Pre-Uni / Applications

How to Make the Most of an Unconditional Offer

Unconditional offers of a university place are controversial. They seem like a good thing, but critics are concerned:

  • Pupils firmly accepting a place may not bother with their A-levels after that;
  • A change of heart can be hard to deal with once you’re committed to a place. You’ve locked in.

Get your head around those two issues and there’s not much to lose.

Unconditional Offers

In 2012, nearly 92% of predicted grades were accurate to within one grade. Half the predictions were not correct, but still not too far off. Given that, an unconditional offer based on predicted grades is still statistically worth a punt for universities.

When you’re lucky enough to get an unconditional offer, how do you make the best decision for you?

  1. Only make a firm acceptance if you truly want to go to that university – If you choose to lock in to a course and you end up getting the grades needed for a place you would have preferred, you may regret accepting an unconditional offer. Some universities may let you back out, but that would take time and you may end up missing out on what you wanted anyway. Only commit to an unconditional offer if your mind is completely made up.
  2. Don’t write off the A-levels – You may be tempted to relax if you know the place is guaranteed. That’s all the more reason to enjoy your A-levels and see where they take you. And a CV with very poor A-level grades will make you look less capable than you really are. Relax so you can do your best, not so you can stop bothering.
  3. Make sure you know what’s being asked of you – Unconditional offers often stipulate that the offer only stands if you make the university your firm choice. On rare occasions, you will be allowed to make your insurance choice an unconditional place. See what you can do and choose accordingly.
  4. Plan ahead with lots of time and ease – Once you accept an unconditional offer, your place is guaranteed. Set aside 15-30 minutes a week to find out more about the university, the area, the accommodation, the activities, the subject, the initial reading, and everything you can think of that you want to know. Read up, research and prepare now so you don’t have to do it later. When you hit campus, you’ll have more exciting things to enjoy.
  5. Remember the life-skills! – The more time you have to learn about laundry, cooking, cleaning and tidying, money-management, and organising your time, the better. They may be chores now, but that’s better than learning to do it all when you’ve got other stuff on your mind. As a bonus, your new uni mates will be amazed at your superhero abilities to do everything like a natural. Just so long as they don’t start asking you to do all their washing for them…

If you’re serious about preparing for your degree, make sure you check out the blog archives. And don’t forget to sign up to my TUBthump mailing list, starting soon!

UCAS Statistics and Looking Cautiously Ahead

UCAS has released statistics for the number of university applicants so far this year. The numbers for the November comparison point show a 4% drop in UK applicants compared to last year. Applicant totals so far are closer to 2010 figures.

However, the 2010 figures for UK applicants increased by 340% between the November comparison point and the January deadline. Compare that with a 300% increase in 2011, 250% in 2012, and 300% in 2013. As we are regularly reminded, information provided in the interim should not suggest any specific course of events. Early figures of this type rarely provide an idea of the final outcome.

We can't see the future, but that doesn't mean we should wait until it's happened.

We can’t see the future, but that doesn’t mean we should wait until it’s happened.

Chief executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, explained that direct comparisons cannot be made as this year’s figures have been taken on a different date. Dandridge also recognised that applicants are increasingly using the whole time available up to the January deadline, rather than applying straight away.

So while nothing is set in stone, these statistics offer us a guide to possible scenarios that could play out.

Is this year’s drop partially down to potential applicants (and their parents, carers, etc.) giving greater consideration to their decisions from the outset? And will their caution result in a big surge toward the end or a clear dip?

Much of this depends not so much on tuition fee worries, but on viable and comparable alternatives to higher education. I don’t feel we have yet reached a point where large numbers of school leavers are realistically considering many different routes. New ideas are brewing, but university is still a big driver and still seen by many as ‘what you do’. How long will this attitude last?

The 2011 White Paper said it was time for students to vote with their feet:

We want a diverse, competitive system that can offer different types of higher education so that students can choose freely between a wide range of providers.” – p.47, Students at the Heart of the System, 2011.

It assumes that people will choose the best university for them. But what if people instead choose no university at all?

The thing about feet is that there’s more than one way to vote with them.

