The cut-off for university applications is looming, with the main UCAS deadline on the 15th January circled on every A-level student's calendar. It's a time that can bring last-minute panics and indecisiveness, but by following a few simple tips you can make the best of your choices.
1. DO attend open days
How will you know if a university is right for you if you've never been there? Visiting campuses gets you a feel for uni life, as well as providing a point of comparison to see what you prefer. If you've missed the window of opportunity, don't worry; most universities offer daily campus tours or even online virtual open days - it'll be better than applying for a mystery campus you have no idea about!
2. DON'T rely on stereotypes
As much as it's helpful to look at league tables and find out about university reputations, don't underestimate your gut feeling. You'll know straight away from visiting a uni or city if it's for you, and from that you can prioritise your choices. By all means do your research, but don't get hung up on how universities are perceived or whether they're in the Russell Group. A good degree result is essentially what's important, and enjoying your course, feeling motivated and settling in should take priority. What's ideal for someone else may not be for you.
3. DO discuss your choice with friends and family
Discussing your choices with your best mate or close family members over a cuppa can help ease pre-application anguish. By thinking out loud and listening to other people's opinions you can work through tricky decisions; try writing up a list of pros and cons for each uni so others can add their input or suggest things you may not have thought of.
4. DON'T be swayed by family pressure
However, as much as your nearest and dearests' opinions are important, they shouldn't outweigh your own. Ultimately, it's going to be you spending the next few years of your life at university, so don't let others influence your choices if you already know what you want. A classic to avoid is caving in to pressure to apply for unis just because they rank highly. If you know Oxbridge isn't for you or you wouldn't want to study there, there's no point in applying.
5. DO budget-check your city
Many students don't think about the cost of living until the dust has settled on Freshers' Week. But we're not just talking the price of a Jagerbomb here; think about how much rent and food will cost. Living in Cambridge or London is going to be noticeably more expensive than Liverpool or Newcastle, and depending on how much loan you're granted, there might not be much - or any - left after rent. Check out the city and available accommodation, plan a budget and see what's feasible for you.
6. DON'T ignore the entry requirements
Be realistic about your chances of getting in to your chosen unis. If they're asking for a specific subject at A2 or grade at GCSE, make sure you have it and don't just wing it hoping they won't notice. That's not to say you can't be aspirational with your applications. If you think you've got a chance of exceeding your predictions, try making one of your choices a grade or two higher than you're predicted.
7. DO read the course syllabus
One of the worst things you could do is apply for a course that you have no idea about. Don't presume every subject will be taught in the same way at every uni. Courses vary wildly - even when the subjects apparently match - so read up on what you're going to be studying. Checking the reading list is a good place to start, you should make sure it motivates you to want to read in your spare time, so you don't have any disappointments once you start studying.
8. DON'T only consider university
Maybe your heart is set on university right now, or perhaps you're applying because you don't know which route to take. Either way, don't be blind to alternative routes. At this time in your life, every option from gap years to apprenticeships is open to you. By understanding all the options, you'll be well prepared for whatever results day brings. Do a bit of research before submitting your application to see if anything else may appeal to you, or if there's a better pathway into your desired career. Better now than midway through your degree!
9. DO talk to current students
No-one's going to have a better understanding about university than someone who's studying there right now. Check Facebook groups or head onto specific uni forums on The Student Room to find people studying your course at your preferred universities. Hearing someone else's insights about the best and worst bits of the course and campus could be the thing to help you make up your mind - they were in your position once too.
10. DON'T rush in if you're not ready
Panicking and sending off your application for the sake of it will leave you full of what-ifs and worrying. If you're not 100% on your choices or courses, hold off a little. Universities still accept applications until 30th June for a 2017 entry, and after that you can explore Clearing. The main difference is that your application won't get the equal consideration it gets if made by the January 15th deadline.
Take your time and make sure you're happy with everything on your application before sending, then sit back and wait for the offers to come rolling in!