Tag Archives: UK univiersity

A MONTH OF SUMMER LEFT TO BUILD YOUR UCAS APPLICATION

If you are a year 12 student about to move into year 13 you will probably be making a UCAS application to universities in the Autumn once you get back to your school or college. You will therefore soon be nailing down your final choice of five universities and familiarizing yourself with the UCAS online ‘apply system’ (https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/apply-and-track).

 

Now we are at the end of July, of next year’s university applicants will have had at least a week and possibly as much as a month or more since the end of the last school term. With a month or so to go before the start of their final academic year before university, it is time to start thinking about how to productively spend the rest of the summer in order to have the best possible chance of making a strong university application.

 

Time to think: what can I do to help support my application and to add to my personal statement. Think about:

 

  1. Work Experience – are you intending to apply for a degree that will lead you to a specific career? If so, have you ever had any experience of that career? If you want to be a lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, physiotherapist, architect or accountant – can you get some experience in this field during August and throughout the academic year? I bet you can!
  2. Go and visit – the university or department you want to go to may have an open day in the next month or so (find out at http://www.opendays.com/) but even if they don’t this is a great time to go and visit the university or even just the town or city where you will be living.
  3. Read and research – whatever you want to study at university, you need to be able to convince an admissions tutor that you are able to study that subject at undergraduate level. You will need more than just your A level/IB/Higher (or whatever) knowledge to do this convincingly. Start reading a broadsheet newspaper everyday, subscribe to a popular journal such as The Economist, The New Scientist or The Student BMJ and pick up some back issues from your local library or online. What about a book or two in the field you want to study? Use google to recommend some popular literature and read for an hour or so a day. You’ll learn a huge amount about your subject to write about or discuss at interview and it will give you a real confidence boost before you make your application.

 

The final deadlines may feel a long way off, but they will be upon us very soon:

15 October 2015 – Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Dentistry

15 January 2016 – All other applications

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHICH MEDICAL SCHOOL TO APPLY TO?

How do you decide which medical school to apply to?

Students in their AS year with good GCSE results, a love of science and a passion for caring for and working with others will be considering making an application to medical school.  I tend to think that the passing of the October 15th UCAS deadline for the A2 students fires the starting gun for those in AS who want to apply the following year.  365 days to make a difference to their applications.  UCAS reported recently that in 2013, for the 7,515 places offered to medical candidates last year, 84,395 applicants applied.  That is roughly a 1:11 ratio.  Competition is fierce.

 

Is a degree from one place the same as a degree from another?

One important consideration is deciding which medical school to apply to.  But, how important a decision is this actually?  Unlike most other degrees there is a national standard, set by the GMC (General Medical Council) and applied to medical school degrees.  This ensures that as far as possible, all doctors educated in the UK are trained to the same standards (www.gmc-uk.org/education/undergraduate/tomorrows_doctors.asp).  There are obvious reasons why this makes sense, a scenario whereby doctors in the UK are trained differently at different institutions would quickly lead to problems.  However, were you to take almost any other degree you may find that your degree from one university is quite different to that you may have received at another – depending on the specialisms of the professors, location, resources and many other factors.  A good example would be in biology, where many universities close to the coast will emphasise marine biology and ecology for obvious reasons whereas this is less practical in other places.

 

What type of candidate are the different schools looking for?

So a degree in medicine is the same wherever you go, right?  Well to an extent, yes, but there are still some important factors to consider.  First of all, your priority when applying is to get in somewhere and different universities emphasise different attributes when it comes to the application process.  Some place the highest regard on academic performance; some will only interview candidates with a particular UKCAT (United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test) score; others prefer the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) and make it their most important diagnostic; some need you to have secured a minimum number of hours of relevant work experience before you can be considered; for many the interview is key, others don’t even interview every candidate.  It is therefore important to consider your own strengths and attributes, match those to the entrance criteria of the medical schools and apply to those that suit your strengths.  There is no harm in contacting the admissions tutors at the medical schools to have a conversation about what they prefer to see in their applicants.  In fact I recommend that you do this.

