Thursday, 5 September 2013

How to choose a course

There are over 37,000 courses listed in our search tool. Quite a daunting statement if you haven’t made your mind up yet about what you want to apply for, right? It doesn’t have to be though, after all every year there are hundreds of thousands of people in exactly the same situation as you’re in now, and they all manage to choose. So wouldn’t it be great if you could ask how they did it? How they narrowed down 37,000 to five course choices, and then ultimately just one? Well that’s exactly what we did.

We asked those of you on Facebook who already know what you’re going to study, or what you plan to apply for, how you decided that your course was right for you. Thank you to everyone who shared their stories, we had heaps of responses. Reading through them all, I could see that most people chose their course through one of five ways, so here they are in a nutshell.

Some people just know
There’s a group of people out there who, for one reason or other, have always known what they wanted to study. Perhaps they were inspired at a young age by their favourite TV character or by a family member they looked up to. However it came about, they’ve been focussed for as long as they can remember on a particular career, and this is guiding their studies. You might think they’re a lucky bunch, because for them the decision never really had to be made – but spare a thought for those who were inspired by Bananaman...

Start with your heart
Looking at what you enjoy – what makes you tick – is a good way to kick-off your research. If you love writing for example, courses with plenty of written assessments are a good starting point. Moving on to your broader interest, you might be able to find courses that reflect your hobbies and extracurricular activities, as well as subjects you know you’re good at. If you can do this then you’ll probably find writing your personal statement a piece of a cake, as you’ve got heaps of evidence to support why you’re genuinely interested in the course you’re applying for.

Work experience works
Work experience, both paid and unpaid, can help you narrow down what you like doing, and – as importantly – what you don’t. If you’ve already got some experience then think about the tasks involved and also the industry it was in, to determine whether these are areas you can see yourself learning more about. If you haven’t got any work experience, then arranging to work shadow someone in a career you’re interested in is a great opportunity to find out whether you want to study a course which could lead to something similar. Although having your sights set on a job isn’t the only reason you’d choose to go to uni (this video explains lots of other motivations) it’s one that we know is important to some people.

Speak to those in the know
Although no one knows you quite as well as you know yourself, there are other people who can help you choose a course. Current and past teachers can give you insight in to where your strengths lie academically, and therefore what types of course you could be well suited to. If you have a particular career in mind then speak to people who work in that profession already – it’s a great way to find out which courses might help you to pursue it.

No idea? No boundaries!
Sometimes not knowing what you want to study can seem like you’re in the dark, but try to see it instead as having an open mind. Look at as many different avenues as possible, and do as much research as you can. Attending open days and UCAS conventions gives you the chance to find out about lots of different courses, some of which you might never have considered (or heard of). Take the opportunity to speak to staff from universities and colleges on these days – they’ll be able to give you far more information than could possibly be crammed in to a prospectus!

Watch our UCAStv video guide to choosing courses for even more great advice.


Monday, 2 September 2013

Have you checked...?

So you’ve worked away at your UCAS application for weeks, adding fact after fact about yourself. You’ve trawled through GCSE certificates and alike to find the precise details needed for each section, not to mention the hours you’ve spent writing and re-writing your personal statement, only to scrap it all and start again from scratch with a completely different approach.

At last you feel ready to hit send, but don't be too hasty in completing this final step. It’s really important that you check and double check your application, to make sure it’s all tip-top and typo-free. Here’s our checklist of what to look out for:

Have you definitely completed everything? Lots of people think they’re done and dusted with their application, and then they find they can’t click ‘pay/send’. This is usually because one or more of the sections are still in progress. When your application’s ready to go, the checklist on the left-hand side will look like this.

If you’re applying through your school or college, the reference box won’t be displayed. Your tutor will complete it after you send it to them.

Have you included all your qualifications? Remember, you’ve got to add all those you’re taking in the coming year, which includes English proficiency tests, aptitude and admissions tests such as UKCAT and LNAT, as well as A levels (read our blog on how to add these correctly), BTECs and anything else you’re studying for. Make sure all the grades you’ve already got are included and that the dates and results are the same as on your certificates.

Proofread your personal statement! This is where mistakes are most likely to lurk. You might think you’ve read through it hundreds of times, but it always pays to check it again. Tim Wiltshire is Web Editor at UCAS, and with responsibility for everything that’s written on, he knows a thing or two about proofreading. Here are his three top tips:
Tim Wiltshire, Web Editor
"Make sure you have time to 
proofread it a few times. It won’t be nearly as good if you’ve 
forgotten to correct any errors.

When you’re checking through, read it out loud or ask someone else to read it to you. It might seem a weird thing to do, but it makes it much easier to hear bad punctuation, overlong sentences or messy wording.

Then see if you can get your family, teachers or advisers to check it too – they might notice something you’ve missed."

Are your contact details correct? We rely on the information in the personal details section when we send your welcome letter, as well as emails about the status of your application. The universities and colleges will also use it to get in touch with you about interviews, offers and so on, so take a few moments to make sure they’re up-to-date and error-free. If you’re applying independently, remember to check your referee’s contact details too – a wrong phone number or email address here could hold your application up if admissions staff have to get in touch with you to get the correct info.

Have you selected the right course and institution codes in the choices section? It seems simple but make sure this section definitely reflects what you want to apply for. Easy-to-make mistakes include selecting the wrong institution where there are two in a particular town or city, and adding the wrong degree type where there’s a choice, i.e. BA and BSc etc.
Once you’ve been through each section carefully, ask someone you trust to read through it for you too. It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes will spot. And don't forget to send your application before the deadline for your course!