessarily from your own University. Some of my closest friends to this day are those who studied in the same city as I did, but from the other University!
The economic stability of a University city or area is important if you’re a student who’s considering taking on board a part time job whilst studying. I was quite fortunate that throughout my time there I had really stable and flexible part time jobs, which helped to support me with my expenses and disposable income whilst I studied.
ALL ABOUT THE COURSE
Obviously the reason we even go to University in the first place, is because of the course we wish to study and the degree we wish to attain at the end of our course. Some questions to ask yourself before deciding whether or not the University and the course align:
Do I want to study a year abroad, and does the University support that (and where)?
How long is the course?
What modules do they have on offer?
Does your course or degree offer cross-discipline modules?
What career path can I follow with this degree once I graduate?
In your first year you’ll find that some of the modules you study are compulsory. For my degree, the first semester and the first year in general offered compulsory and some optional modules. As you begin to settle into your course, the optional modules you choose will define the direction of your degree. I personally chose modules which aligned with areas I was interested in, for example contemporary British literature, Women’s writing, Children’s writing and African literature.
There were some instances in which I was able to choose modules across other disciplines, such as Criminology and Film. I should be right in thinking that as long as the modules fit within your discipline (i.e Humanities) you should be able to cross into other areas. When you join your course, all of these things will seem so unimportant and you might just be anxious to get onto your course altogether, but understanding the direction of your course is something I would suggest you start looking into at the start of your University journey, so you can get an idea of what academic life will consist of and how much the University and course has to offer you. Most importantly for you to understand though, is what career path you can take with that particular degree once you graduate.
Remember – up until this point you’ve put in the work to show the University what you’re capable of, make sure you use this opportunity to find out what the University can offer you!
UNDERGRADUATE & GRADUATE FEEDBACK
When you’re choosing your University options, you’ll be given the opportunity to visit them on open days. Out of the five that I put down as my choices, I visited two; my preferred option and one that a friend was already studying at. I don’t necessarily think it’s important to visit every single University that you put down on your UCAS list, depending on the research that you’ve done already, but if I were to have Children and they decide they want to go to University, I’d encourage them to visit as many as they could. This will help you to ask open questions to some of the Professors you might meet on the day, but more importantly; the Students.
One thing I was super grateful for, was the honest advice and feedback I received from Students. They gave me the good, the bad and the ugly! Students tend to be the most honest, because they were once exactly like you, making a decision which would shape the most important chapter of their academic life!
I visited the University I studied at with a friend at the time. Both of us were interested in Humanities subjects so it was only right that we went together. I was extremely nervous when I toured the facilities, because at this point I was alone and a part of a massive group of promising students and their parents, but I was equally just as nervous because I didn’t know what questions to ask!
I don’t want anyone who reads this, who’s thinking about going to University, to not know what to ask…so read my checklist below for some questions you could ask. The more you ask, the better prepared you are! Remember, the key to all of this is that you come away knowing more about the University and all it has to offer, which will help to prepare you for this upcoming chapter in your life!
QUESTIONS TO ASK ON YOUR UNIVERSITY VISITS!
– What is the typical size of each tutorial/lecture for this course?
– How is my performance measured? (Essays and/or exams?)
– Will I have the same professors in my lectures as I will for my tutorials?
– Who is the Head of my academic course?
– Will I be assigned a personal tutor? Will I be able to see them weekly or bi-weekly if I’m struggling with my course?
– Will my personal tutor assign time in our diary to catch up in my first semester, or is this something I’ll need to do myself?
– If I’d like to speak to someone about matters outside of my course, who can I speak with and how do I make an appointment?
– Are all of my lectures and tutorials on the same campus, or are they spread out depending on my modules?
– What textbooks will I need, to prepare me for my course, and where can I buy them?
– Am I given any academic material by the University?
– Does the University offer a mentor-ship program and how do I sign up for this?
– During my first few weeks, what can I expect from my lectures and tutorials?
– If I decide that I wish to change an optional module, once started, will I be able to do this?
– How have you found your experience of this University and/or course so far? (Student question)
– How have you found the social and academic balance? (Student question)
– When you first joined, what were the things you wish you knew that you found out later on? (Student question)
– How well supported have you been by your professors and/or other Students? (Student question)
– Do you live in Student accommodation or are you privately renting and which do you prefer? (Student question)
– Where else on campus would you recommend I visit, to get a greater feel for the University?
I know the above information is a lot to take in, however I hope that it’s been helpful, resourceful and I haven’t overwhelmed you with loads of “stuff”!
The following blog post should be out soon and it’s quite an exciting one so keep your eyes peeled!
As always, thank you massively for your support if you’re a returning reader or new to my University Series segment, and as always, let me know your thoughts!