Applying to Competitive Universities and Courses
Tips from Laura (Year 13), an article written by Laura and edited by Daniel
I vividly remember the struggle of narrowing choices down to only four AS Levels. After having completed ten IGCSE subjects, the idea of effectively ditching six of them appeared to be an impossible task. The most difficult concept that I needed to wrap my head around was the fact that whatever A Level subjects I was choosing, they would dictate the courses that I would then be able to pursue at university and at that point in time, I had no idea what I wanted to do.
Considering my strengths, I settled on History, English Literature, Maths and French. I didn’t see myself thoroughly enjoying two years’ worth of content in subjects I wasn’t decent in. It turns out my entire academic career had oriented itself on a very clear trajectory: Political Science. Was it my 20+ debating competition history that gave it away? My quasi-obsession in writing opinionated political essays for my magazine every other week? My character traits that always pushed me to apply to leadership positions? I still don’t know. However, the moment I came across Political Science and Government as a potential university course, I haven’t been able to see myself studying anything else in the future.
With that, my quest began. Determined to be as financially independent at university as possible, I took on the challenge of applying to over 20 top universities all over the world. The process could not be completed overnight and I must have made Miss Mattingley-Nunn (BSB’s University Counsellor) wish she could have restricted the number of universities I could apply to on numerous occasions. But, with the support of my teachers and my parents, I am now halfway through this seemingly never-ending, stress-filled process.
One of the most notable contrasts in my university application experience was that between applying to the UK versus applying for US universities. The reality is that the two processes are entirely different. If the UCAS application process made me deep-dive into all of my academic achievements, A Level content and supra-curricular readings, the Common App (one of the three application mediums for the US) sought out my extra-curricular interests, community involvement and life experiences.
I never envisioned the application process as ‘easy’ in any shape or form however, I have had two epiphanies to date.
The first, and perhaps the most important, is that once you start applying for such competitive courses, there is no guarantee. You have no control over what type of class the university is seeking to form that particular year. No control over how the application counsellors will perceive you as an individual. No control over where you are situated in the mass of other applicants in your year-group. As such, you need to set your expectations appropriately. You have no say in the process that is worked through after you click the dreaded and feared ‘submit’ button and whilst the months until results day might seem never-ending, all you can do is wait.
The second is organisation. If you read my previous articles entitled ‘10 things I wish I knew at the start of Year 12’ you will well know that I am certainly not the world’s most organised human being. That being said, the application process forces you to be. Truth is, there are so many different deadlines and courses of action for each and every university, that you might apply to, that you will need to create timelines for yourself and know how to manage your time in such a way that you do not miss any of those deadlines. Of course, I too have found myself crunching through the last parts of my applications the day before only to find that the next deadline was rapidly approaching.
To conclude - whether you are a Year 13 that is already in the process of applying, a Year 12 that is currently dreading the work-load that will come your way once you start, or a student in any other year-group reading ahead to see what you will need to face in the years to come - if there is one thing you take away from this article, let it be this: enjoy yourself. Do try your best to stand out in the application process but do not try too hard. Be yourself, be authentic, play your greatest skills and have faith in yourself. At the end of the day, it is not where you go to university that matters the most - it’s how you take advantage of the opportunities that come your way.