 

Know your competition

Another thing to consider is the competition.  Most would-be doctors have a pragmatic approach to their applications – they don’t mind where they go, they just want to get in and begin training.  However, some universities, rightly or wrongly, attract more applications than others.  Oxford and Cambridge have a certain prestige attached and offer a particular lifestyle that appeals to many.  UCL and Imperial College in London have world-renowned reputations and of course, along with King’s College, Queen Mary’s and St George’s have the attraction of being in London and the lifestyle associated with living in the capital.  This increases the number of applicants and therefore the competition at these places.  It doesn’t make them better medical schools necessarily, but it does mean they can set their bar very high.

 

How is the course delivered?

Although medical schools are required to meet the GMC standards, they vary in the way they deliver their courses.  You will hear phrases like “problem-based learning,” “clinical training,” “pre-clinical training” and you should make sure you fully understand what they all mean.  At some medical schools you will meet patients “on day one”; at others you may spend a long time studying physiology and anatomy before encountering your first patient or making your first diagnosis.  There are pros and cons to each approach.  Students with strong clinical skills may feel they lack some of the scientific rigour and understanding of their colleagues with stronger scientific backgrounds, who in turn lack some of the communication skills, ability to empathise and other crucial skills essential to become a good doctor.

 

Where do you want to live?

If you don’t want to live in London don’t apply to UCL!  If you live in Newcastle and don’t want to be far from home, don’t apply to Plymouth University Peninsula! This sounds so obvious, but it is probably the most commonly ignored piece of advice I give to university applicants each year.  People presume that they can sacrifice quality of life for (perceived) quality of degree.  “I hate the idea of living in a big city like London, but UCL/King’s/Imperial has such a good reputation.”  This makes no sense to me.  It takes a long time to qualify as a doctor, that means you will be living in the town or city you choose now for five, six, maybe more, years.  I’m all for taking risks – life is about experiences, any chose you make has an element of risk, but take a calculated risk. Go and visit, explore and picture yourself there.  Decide on the criteria that are important to you and carefully select four universities that match those criteria.  Of course criterion number one is likely to be “can I get in?” but what are numbers two, three and four?

 

ADVICE ON CHOOSING YOUR A LEVEL SUBJECTS

If you are about to receive your GCSE results. Good luck! If you had worked hard for them, you will no doubt be feeling about collecting them.  I hope it goes well for you and you manage to get the results you need to help you move in with your life.
If you plan to stay in education you may also be considering your A level choices. Advice on A level choices is varied and can depend on who you speak to and their own educational background.
Here is some advice that I think is impartial and also puts the some of the many points to consider in one place.
Do something you like and do something you are good at 
This is always my number-one piece of advice. There are various other factors to consider when choosing A level subjects of course, but after you’ve considered these, please always come back to these two questions:
– Am I good /going to be good at this subject?
– Do I/will I enjoy this subject?
If you do this, it is difficult to go far wrong with your choices. You have to remember that A levels are difficult qualifications to get. Whatever the press may tell you, whatever you hear about ‘grade inflation’ or that A levels are no longer the ‘gold standard’ in British education, the fact remains that they are tough. There is an old cliche about the gap between gcse and A level and that many are unable to bridge this gap, but it is more that a cliche. It is true.  If you have no real interest in the subject or if you struggled at GCSE level, no matter how good (or bad) your teachers or how hard you worked (or didn’t), you will have a difficult time over the next two years.
Do you want to go to university?  What do you want to study when you get there?
 