[Update: Nick Entwistle pointed out that the 4% drop is roughly in line with population figures for 18 year olds. As numbers in that demographic are currently on a decline, that makes sense. It's another important factor to consider and I forgot to mention that, so thanks Nick!]

Put Your Subject Before Your Grades (and How to Do It the Right Way)

When Clearing got underway for another year, the Telegraph reported that rising tuition fees had caused a sharp increase in demand for ‘jobs-based’ degrees.

This kind of story is becoming more commonplace. Students taking up vocational degrees and job-related learning rather than studying more ‘traditional’ subjects.

Vocation (photo by Ninth Raven)

Photo by Ninth Raven – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The key passage comes at the end of the article:

“But Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the shift in applications may be ‘short-sighted’.

“‘Fees are causing students to think a lot more seriously about the part that going to university is going to play in their future lives and whether they will get a good return for their investment,’ he said.

“‘But it is a little bit short-sighted to simply concentrate on a career above all else at the age of 18. Studying a subject you love, such as the humanities or English literature, will enhance your life and could throw up future employment opportunities that you’re not yet aware of.'”

If fees and the future are making such an impact, how much does subject matter in the long run? Students risk moving away from a subject they enjoy just because it doesn’t visibly link up with a certain career.

Interests and Passions

Research from YouthSight suggests that students still pick subjects based on their interests. However, I wonder how those interests are defined now. What compromise is made when choosing a subject?

The YouthSight data also suggests that business students are far less likely to be studying due to a love for the subject. This is a concern. Why would you choose to study something you weren’t that keen on learning about?

Perhaps it’s expected of you. Perhaps you like the salary prospects. Perhaps your friends are doing it.

These aren’t reasons for choosing a degree or a subsequent career. Same for following a passion. You need to put in work that you’re not so keen on to allow the passion to come to fruition. And passion is overrated anyway. The situation is far more compicated. Don’t take my word for it, check out Cal Newport’s extensive back catalogue of posts on the subject. Here’s a selection to get you started:

Regardless of where you stand on passion, and whether or not you claim to have found yours, now could be the worst time to shy away from a course you want to do.

Fees force a rethink, but that doesn’t always mean you end up seeing things differently. Imagine having to put in some unenjoyable work for a subject you really like. Annoying, but usually manageable. Now imagine doing the unenjoyable work for a subject you were never that keen on in the first place. Double whammy. There’s no motivation to get you motivated.

And the reward in the distant future is still based on that vocational subject you’re already not that keen on. If that’s not being set up for a fall, I don’t know what is.

Do you make the choice or is the choice made for you?

A recent study of humanities graduates at Oxford between 1960 and 1989 found that degree subject was not a barrier to most careers. This study only covers Oxford (one university is hardly indicative of the entire HE sector) and doesn’t take into account almost a quarter of a century of growing student numbers since 1989. Nevertheless, the report provides a hint that what you study doesn’t need to be linked to a direct career path. Choosing History doesn’t penalise you from a wide range of jobs, for instance.

Does a more ‘traditional’ course hold less weight than it used to? Are we stuck with making a choice between a degree that will get you a job and a degree that will get you enthused?

I doubt it. Learning and discovery comes more naturally when you appreciate your course. You have room to find out what makes you tick. Studying won’t feel so forced.

In other words, you gear yourself up for a fall when you’re only on a course for what takes place after you graduate.

Your attitude matters. Although it sounds wrong, the course is more important than the grade. It sounds wrong because we generally focus on what an employer wants to see. In reality, you need to focus more on yourself. Who is this mythical employer in your mind?

Study a subject you respect and enjoy. I know that’s far too simplistic, but so is slogging through a course in the hope that it’ll be worth it for the massive wodge of cash or better prospects at the end. It’s a false trail, because you’re concentrating more on the content than your own ability.

So when I say the course is more important than the grade, it’s based on your choice and focus on developing your abilities. From my perspective, that’s all the more reason to choose a degree that you want to spend three or more years of your life poring over.

In my next post, I’ll look at ways you can focus on your career no matter what you’re studying.

You’ve Got a Place at Uni. Now What?

