Their chance to look at you and your chance to look at them
Where are you now?
You may by now have submitted your UCAS application - and even received one or two offers (but don't worry if you haven't, it's still early) - but wherever you have got to in the process, you're likely still to have questions about what you might be letting yourself in for.
The length of time it takes to decide what you will actually be doing this time next year varies, and inevitably involves a lot of waiting alongside the hard work. Make use of that waiting time by checking out your choices!
One way of checking out that you are on the right track is to visit the place you are hoping to study, and this generally happens in one of two ways, namely interviews and post-application open days.
When you apply to university you are putting yourself forward to be assessed for admission to an institution and a course. The admissions tutors want to recruit the students who will contribute most and get most out of their course, and they may invite you to an interview. Interview policies vary.
Sometimes you're invited only if you are on the borderline, to check out whether your application really gives the full picture of your abilities and potential, or whether you may be eligible for a scholarship; and sometimes all applicants are interviewed. When they interview, tutors want to get to know you further and see how you perform in person.
Interviews obviously vary according to subject, and may involve an audition or performance, or a prepared round-table discussion with other applicants, or meeting a panel of lecturers, or anything in between.
- First check whether you can make the date and time for the interview. Remember they may not be able to offer an alternative so try your hardest and discuss it with the uni as soon as you can if there are difficulties. Also check whether have to confirm that you will be attending, and make sure you do this - they will normally tell you how (by phoning, email or visiting the website, for instance)
- Carefully read through the information you're sent about the interview, which should give details of format and hints for preparation - if they don't you can phone for more details
- Also check the date and time, and whom you should ask for when you arrive
- Read the interview preparation on www.ucas.com and try and think how you will feel and react to being questioned and how you can expand your answers to bring in ideas that you want to express.
Making short lists can help you to memorise important things you want to get across.
- Read and re-read the prospectus, alternative prospectus, course brochure and any relevant faculty or department websites - familiarity with these will help convince the people interviewing you that you really are interested in their course - and make a list of three questions that you can put to them at the end of your interview
- Discuss with a friend or two a list of three possible questions which you may be asked by someone reading your personal statement and prepare answers to them that can lead to further discussion
- Identify, with your friend or family, three key personal strengths you want to demonstrate and describe at your interview.
You may be travelling some distance to your interview, so don't forget to make best use of the time by looking at the university in general so far as you can. You may be given a tour of the faculty or have the chance to meet some students on the course you're hoping to join.
Check in advance to see if you can book to look at the library, accommodation, students union or whatever it is that interests you while you're there. Remember that an interview is an opportunity for you to see whether the choice is right for you as well as for the university to learn more about you.
Sometimes applicants are invited to open days where they are introduced in more detail to the courses on offer in a faculty, department or school. When this is the case you are unlikely to be asked detailed questions as in an interview but you have the opportunity to see the place in action and check out whether it feels like a place where you could be happy and fulfilled. You will probably be shown round by current students so speak to them about life at university as their experience of the transition to higher education is so fresh.
It's really useful to find out what other people have discovered about student life - we asked a few students about their experiences at university and they told us:
- There were other people who felt isolated and alone in the first couple of weeks, but that gradually got better as we all got to know each other and got to know our way around.
- I quickly had to learn how to fix my bike myself - or I'd find myself missing all the morning lectures.
- However popular or unpopular you were in school, that doesn't matter once you're at uni.
Again, a list of questions to ask and details to check out can be useful - but this time there's no shame in having the piece of paper in front of you and making notes as you get the answers.
If you've signed up to yougofurther at www.yougo.co.uk you can speak to other students and see if anyone else will be going to the same open day, or if anyone has tips about preparing for interviews - so register today and start asking!