Some people already know what they want to do post-A level which can be a big help in choosing A level subjects.  For example, if you want to be a doctor, you will almost certainly have to do at least two from biology, chemistry, maths and physics.  If you want to do a history degree it makes sense to study history A level, if you are keen on biochemistry it would make sense to do biology and chemistry and if you want to study French, it would be difficult to do this without French A level!
If you’re not sure about what you want to do post-A level, don’t panic and don’t feel like you have to decide now.  A levels are not “vocational” qualifications, in themselves they don’t prepare you you specifically for a career.  They are designed to be studied, learned and enjoyed and although some subjects may guide you towards particular careers, that is not necessarily the main reason to choose a subject.
I want to be a lawyer so I’ll do A level law, right?
This is a common misconception.  You don’t need to do law A level either to be a lawyer or to study law at university.  Similarly you don’t need an economics degree to study economics and you don’t need to take business studies A level to study business.  In fact a huge number of degree subjects do not have any specific A level requirements.  I therefore suggest you go back the the “do I enjoy this/am I good at it” rule when considering your A level choices.
Facilitating subjects
Having said that, in recent years, the Russell group http://www.russellgroup.ac.uk/ (a group containing some of the UK’s leading universities) have recently stipulated that they prefer students to have a specified number of ‘facilitating subjects.”  This is a rather short list of A level subjects – just maths, english literature, biology, chemistry, physics, history, geography and any modern foreign language count as facilitating subjects.  So, if you are considering applying to a “top” university you would do well to do at least one and maybe two or three of these subjects.
However, I would advise not getting too hung-up on facilitating subjects, especially if they don’t meet the “do I like it/am I good at it” criteria.  There are many A level subjects which are very interesting and may be more likely to suit you.  I happen to think that, for example, media studies, psychology and film studies are unfairly derided as “soft” subjects.  Several of these allegedly “soft” subjects are academically demanding, interesting and provide unique opportunities to study material you may never otherwise get.
 
Do your homework
For this reason, it is extremely important that you do your homework and know what you are studying. What is the subject ACTUALLY about?  Will you enjoy this? Will you be good at it?  Film studies is not all about making films, in fact it is quite closely aligned to english literature.  Drama and theatre studies is only around 50% acting, psychology is not about analysing dreams and philosophy is not a big two year debate on the meaning life.  Perhaps the most misunderstood of these is psychology which, at A level, is a very scientific subject very similar to biology and so well suited to students taking sciences and maths.
How many?
To impress a university entrance panel, take three or four subjects and do well.  Taking five, six or even more subjects does little to improve your chances.  Three (plus an AS level) is definitely much better than two, but after that there is a law of very diminishing returns.  Focus on getting AAA not BBBBB!!
Don’t chose your best GCSE scores if your mind was set
A common mistake is for students to pick their A levels before GCSE results day, only to find that they do slightly better in another subject at GCSE and make a late switch to this subject.  For example you pick English, French and maths because you like them and are good at them, then on GCSE results day, you get an A* in history and an A in French so you decide to history instead of French.  Don’t switch!  You chose French for all the right reasons and those reasons are still valid!
Good luck on results day!

A LEVEL RETAKES – YES OR NO?

