Thursday, 11 December 2014

Polytechnic Student's Guide to Applying to UK Universities

Where I could have studied
Where I actually study (behind this building). What have I done?!

Disclaimer: If you're reading this guide, I'm assuming that you know what UCAS is and that you're a poly student. If not, please acquaint yourself with the system, their website is incredibly informative and set aside time to really make sure you're familiar with it. 

This time two years ago, I was a harried third year poly student trying to apply to multiple universities while chasing assignment deadlines. It wasn't a pretty sight.

By year 3, I had discussed the unlikelihood of entering a local uni with my parents because my GPA was hovering around the 3.3 to 3.4 range. I tried applying to all the local unis anyway, but I'd attended a UK study fair and consulted an educational agent to consider the options overseas. We settled on UK over Australia because of reputation/cost of living, but all I was told to do by the agent was to file in my UCAS application asap, and email the school's admissions office directly if I had any queries. I went in with the internet as my only source of help, so I know how terrifying it is to apply when you barely know where to start. Now I'm here to help you with whatever I got back then!

If you're applying for the academic year 2015/2016, the next deadline you should take note of is 15 January 2015. Unless you're intending to apply to Oxbridge (you should have sent in your app by now if that's the case), this is the deadline you should aim for. 

Now, my memory is a little hazy because all this was some time ago, but here's the advice I've been giving friends whenever they asked. 

Step 1: How to Pick Universities

You're given 5 choices in UCAS, each choice is a uni + course. This means that a school can appear more than once in your choices, as long as the course is different. Here are the main things you should think about. Once again, this takes time so think through it carefully. 

1. What do I want to study? Single or double major?
2. Which city do I want to live in? (Take note that London is notoriously expensive) Do I prefer the city or the country? 
3. Which universities are well-known for my chosen area of study? Look up world rankings, like the ones by guardian and QS. Don't just look at the raw numbers, consider factors like student satisfaction and the campus itself.

After you've narrowed down the universities, read the prospectus or course structure on the university's specific webpages. Also speak to friends from/in the UK to ask them about what they know about these universities or how they find school if they happen to study in them. Chatting with my brit friend Michael really helped me narrow down my choices, and his advice also helped when I was choosing between NTU/UK!

One problem that poly students generally face is that the websites don't give general cut off grades that apply to us, since we don't take A levels or IB. In that case, email the admissions office for more details. Tell them what course you took in poly, your final or 5 sems' CGPA, and what course you're interested in. Explain your situation clearly and politely. 

Also, please don't hesitate to apply for a course that is completely different from anything you've ever done before. Just be 100% sure what you're signing up for. When applying to UK, I didn't want to apply for english although that was what my heart yearned for. The A level lit requirement scared me, considering I didn't even take lit at O levels. But if your GPA is competent and you've always wanted to study law, go for it. Always wanted to study palaeontology? Do it! Don't let your lack of conventional qualifications stop you from pursuing something you truly love. I'm doing that now in NTU, and let's just say that I have NO RAGRETS. 

Step 2: Ask For Referrals 

UCAS requires 1 academic or workplace referral for your application. First, email/call/fb message your desired referral. This person should know and like you enough to willingly say good things about you. Once they've agreed, send them the link that UCAS provides so that they can log in and send in their referral. It's best not to leave this to the last minute because they're doing you a favour and you don't want to piss them off. 

Step 3: Writing a Personal Statement

Start on this while waiting for your referrals, since it's the MOST tedious/annoying part of any uni application. You just have to send out 1 to all 5 unis, but this makes it kind of tough if you're not applying for the same course in all your choices. I remember one of my choices differed slightly from the rest because it had a minor or double major in criminology. 

Some of you aren't comfortable with writing and churning out words like I do, but reading tons of guides and samples helps A LOT. See what people are writing, what works and what doesn't. There are tons of helpful articles out there to help you get started! was a life-saver in particular, I love how you can view samples based on university and major, so you can see what kind of statements got people into the course or school you're applying for. 

Here's a basic skeleton of what I wrote, it's such a pity I lost the original file

  • Became interested in the inner workings of society when I covered crime and politics during my journ internship, thus I want to apply for Sociology 
  • Always excelled in modules relating to social sciences in poly, like Media in Society etc
  • After graduation I wish to work in a job relating to communications or policy planning, where I can contribute to the growth of the arts in Singapore. I am passionate about the performing and literary arts in particular.
  • Oh btw I finished grade 8 ballet and I look forward to contributing to student clubs when I join your school

Clearly, I have questionable summarising skills. But my point is, your statement doesn't have to be overly pretentious or ambitious, it just has to be polished. That means no awkward sentences or grammatical mistakes and use appropriate word choices. Be honest and specific, provide concrete details whenever possible. Then get someone who writes well to check and edit it for you and you're good to go!

Step 4: Fill in The Rest and Wait It Out

Upload your transcripts and fill in all the other details they ask for. Within a week or 2, schools should start replying you! The first school that replied was Bath, and they did so in less than a week. UCAS sends you an email when a school has accepted/rejected your application. Within a month, all 5 schools had replied. 

Here are the schools I applied to with a final GPA of 3.48, and the outcome:

Warwick - accepted
Durham - accepted
Exeter - accepted
Bath - rejected (no wonder they replied so fast)
Surrey - accepted 

After you get back all your replies there's a period called "Extra" from Feb onwards, where UCAS emails you if you're eligible to apply for just one more uni. I'm not quite sure how that works because around the time I received all the replies, I also received my acceptance from NTU's english department, and eventually chose to stay. Thus I can't give you advice on what to do after you've been accepted. If you'd really love to know, ask a friend who's made the move or comment here if you really don't have any, and I'll get one of my friends to write a guest post.

Hope this helps and all the best for your applications!

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