Monday, 17 October 2016

Choices


It's been about a month and a half since I moved the 400 miles to St Andrews for university, so I thought I would write about my experience so far, and hopefully give some advice for those starting uni next year. Obviously I haven't been here for very long but I hope what I can say will be useful to someone.

Before you move away, you need to pick a university to move to. I think there is a lot of pressure from schools and Sixth Forms to choose somewhere that performs well in league tables, especially Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. While it's important to pick somewhere that is going to allow you to further your studies to the best of your abilities, it is perhaps not the sole factor you should consider. These are a few other things that you might not have thought about, but should help you to find somewhere that you can not only be successful, but also happy.

1. Where do you live now?
How big is your local town or city? How do you normally travel around it? What are your favourite shops and restaurants? Although change is good, moving somewhere that is completely different from your hometown can lead to a certain amount of 'culture shock'. If you live in a really big city for example, moving to a tiny town like St Andrews might leave you feeling isolated. If you're from a small village however, a big city like London or Manchester could be overwhelming. Of course this won't be the case for everyone but it is something important to consider.

2. What do you like doing?
What do you do at the weekend? Do you like going to pubs or clubs? 
Nightlife is a fundamental part of uni life as you can probably imagine, but what you like to do on nights out is something you should think about before applying. If you're a die hard clubber for example, somewhere that has about 2 clubs, including the student's union like St Andrews probably isn't for you, and vice versa. This can really impact on the sorts of people you'll meet as well. Here, while people still go out, most are equally as likely to want to stay in and order liberal amounts of Dominos and watch Legally Blonde (aka me). At least from my own experience, I really need my sleep most nights, so choosing somewhere where people were less likely to be fixated on clubbing was really important. If you really like going out however, definitely consider somewhere with amazing nightlife!

3. What don't people like about university?
If you can, talk to a friend or relative already at the university about what they don't like. No place is perfect so most people will be able to think of one thing at least. I think this can be more useful than going to an open day where students are likely to be on their best behaviour and sing the uni's praises. Finding out what people don't like can be important in deciding what you are and aren't willing to compromise on. Because St Andrews is so far away from anywhere, it's even a 10 minute bus ride to the nearest station, it can be quite isolating, and expensive if you want to travel anywhere. For me, however, I'm willing to compromise on this- I don't get particularly homesick so I don't really feel the need to be home every weekend, and I think it forces me to be more adventurous in how I leave the town, like for the recent climbing trip I went on. Something I was really not willing to sacrifice however, was my course. I visited Nottingham, and although I really loved the campus and atmosphere the course really wasn't for me, and so I crossed it off my list. Your priorities may well be different though, so identify them and consider what you're willing to give up if you can't have everything. 

4. What do you want to study?
I'll keep this one short because I think it's repeated over and over and over by whoever is giving you uni advice. STUDY SOMETHING YOU ENJOY!! At the end of the day, you're at university to get a degree,and as amazing as all the extras are,you're going to have to work at some point whether you like it or not. So, make it a bit easier for yourself by picking something that you really don't mind doing. For me, English was the natural choice- I read enough already so 80% of the work (at the moment) is something that I'd be doing anyway, and I love the fact that I can stay in bed all morning reading my books and still be doing something productive (NB- This doesn't make it an easy course by any means, I'm reading 2 books a week which normally accounts for over 500 pages). Someone once said to me that you should pick a subject that makes you want to stay in, while everyone else is going out. I think that's probably the best advice that I can offer- study whatever makes you tick, and it will make the all nighter before the deadline that little bit easier.

5. Visit!
This post is already turning out to be slightly more rambly than I anticipated, but I really wanted to squeeze this last point in because it is really really important. Whichever universities you think you might want to apply to, visit them. You may really love the course, the location, the list of shops the internet tells you the town has, but nothing can prepare you for the actual atmosphere of the place. I visited Exeter for example, and although I thought the course and campus looked great, within 10 minutes of actually being there I knew the uni was really not for me. In saying that, it's also important not to rely on what other people think of it, I have friends who are at Exeter and are absolutely loving it- everyone is different. 

So, I hope that was somewhat useful, or at least gave you something to consider. If you have any other questions about applying to or choosing a uni, don't hesitate to ask!

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