It's that time of year again when the latest batch of bright-eyed soon-to-be-school-leavers begin to turn their attentions towards making their applications to the Promised Land; University!
The sickening minority will have known for an eternity exactly where they want to go, what they want to study, what modules they want to pick etc. etc. ad infinitum, and they'll have made damn sure that we know ALL about it. But, for the vast majority of us normal people that really don't have a scooby, there are some big, big decisions to be made in the months ahead.
Now, we've all sat through what seems like hours of mind-numbingly mundane lectures from school careers officers about university applications, but most of us will have left none the wiser as to exactly how to apply to university. Fear not, dear reader, I am here to tell you precisely what you need to know, what you need to do and when you need to do it by. So, pay attention!
Consider Your Subject
It's important to remember in this instance that your subject area is not your course choice. For example, someone interested in Biology could choose from literally hundreds of courses, with each covering a different aspect of Biology. This is perhaps the most important choice you'll have to make when applying to university so there's absolutely no point in picking a subject area that you have no interest or ability in (I speak from experience; economics was not the subject for me!). Whilst it is important to think about career prospects when considering your subject area, you shouldn't choose something just because there are jobs in that area. Think logically - don't choose accountancy if you hate numbers and can't stand being in an office all day - and remember, if you have a talent and passion for something then, more often than not, you'll be alright when it comes to getting a job at the end of it.
Location, Location, Location
Depending on what's most important to you will determine whether you chose your location first and then tailor your course choice accordingly or vice versa. Regardless, it's vitally important that you give both aspects due consideration as they are of equal importance.
When choosing where you want to study you'll need to think about whether you want to stay at home or move away. Can you afford the enormous financial implications of moving away? Are you a home bird that just can't bear to part from your home comforts (mum does washing - mum does ironing - mum does cooking) or a free bird that can't wait to fly the nest (send washing home - ironing; what's ironing? - microwave does the cooking)? Whatever the answer is, make sure you get the right location or risk wasting a lot of time and money.
Attend Open Days
Open Days are a brilliant help when deciding exactly which university you go to. Draw up a rough list of universities that you think you might like and go and see them for yourself. Open Days offer a perfect opportunity to speak to students and prospective lecturers, check out the facilities, get a closer look at the halls of residence and get a feel for the city or town you'll be based in. Make sure you take every opportunity to ask any questions or queries you may have about anything and everything related to the university you're visiting before you make your decision.
Choose Your Course, Of Course!
Once you're happy with your subject area of choice it's time to get down to business and think about course choice. What type of course do you want to do? Do you want to take a single honours course in one specific area or would you prefer to mix and match by doing a joint honours? Consult your shortlisted universities to see exactly what you can and cannot do with regards to course choice; some will be more flexible than others (joint honours in Art and Accountancy, anyone?!). If you're struggling to find universities that offer the type of course you want to do try using the UCAS Search Tool which will filter courses by location, subject and uni.
It's important to be as realistic as possible at this stage about the grades you think you'll get. There's no point in wasting space on your application form applying for a course that requires straight A's when you're more of a C type of guy. Similarly, don't be too harsh on yourself; if there's a course you're interested in that you think may be just out of your reach don't be afraid to go for it. You never know, it may just give you the motivation you require!
Fill Out Your Application
Once you have finalised your shortlist of courses it's time to put it all down in writing using UCAS Apply. Register to create an account and follow the instructions on the site. Many schools and colleges automatically register their students so check with them first before registering yourself.
UCAS operate a handy tracking system which enables you to monitor what stage your application is in and alerts you as soon as any responses are made.
Accept Your Place!
If it all goes to plan then you'll have a whole pile of offers to choose from so all that's left now is to accept your place on your favoured course! Don't worry if you didn't get the grades or offers you wanted, UCAS Clearing is always an option.