If you’ve read my previous article, you’ll know that I took a gap year before I started re-applying. I had received offers from several pretty good universities, but at the time, I knew that I wasn’t ready. Looking back now, I know that if I had accepted those offers, I would have been in the wrong place, probably doing the wrong thing, at the wrong time. So, drawing upon my experiences, here are the 5 things you should consider when deciding what university degree to do.
- Location, location, location
Uni can be a chance to start creating your own life and live independently from your family. Some people love being independent and discovering a completely new part of the country – while others who live a long way away from home find that it’s a bit of a pain.
To me, Cardiff is the perfect distance – I have independence, but I’m near enough that I can easily come back to Abergavenny to visit people.
Obviously this will be of varying importance to different people. For some, it can be massively beneficial (and cheaper) to live at home – several people at uni with me commute or live at home on weekends.
Likewise, hobbies might be affected by location – if hiking is your life, a uni located somewhere flat might not be best suited to you.
Consider transport links. Travel can really eat your money up fast, so while I’m not suggesting stay close to home just for the sake of that – at least factor it into your plans!
- Other people don’t always know what’s best for you.
Uni really is the biggest step from childhood to adulthood that you’ll take – and as such it’s a time in your life where you can really start asserting yourself and making your own decisions.
At the end of the day, you’re paying a lot of money to study a subject for 3 years – if your IT teacher thinks you should be building computers but your real passion in life is Archaeology – if you can get an offer for Archaeology, then why not take it, despite whatever Mr/Mrs IT Teacher thinks? At the end of the day, it’s YOUR life, and only you can make the decision. You know what makes you happy.
Likewise, don’t go to the same uni as your girlfriend/boyfriend/best friend because they’re going there. At least 85% of the time that’s probably a dumb thing to do. Obviously relationships can survive through uni, but if you are under pressure to go to a uni with someone, it’s better to discuss problems like this before starting a degree, so you can make the most of whatever degree you do decide to do.
It’s totally understandable to not know what you want to do with your life at the age of 17/18.
It’s 100% fine to take a gap year – you can work and save up some money, or volunteer, or just do something that isn’t about school for a while. Sometimes your degree will actually be even more valuable to you if you get some real world experience.
- Consider Extracurriculars
As well as actually looking good on your CV (especially if you later get on the committee), societies are a foolproof way to meet people with similar interests. Check out student union websites – often there’ll be a list of societies, so it’s a good way to see what’s already available.
There are pretty much only two types of people at uni, and those are society people and non-society people. (Non-society people presumably live fairly normal lives, whereas society people are always working on some kind of ‘project’ and have a lot of in-jokes with each other, and are almost always stressed.)
As one of the former, I would highly recommend getting involved with societies. Despite the stress, it’s probably been one of the most enjoyable things about uni for me.
Also consider what facilities there are in your town (as with the location point above) – if you’re massively into clubbing, then by all means check out the nightlife!
- It’s (Not) All About Reputation
It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking that only certain unis are worth going to, or that some degrees are worth more than others. While some places might come with a certain air of prestige, at the end of the day, a first earned at one uni is going to be more or less worth the same as one earned at any other uni.
However you should consider reputation to some extent – not so much for dumb stereotypes of “everyone who goes to _____ University is an idiot”, but go on forums (TheStudentRoom can be useful) to see/ask if there are particular fields that are favoured at that uni, and if there are links to whichever industry you want to go into.
If you work hard and are smart in your choices, ultimately a university’s reputation will not be as worth as much as the piece of paper you get at the end of your 3 years. Pick somewhere that is reasonably attainable for you, but don’t be afraid to aim high.
- Do What You Love
One of my favourite pieces of advice, from the costume designer Pat Fields is:
“…do what you love. Because if you love it, you’ll stay with it, and if you stay with it, you’ll get good at it.”
I realise it’s often a privilege to be able to “follow your dreams”. It often is actually quite expensive, requires contacts, and patience, and a thick skin, and luck, amongst lots of other things.
What I would say is – if there is something which deep in your heart, brings you joy that no other thing can, then for heck’s sake, if you have the chance, go and do that thing.
Uni requires a lot of reading, and even if you enjoy a subject, some/a lot of it will be tedious. That’s inevitable. Sometimes following your dreams requires a bit of paperwork along the way. But.
If you love it, you’ll stay with it, and if you stay with it, you’ll get good at it.