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!?


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!

Returning to awesome: 7 things to do after lower A-level results

Okay, it’s A-level results day. If you, or anyone you know, is holding on to grades that weren’t the ones you’d hoped for, read this.

Your life IS NOT shaped by your results. YOU go way beyond a few exam grades.

What makes you awesome isn’t about a particular institution, degree, or career. Those things don’t matter as much as you might think.

Your awesomeness is about what you do. Everything you do. And who you are.

You are the big picture. While your experiences are parts of you, they don’t define you, they only help build a definition of you in pieces. For every situation that makes you want to crawl under a rock, there are many others that will pick you back up and make your big picture more amazing than ever.

In short, you can still make things happen if you want it. Lower A-level results aren’t a fail. You may have failed to secure a firm offer to the degree you wanted, but that doesn’t mean you fail. Or, put another way, failure is fine. It means you work on what’s next for your big picture.

Stuff like this can make you feel deflated. But don’t let it make you give up. Start with some of the following:

Have a cuppa and stay calm. Oh, and a doughnut too. Nom.

1. Take stock and stay calm

Yes, it’s time to pick yourself up, but have a cup of tea first. Have a few cups of tea. Basically, let it go for a moment. Nobody expects you to jump up fighting straight after a shock. So relax. As hard as that sounds, try.
It is not the end of the world. If anyone acts like it is, they are wrong. Hope is not lost.
Imagine how it feels when you’re really dizzy. Your balance is thrown around at first, but you gradually improve. Give yourself time to feel a bit less dizzy.

2. Consider clearing options

Although some unis say they have no clearing places, that’s no reason to ignore what is available. Check my previous posts on clearing to make sure you are prepared:

Other clearing tips online today:

3. Only accept a place through clearing if you really want it and you think it’ll suit you

Just grabbing at places because you’re desperate to go to uni is a dangerous move. If you really are that keen to be in a uni, ANY uni, it’s better to find places that will guarantee you a place next year based on the grades you have. Then plan ahead for the year ahead.
Yes, even though tuition fees go up next year. Fees are more annoying than dangerous.

4. Consider your other options

We’re all thrown curveballs from time to time. You certainly won’t be alone in this situation. There are other routes into uni. And you may even decide not to bother with university at all. Correct, that IS an option. Seriously. A good place to start in checking out other options is

The Independent has information on distance learning options.

Also check out Ross Renton’s tips on what do you do if you don’t get a place at University.

5. Find support from understanding friends and family

Don’t go through this alone. And if it is too tough to speak to those you know, seek online forums of support. There will be a lot of people going through similar circumstances over at The Student Room, for instance.

UCAS also has an Exam Results Helpline, with people on hand to discuss your future options. Give them a call on 0808 100 8000. UCAS say, “Whether it’s questions about continuing into further or higher education, or pursuing different routes such as vocational learning routes, taking a gap year or finding employment, advisers are on-hand to offer free, expert and independent information and advice”.

6. Work on Plan B, even when you don’t have one

University and College Union says that tens of thousands of students who don’t get a uni place this year are “unlikely to have a plan B“.

So make one. Now you’ve considered your options, make a focused plan. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but it does need to be taken seriously.
Why? Because now is not the time to despair and grab at the first thing to fall into your reach.
Give it proper thought. Ask yourself some questions. What were you going to university for? How else can you get to where you want to be? Who or what can help you in your quest? Do you have any particular career or pathway in mind?
If you can’t answer all your questions, do some more research. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice as you do it. Nobody would be able to do as much as they do without other people.

7. Believe in yourself

It’s not always easy to pick yourself up after a fall. But don’t be hard on yourself. What’s done is done. If you did your best, there is nothing to worry about. You can shine brighter in other ways. If you know in your heart of hearts that you could have upped the effort, let this be Day One of making the effort you know you can give.

Good luck to you and may you have an amazing future.

Straight A and still not OK

3,500 straight-A students failed to secure a place at university last year.

This year, despite a new A* (A-star) grade, a similar problem is occurring.

photo by mugley

photo by mugley

With 3 A* and 1 A, Amber Fox thought she would find a place to study Medicine.  However, none of the universities she applied to offered her a place.  Fast forward to clearing and there were no places to be had in her chosen field.

Consider this story for a moment.  Amber achieves impressive A-level results, she has identified a career path she would like to follow, and that career requires education beyond A-levels.  The natural course of action is, therefore, university.

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, says that university should not be the only route to success.  A valid point.  He also states that the application process to university is a competitive one and not all applicants will be successful.

Unfortunately, competition for a place at university is an increasingly random process.  When someone with top grades is denied a place and cannot follow their chosen career without a degree, something is wrong.

Willetts explains the possibility of Further Education in order to work toward a degree.  But even this appears to be a false trail at the moment.  FE principal, John Widdowson, told the BBC that student numbers are similarly capped at colleges:

“It goes against the grain to be turning away well-qualified, enthusiastic students and say ‘I’m sorry, we haven’t got a place for you’.” [Source]

I wish Amber the best of luck in reapplying to universities next year, which is her aim.  Amber is not alone.  Willetts is aware that many straight-A students are falling out the system and that further understanding is required to improve the situation.  It remains to be seen what action is taken on this front.