It’s that time of year again. The wait is over and A-Level results are in. Screams of both joy and despair ringing out across the land.

Most years, I offer up advice on what to do when things don’t go according to plan:

This year, I want to look at what happens when you get the results you need. Hurrah! You’re set to accept an offer and all that’s in between you and a university is a wait between now and September. Maybe even October.

If you’re lucky, the wait is over in a flash. But it can drag on too. Let’s get things going already, can’t we!?

Sitting

Take Control of Your Time

You may not be able to magically transport to uni any earlier, but there are loads of things you can do to prepare. And the more prepared you are, the more time you’ll have to enjoy yourself when you do get to uni.

Now, unless you’re REALLY impatient, you won’t want to throw yourself into study preparation straight away. The good news is that it only takes a small head start to take you a long way. A little bit now could mean a lot of time and bother saved in the long run. If you’re reading this and you love to plan ahead and be in control, I’ve got some tips for you.

Trust me, you won’t be in complete control. What comes next is new. You can’t take ultimate control of something you haven’t experienced before. Luckily, that’s part of the challenge and often ends up being key to learning new things and enjoying the process.

That’s more reason why it’s great to get as much out of the way as possible. Don’t wait until you hit campus if you can do it now. There will be plenty to do by the time you’ve moved in. You’ll be thankful you dealt with what you could when you had the spare time!

Prepare For University

Read what the university send you in the post and via email.
It’s tempting to gloss over half of the gumph you’re sent, but don’t. Awareness is crucial, even if you don’t end up needing a lot of the information. Everything you do need is better handled when you’re clued up.

Read my free ebooks.
TheUniversityBlog has two free ebooks that have helped Freshers over the last few years. Fresher Success sets you up before you start uni and has more than 90 tips from previous Freshers who have been through it all before. Live Life, Study Hard helps you prepare for academic work and explains things like why first year DOES count. Download them right now.

Check out reading lists, but don’t buy all the books or go too crazy.
Core reading (if any) and one or two basic textbooks is more than enough to get you started.
My most helpful reading before the academic year started consisted of two textbooks on the first reading list I was sent. Those textbooks were cheap compared to most of the books on the reading list and I ended up making great use of them before and after I started the year.

Look online for the basics.
For many degrees, you’ll get a good grasp from some online reading. Try to work out what interests you from first impressions of the wider topics you’ll be exploring.
And don’t panic if none of it makes much sense. You’re only taking a look. You’re not expected to know it all when you arrive. Learning is about discovering new things, not showing off that you already know it!

Find other people online who are going to your uni when you are.
Getting to know new people is becoming easier and easier online. Facebook, Twitter, The Student Room…You have loads of opportunity to contact fellow Freshers long before you meet up with them.

Get to know students who are already there, including your Students’ Union peeps.
Your SU reps are there for you and are usually very happy to hear from you. Say hi and get involved.  A great way to get the lowdown before anyone else!

Make everything a head start, rather than a burden.
If it feels like too much bother, don’t bother! You should be having an enjoyable experience, not a stressful one.

Think about what you want to take AND what you don’t need to take.
Leaving stuff behind and starting fresh can be difficult. If you could move your room as it is to your new room, that would be great.
Truth is, what works now probably won’t work when you get to uni. You’re about to discover a whole new you and you need space to let you in!
After essentials and ‘no matter what’ items, what about the rest? Do you really need to take a TV? Are you sure you can’t live without your entire collection of teddies? Is it wise to bring half a gym’s worth of equipment “just in case”?
Everyone thinks about what they should take, but you should spare a moment for things you don’t actually need.

Getting Ahead

These are just some of the things you can work on before you head off.

My best time saving effort was doing the basic reading. I found out about loads of things I’d never even considered before, which was a good combination of challenging and exciting. Once I’d finished reading what I wanted, I had an idea of what to expect. I didn’t think it would give me more than a slight nudge, but it genuinely helped throw me in the right direction while I could spend time on other things. You know, like having fun and getting stuck in to all the other aspects of uni life on offer.

It’s non-stop. Oh, the places you’ll go!