Nathan McCullagh, founder and managing director of Simply Learning Tuition, offers his advice on how to make the most of a UCAS application to gain a place at a top university…
Thinking about university is an exciting time for school and college students. For the majority of current year 13s planning to start university next September, UCAS is largely done and dusted ahead of the January 15th deadline – but for younger students it is exactly the right time to get started. For year 12s the clock is already ticking down to October 2018 which is the deadline for medical schools and Oxbridge applications. And generally schools will want their other students to be well on the way to completing applications ahead of the main January 15 deadline for most other undergraduate courses.
It’s very important to make an early start. Even year 10 students need to remember that their GCSE results will really make a difference to the type of university they can consider. This is also the time to think about gaining some relevant work experience and picking up extra-curricular activities which will help when it comes to writing a personal statement. This could be done during the GCSE years – perhaps in the long summer holidays that will often be lost to extra study at A-level.
Nothing demonstrates that most desirable trait of tenacity more than having gone the extra mile and gained some work experience. Also remember to show some initiative. While it’s relatively easy to be a prefect, it’s not so easy to set up your own company making cookies to raise money for rescue dogs (or whatever your passion is) without help from parents or teachers. This should be done during the GCSE years – perhaps in the long summer holidays, which will often be lost to extra study at A-level.
Then get ahead by researching the courses and their requirements and going to university open days. The choice of university is very personal, but it’s always best to opt for a wide range of potential universities. Draw up a shortlist that includes one completely aspirational destination choice, a few that are slightly less challenging and one that is a fairly certain insurance option. A personal tutoring company can usually identify a tutor who has done that course or knows the university particularly well and can talk knowledgeably about what it’s really like to study there.
Finally I can’t stress enough the importance of writing an effective personal statement. I would always advise that this is started straight after GCSEs so that there is time to fill in the gaps in work experience, reading and direction that are likely. This should be about 75 percent academic that applies to the course and only 25 percent about the student themselves. It’s vital that students get some good advice here because most will never have written anything like this before and are generally not used to the idea of self-promotion.
While teachers and careers advisers at school will do their best to help, they generally have high numbers of students to deal with so some one-to-one guidance can be hugely helpful, making sure the statement really is ‘personal’ and to help that student stand out from the crowd.
Nathaniel is the founder and managing director of Simply Learning Tuition, a leading independent education company providing introductions to private tutors who deliver effective one-to-one academic tuition. It also offers specialist advice throughout a child’s academic journey, from school selection through to university applications and mentoring.