Student View | Applying to Higher Education by Robert Speers

The UCAS application process can seem extremely daunting when you begin your second year of college. So much so that you delay writing your personal statement until the last moments before
the deadline, undercutting the weight your AS-level results give to your application. Negative thoughts towards the process often develop into overthinking and make the prospect become
increasingly intimidating. But is it really so terrifying? I will be honest, it’s really not!

You will be using the same personal statement for all the courses that you apply to, so if you intend to apply for a joint honours course then make sure you give equal weighting to both
subjects of the course. Try to avoid picking courses that are markedly different such as Economics at York and Fine Art at Birmingham; this would make it difficult to produce an effective personal statement. Begin looking at courses as soon as possible attending open days to get a feel for each university you are considering. The university campus is just as important as courses! Do choose universities with realistically achievable grade requirements or you will be wasting your choices; determine this from your predicted grades.

In your 4,000-character statement you need to state why you are applying. what interests you about the subject and what makes you suitable for the course (any relevant skills, experience or achievements gained from education, work or extra-curricular activities). Say what you enjoy from your A-level courses and read around your chosen subject/s to add some depth to your statement and display your eagerness. Once this is complete and you have selected your choices your application is finished!

Generally, the earlier you apply the sooner you’ll receive offers. Don’t let people put you off from moving away or from going to certain universities. If you apply to Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) then this won’t be the case. In addition to your UCAS application you will need to make sure you are registered for the aptitude test (if your course requires one) and sit it. The test is just to show the way you think and whether you can apply the knowledge you already have to a broad question. It is a good idea to look at past paper questions, available on the respective websites, and to read through the mark schemes. I sat the History Aptitude Test (HAT) and found the test challenging but enjoyable. If you are successful, you will be invited to attend the interview stage. For Oxford applicants this is over a three-day period where you get to stay at the College you apply to. For Cambridge this is usually done in one day. Both universities handle applications differently, so applying to one or the other won’t give you any greater chance. Go for the one you prefer!

The interview stage is to see whether you would be suited to the Oxbridge tutorial system and for you to display your enthusiasm for the subject. Don’t stress about being in an uncomfortable social environment; from personal experience fellow applicants are pleasant and welcoming, and you’re all in the same situation regardless of background! Once you’ve done your interviews you have to wait until after Christmas for your decision; decisions are usually sent via email or letter in early January. Yes, it is a very drawn-out and initially complicated process, but it is not the end if you aren’t successful. There are so many excellent universities and going to Oxbridge does not guarantee you success; it is all about what you put into your degree. Don’t view it as your only chance at a good higher education; see it as a great opportunity to apply to a renowned institution. If you even consider applying then that is a success. But it is only a means, not a necessity, to a good education. Not everyone is suited, nor does everyone enjoy, their experience there. One thing that I learnt with my time at the university is that the biggest challenge Oxbridge face is not getting enough people to apply as they are intimidated by the whole process, so give it a go!

By Robert Speers

Robert is currently studying A-levels in History, Government and Politics and English Literature.