The application process clearly can’t keep up with other changes.  To rely on personal statements and minor quibbles to sort out potential offers is unreasonable.  I feel uncomfortable when so much hinges upon so little, negating all the effort that came before.  Yet this is what it ultimately boils down to.

Admissions teams are not to blame here.  Popular, heavily fought courses are bound to be oversubscribed.  Despite the A* grade, admissions officers still find difficulty in choosing who to take on.

In following years, as top students reapply, they deny the next set of potential students.  And the cycle continues.

So what can make the system more reasonable?  Some argue that places should be offered after exam results are known, not before.  Others say the artificial cap on university places should be lifted.  There are many options, no absolute right answer, but plenty of room for improvement.

In a competitive field such as Medicine, I doubt all top students would find success even if more places were offered and those offers came after A-level results were released.  However, the situation wouldn’t feel as skewed as it is now.

In years gone by, a story like Amber’s would be shocking due to its unusual nature.  Now it’s shocking because so many young people must suffer in the same way.

For more on this story, Radio 4’s “The Report” is available to listen to for a week.

Past, Present, Future: Does Change Bring Change?

How ready and engaged are students when they enter higher education? A Professor had this to say about students going to university:

“Speaking generally, during the last thirty years the schools of England have been sending up to the universities a disheartened crowd of young folk, inoculated against any outbreak of intellectual zeal.”

Do you think there’s some truth in this?

What if I told you the Professor, A. N. Whitehead, made this suggestion in the year 1932?

It’s easy to look to the past and believe much of the situation in higher education was different then.  Of course, it WAS different.  But as you imagine a time when going to university was nothing like as widespread and accessible as it is now, it’s hard to picture a lack of ‘intellectual zeal’ among such a small selective grouping.

Perhaps it was just the wrong selective grouping.

Whatever the case, I found the above quote in a book from 1962. Nearly 50 years ago. A different era…or so you would think.

photo by Squirmelia

photo by Squirmelia

The book, ‘Educating the Intelligent’ by Michael Hutchinson and Christopher Young, has a great chapter on university education.  I came across much detail that holds relevance with the current situation for HE.

Take this example:

“It is now clear that we need a massive expansion in the numbers receiving university education in this country, coupled with a re-thinking of the content of university education itself.”

Expansion and widening participation have been a big part of HE over the years.  Now, through decisions being made by the coalition government, we face further change to the content and layout of university education.  How it will play out, nobody really knows.  But it’s clear that 50 years after ‘Educating the Intelligent’ was published, we are still re-thinking the format.  This re-thinking is necessary as the world and our needs change.  But it’s just as much a hindrance as it is a help.

Other issues under discussion suggest we still haven’t found answers to certain problems.  One such problem is that of making students ready for the workplace once they graduate.  Should this be a core purpose or requirement of university education?  Should it at least be on offer to those who want it?  Another excerpt:

“The job which a child will start on today may have ceased to exist when he retires from work in the next century.  The processes and machines with which he will be working at the time of his retirement may not yet have been put on the drawing-board…His training, and in particular his mental attitude to his work, will therefore need to be entirely different from the attitudes which still largely prevail today and which are based upon a previous industrial age when a man, trained in one mechanical skill, would spend a lifetime practising that one skill.  ‘Clearly,’ as the Crowther Report says, ‘the first quality that is needed to cope with such a world is adaptability.'”

Many business leaders and graduates themselves still question abilities to cope with adapting.  Times Higher Education recently reported on a wave of new degrees being created for business and enterprise.  The idea is that universities help students achieve deeper critical and analytical understanding to complement specific skills.  Professor Chris Kemp of Bucks New University explains:

“Most people who come from industry already have the practical skills but what they need is the theoretical skills. This is about education. This isn’t training, it’s an academic underpinning to the experiential learning they already have.”

So, we’re still re-thinking university education and we’re still working out adaptability and the link between education and the workplace.  What else?  Okay, one last thing.

Here’s what ‘Educating the Intelligent’ has to say about getting a place to study at a university without vast quantities of stress and complication:

“The concept of the sixth form will be ruined if the present anxiety about getting a place at the university is not allayed.  If these boys and girls are to arrive at the university full of imaginative intellectual energy, sixth-form education must not take place in an atmosphere of worry and fear about the future.

“The only way to prevent such anxiety is to establish a fair standard of academic achievement and make it quite plain that on reaching this standard a sixth-former will have qualified for a university place.  This is the maximum amount of worry that it is reasonable to impose on the sixth-former.  In plain terms this means that a child of eighteen will know that, provided he reaches the necessary examination standard, he will be guaranteed a place in a university.  His job will be to reach the required standard; it will be our job to arrange for his selection to a particular university.”

There is a very real problem with available places at university.  Anxiety among prospective uni students has not disappeared, especially now.  A surge in applications could lead to 200,000 people left without a place.  With so few places set to be available through the clearing system, even students with high grades and ‘intellectual zeal’ could find no place available to them in the coming academic year.

Despite qualifying in terms of required grades, there will be no guarantee of a place at the end of the road.  There are other options, but this will not take away the sting that some students receive in the next few weeks.

Higher education has changed so much that it is difficult to compare with university in the 1930s and 1960s.  Even the 1980s and 1990s were a long time ago with the amount of change that has taken place.

Despite all the change, plenty of what was said decades ago can still be associated with.

Which makes you wonder…How much change does change really bring?