The Student Experience: leading up…
Tom Braithwaite, Obp Chartered Accountants | Friday 21st February 2020
So you’ve been visiting open days every weekend for the last 2 months, (speaking from experience) and you’ve got some sort of idea where you want to study, and what course you’re going to sign yourself to for the next few years. I’m writing this blog (as a now 3rd year at Cardiff University) to shed some light on what it’s like in the build-up, and then beginning of the student experience at university.
You might be wondering how to choose between the universities you’ve received offers from – this was one of the trickiest periods of sixth form I ever experienced. A lot of universities will hold extra visiting days called applicant days, or offer-holder days, for those students who have received offers from their 5 universities. These are usually a few weeks before you must select your first and insurance choices; this is the universities’ last opportunities to sell themselves to you and be the reason you pick them as your first choice.
These are fantastic days to get to know in more detail about your specific course within the larger school umbrella, learn more about the staff, what modules you do each year, and speak to some current students that are on the course. Ask as many questions as you can! Most opportunities to ask questions are in a massive lecture theatre of kids and parents, so if you’re more of a shy person then it might not be the best environment for you. However, there will always be students/staff to talk to 1-on-1 with informally.
After these offer-holder days you should be able to decide between your offers, however don’t feel stressed out if you haven’t made your mind up completely – I struggled to decide between Cardiff and Sheffield until the day before I had to finalise it!
Now the day has come; you’ve chosen your first-choice university and your exam results are looming. This is a nervous day for EVERYBODY, no matter where you’re hoping to go to.
If you succeeded with your exam results and got into your first choice, that’s fantastic! Time to celebrate with far too much fizz. However, those of you who didn’t quite reach your predicted grades, it’s not the end of the world just yet.
Whether you check UCAS before or after receiving your results can massively change your mood for the morning. I was fortunate enough to check UCAS before getting my results and saw that Cardiff had secured my place, which made the morning much more relaxed than if I’d seen my results before. The entry requirements for my course were ABB at A Level, which I was only just on track for, however I ended up receiving 2 grades below this on the day – despite this though I was still accepted into Cardiff. The main point of this is to illustrate that sometimes universities can be slightly lenient on the entry requirements if you’re a well-rounded individual and sold yourself in your personal statement.
For those of you either securing your insurance choices, or having to go through clearing, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of brilliant universities out there that you may not have even visited. I have many friends from sixth form who were unlucky in their exams and had to find places through clearing, and every single one of them is outspoken about how glad they are they managed to find their clearing place. Universities are surprising places, and can grow on you in the strangest ways; so many students I’ve spoken to over the years can’t imagine their lives anywhere else, no matter whether it was their first choice, insurance, or clearing place!
The longest summer of your life has now come to an end, and the imminent day is fast approaching. Stuff everything into the back of the car, probably forget something important, and before you know it, you’re in your new bedroom unpacking everything. Chances are, you’ve already had the opportunity to speak to your new flatmates (if you’re sharing houses/flats) and got to know everybody a little bit.
Keep your door open! Making friends is always a daunting task, especially in such an alien environment. It’s such a cliché statement that everyone will tell you, but everyone is in the same boat. No matter where anyone is from, this is (99% of the time) the first time every person in your flat has moved to a new city away from home. The only situation this might not be the case is if a student had previously started a course the year before somewhere else, decided to leave, and then started afresh where you are now.
Socialise as much as you are comfortable, and see who you get on best with. No matter what background everyone is from, you all get a brand-new fresh start. For me, I never imagined I’d get on so well with my first year flatmates; as a relatively reserved person at the beginning of uni, I quickly made friends with all of my flat of 8 people, and a lot of my home sickness had disappeared.
It’s important to remember though that who you are put in accommodation with is complete potluck. Sometimes people just don’t gel as well as you’d expect, and that’s okay. Not everyone can relate to everyone, and personality clashes/differences can mean that your flat don’t mesh as well as you’d hoped. This is when most homesickness begins, and can send you spiralling into an uncomfortable mental place even in the first few days. Remember though that your friendships aren’t restricted to the four walls and roof you live in – there are plenty of chances to meet new people either in your course, at social events, or even in societies.
In part 2 of this blog I’ll talk everything course-related, the looming 2nd year housing situation, and much more!