If you receive your A level results next week and haven’t done as well as you would have liked or as well as you had expected, there are many options available to you.  One of these options is to re-take some or all of your A levels again.  Whether or not you do this will depend on many different factors but it could be a shrewd move.
Your own individual circumstances will dictate whether or not you decide to do this, but here are some things to consider before you do:
Retaking can close doors as well as open them
Some universities and some degree programmes have a strict policy on retakers that is very simple – “we don’t accept candidate who have retaken their A levels.”  Some medical schools operate this way for example and you may find other competitive degrees with similarly inflexible policies.  Call them and speak to the relevant admissions tutors before you waste your time.
Can you stay motivated?
As your friends and peers go off to university or off on their gap years, can you stay motivated to do another year of A level, perhaps still at home, perhaps with students a year younger than you, learning the same material you have been learning for the last two years?  This is a very important question, if the honest answer is no, then retaking could well be a huge waste of time and possibly money.  You might be better to spend a year doing something more constructive such as working, volunteering or traveling.
Where will I do it?
You could approach your school or college and see if they will take you back – they might, but they possibly won’t and so you will need to make other arrangements.  You could:
  1. Self-study – sounds like a nice idea as you picture yourself pouring over the books in a coffee shop with few other cares in the world, but self-study is really only for the super-motivated.  You have to be phenomenally committed to focus for a whole year.  That year suddenly seems like a very long year indeed once the hullabaloo of results day has calmed down
  2. Find another college – there are many colleges with specialist one-year A level retake courses.  Several of these are in London, but there are more throughout the UK.  Do your research and find the one that suits you best
It could be the best thing you ever did
A year seems like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, it really is not.  If you know that you under-performed in your A levels and you believe you can do better, you have a great opportunity to go to a university that corresponds with your abilities and talents rather than one that corresponds with your results first time around.
For example if you achieve, let’s say BCC in your A levels, you’ve actually don’t quite well and you could, if you wanted to get into university either through clearing or some other means.  And this might well be what you want to do, if so – fantastic, go for it!  However, if you know for certain, deep-down in your heart-of-hearts that you didn’t work hard enough, that there was some external factor that affected your results and that those results are just not a reflection of your ability, then you should strongly consider re-takes.  If after a year those results are all one or even two grades higher, you are on to a good thing and that could change your life in a positive way forever.
On the other hand, if you know that BCC was the absolute best you could achieve and you put everything into it first time around, you need to consider whether another year is really going to make much difference.
Be realistic
If you have grades of DEU in your A levels, you will have to be exceptionally committed to your studies and extremely well taught to achieve AAA second time around.
Some universities welcome retake candidates because it shows a great commitment, that you are prepared to make sacrifices and that your education is important to you.  However, you need to be slightly more pragmatic and selective in your choices.
Have a focus and a reason for retaking
You are much more likely to be successful if you have a goal to work towards.  Do your research first, find a few universities that you want to go to, find out their entry requirements and consider whether or not you think you can achieve them.  Then focus on the grades you need to get in, this will be motivating as the year goes on and you hit a trough with your studies and revision.
Do your homework
If you have missed-out on university, or you have rejected a place at university because you believe you can get in somewhere else, you have another chance with retaking, but it will likely be your last chance.  For this reason, you need to do your research and be prepared.  Make sure you are not wasting your time.  Contact universities and departments in advance and have an open conversation with them.  Tell them why you under-performed, tell them why you think you can do better this time, ask them “will you consider my application?” Listen carefully to their response and only apply to universities you feel will consider you equally with first-time applicants and who have a positive response to your circumstances.
Exploit other avenues first
If you achieved results that are close to those you need for university, don’t rush to retake. For example, if you needed ABB and you got BBB.  Make sure you exploit all other avenues first.  Have you called the universities?  Have you looked at clearing?  Have you thought about taking a year out to get some more experience before applying again?  Only then should you decide to retake.
Retake everything or be selective?
Again, you need to chat to some university admissions departments before you make this decision.  It also depends on whether you missed out on all of your grades or just some of them.  You may also need only to retake odd units within the A level.  Whatever your personal circumstances here, you might want to consider not only retaking your A levels but also taking another A level or AS level entirely from scratch.  This will demonstrate a strong commitment to your education, it will be a strong statement of intent, the new material will keep you motivated and it may even give you other options when it comes to university applications.
A level results are not the be-all-and-end-all
It could be that gaining work-experience, or even just life-experience is more valuable than improving your A level grades.  Again, have a chat to some universities about your best options before you embark on a retake programme.
Good luck on results day!

DON’T BE A STATISTIC! BE READY FOR YOUR A LEVEL RESULTS!

According to the Times Higher Education, A level students are not prepared for results day.
Get ahead of the game and be ready!
RESULTS DAY OPTIONS http://wp.me/p4RGIw-A
SOLVING PROBLEMS WITH YOUR RESULTS http://wp.me/p4RGIw-o
BE PREPARED FOR RESULTS DAY http://wp.me/p4RGIw-k

A LEVEL RESULTS DAY OPTIONS – BE READY FOR YOUR RESULTS

If you are an A level student awaiting your results next week you may be starting to feel a little bit nervous. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed a very nice, long, well-deserved holiday. Perhaps you’ve been volunteering, perhaps you’ve been working to save for that late-summer holiday or just to put some money in the bank ahead of university. Whatever, you will be all too aware that results day is next Thursday and the thought of this leaves a slight sinking feeling in your stomach.
Whatever your personal circumstances it is important for you to be in control on results day. You can’t control the numbers and letters that are printed on the page next week, but you can control your response to them.  Make sure you are ready and prepared for results day http://wp.me/p4RGIw-k
What to do if:
You get the grades you need to go to the university of your choice
Jump in the air, hug your teacher, phone your mum and generally feel pleased with yourself! Remember to be respectful to others who may not have done as well as you but otherwise, your work is done and you can start thinking about arranging accommodation, student finance, reading lists and other things students need to do.
You got your grades, but you actually have decided you don’t want to go to the university you have chosen
This is a tricky one. You have technically entered into a contract with your firm or insurance choice university and to tell them now that you don’t want to go is not really fair. In theory you should withdraw from the system and reapply next year.  In practice you can always try and negotiate out of your ‘contract’ and get the university to release you into clearing.  But remember this is a big gamble! Because even if you have your eye on another place at another university, for a period you will have nothing at all, so be sure you are sure before going down this route.
I did better than expected
Congratulations! You are in a privileged position. You have got a place at university in the bag, but you also have the option to aim even higher through the UCAS adjustment system http://wp.me/p4RGIw-i
Before you do this, make sure you are doing so for the right reasons. Is the ‘better’ university actually better for you or would you be better sticking with what you’ve got. Take your time, take advice, don’t rush in and don’t be taken in by the ‘more prestigious’ name of the university.
If your offer was CDD and you ended up with ABB – congratulations! You’ve vastly exceed expectations and adjustment is quite possibly for you. If your offer was AAB and you got AAA – again congratulations! Adjustment may still be for you, but think carefully and make an informed decision.
I just missed out on my offer
Hard lines, but don’t panic. The first thing to do is to contact your firm and insurance universities to see if there is anyway they can take you, even for a slightly different course. Be confident, be pragmatic and present yourself on the telephone as if you are in control of the situation. Tell them that you are happy to write a new personal statement or even to come in and visit (if you are). You might get lucky.  Even with lower grades, it is well worth a try.
I missed out by a long way/I’ve tried the step above and I’m in clearing
No problem!  Clearing presents a fantastic opportunity as long as you are efficient, focused and positive. Many students end up with an even better offer than the one they had before results day through the clearing system. http://wp.me/s4RGIw-clearing
I really don’t want to go through clearing/there’s nothing on clearing that appeals to me/I’ve tried clearing but I just don’t want to go somewhere I’m not sure about
Good decision, you now have the opportunity to build your life in a different direction.
Why not take a year out for example? In the grand scheme of things, taking an extra year before university is no great hardship. Starting university just one year older than your peers will hardly be noticeable and it gives you the opportunity to do something you never thought you’d do and that you might never do again. On your year out, sometimes known as a gap-year, you could do one, some or all of these:
  • Retake your A levels
  • Get some work experience
  • Apply to uni again next year
  • Try something other than university – maybe it wasn’t right for you after all
  • Travel (STA can help http://www.statravel.co.uk/gap-year-travel.htm as can many other organisations)
  • Do paid work
  • Volunteer (these people can help http://www.frontier.ac.uk/)
  • Build your CV
  • Read – don’t underestimate the power and enjoyment of being well-read!
  • Get another qualification
  • Explore a hobby or talent more fully, you never know where it might take you

 

NEW A-LEVEL SET TO REDUCE STANDARDS?

Above is a link to an article questioning the rationale of changing the A level system from the modular system we’ve had since 2000 (and which existed in parts before then) back to a system that prevailed for many years until the mid-1990s, of assessing A level students at the end of two years of study.
The article here suggests that the DFE did their research and found that ditching the AS level as an indicator of academic progress is justified by the accuracy of GCSE grades as a predictor of future success at degree level.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.   But, is this really the point?  My understanding was that the reforms proposed by Michael Gove and the coalition government were intended to make the A level “more rigorous” and return it to the “gold standard” it used to be (assuming you believe A levels no longer are a gold standard).
Do poorer results mean that standards have been raised?
One thing is certainly true, assuming that the assessment criteria remain the same, the marking is applied to the new system as it was to the old system and that the course content remains broadly the same (potentially big assumptions, but lets go with it for now), the number of students achieving the highest grades will go down under the new system.  This will then be heralded as a success in certain quarters.  There will be much talk of the “end of dumbing-down” and a “toughening up” of the A level system.  It will make an almost impossible job for university admissions departments a little bit easier as fewer students will make their offers and perhaps fewer students will go to university overall.  This will also be considered a good thing in certain circles, with derisory comments made about degree programmes referred to as “Mickey Mouse” in their content and worthiness.
However to consider what has happened here, is to consider the purpose of education.  One can define “a good education” in many different ways and there will be several different opinions as to what constitutes a “good” education.  Nevertheless, whatever, philosophically, you consider to be a good education, it is a fact that: in schools and colleges throughout the country, students are studying A levels, those A levels have a content, the content is taught to them by teachers and one measure of the success of those students is how well and how much of the content they have managed to learn and apply.
So, again applying the assumptions before regarding assessment criteria, marking standards and content, if students get lower marks in the their exams, one conclusion and certainly the one that I would draw, is that fewer students learned less material on their A level programme, they could express themselves less well and were less well able to apply knowledge learned during their programme of study.  Therefore we have succeeded in “reforming” an education system so that less is learned by fewer people.  In other words we claim to have “raised” standards because our results are worse and our young people don’t know and understand as much.  A somewhat backward conclusion wouldn’t you say so?
Now no doubt there will be noises made about “the cream rising to the top” but this is a flawed argument, yes, the very best students will still do well and they would be rewarded, but the existing system (although not perfect, I will admit) helps students with potential to fulfil that potential and be rewarded for their effort and their learning “journey”.
When you are 16, two years is a long time!
It is a long two years.  A levels are traditionally taught on two-year programmes when children are aged 16-18 and make the step into adulthood.  A very formative time.  At this age personalities, skill-sets, outlooks and motivations are still being developed.  Some very good students will be committed to a steady two-year learning journey.  However some equally good ones will not quite manage this and will delay preparation for exams until those exams are approaching at the end of their two years of study.  As a result, they won’t learn as much!
“IT’S THEIR OWN FAULT!” People will cry.  “They should have worked hard for two years not just the last three months!”  A good point and one with some merits, but an unrealistic one and one that does not recognise the needs, requirements and different learning styles of today’s young people.  Sixteen year olds need to learn how to learn, they need to make mistakes and learn from them, they need to hear something more than once and have a chance to try new things, including new ways of learning and studying.  The modular system allowed for this perfectly.  If you are tested on something once and get a certain result, then you are tested on it again at a later date and get a better result then a logical conclusion to me is that you have learned something!
My students are wonderful!
As an A level teacher, I see this all the time.  My students develop skills, they build their knowledge, they develop links and understandings between different areas of the A level syllabuses and indeed between their different subjects and quite often, by the time they take their final exam, they have learned an awful lot not only about biology (my subject) but about learning, about education (with a small ‘e’) and about themselves.  I fear that the removal of the modular system will remove much of this subtlety and the best “educated” will be deemed to be those who have crammed best for their final exam and who are good at doing exams rather than those who have learned the most or, dare I say it, those who are the best educated.
RIP January exams
When we lost the January exam session, we lost a big benefit of the modular system.  In my experience, re-sits in January were successful.  Students more often than not did better in January than they had the previous June.  Why?  They were motivated by their previous result, they learned more material, they matured as people they could see a value in working harder to help them on to the next stepping stone towards their ultimate goal.  For some it even established exactly what that goal was, it being absent previously.  The coalition reforms reduced this opportunity with the dropping of the January exam and the new system arriving in 2015 will remove it altogether.
By the way, the re-take system was not just for students who failed first time around.  Many of my students with a “low A” would re-sit papers in January to get a “higher A” that would set them up nicely for their next exam session.  I was always impressed that these young people were prepared to put more pressure on themselves in this way to help them achieve their ambitions.  Now all this pressure will come at the end of a two year programme.  One shot.  One chance.
When the changes come in, teachers, students and universities will adapt, but I fear that, ultimately, standards will fall, not rise and this will be Gove’s legacy to the A level system.