Looking at Universities, part two

Hello again! This is the second half of my advice on choosing what universities you want to apply to (first half here), in which I’ll have a look at the differences between courses at different universities and what to do about open days. Now, onwards!

The specifics of a course are also important. Universities don’t teach the same degree in the same way, and this has an impact on how well you feel you’d fit in there. This was particularly relevant for me – I was much enamoured with attending Glasgow at one point (this may have been partially to do with the Queen Margaret Union, which is the finest collection of nerds, goths and feminists this side of Scotland), but the medical course is very focused on ‘problem based learning’, or PBL – this is theoretical problems solved in a group, which lets you learn the coursework by research. All medical schools feature this, but a lot of critics say that Glasgow relies too much on it, and several former students I spoke to said they came out feeling unprepared. For me, Dundee had a better balance of PBL, lectures and hands on learning – the opportunity for early clinical skills and self selected sections of the course also appealed to me. As previously mentioned, I also love the union and the campus – plus, from research, the uni societies, DUSA’s floor 5 and various other clubs and events mean my geeky and alt music cravings should remain well at bay.


Of course what’s going to be really important for you applicants is, how do you find all this out?

Answer – open days, research and lots and lots of reading.

The university open days are your most useful tool – sign up in advance, in order to book the talks you want to attend. I didn’t get to attend the pre summer week of open days because I was on work experience, and I ended up missing the St. Andrews autumn one because it was too close to the application deadline. If you can’t make the open day, you should call the admissions department and arrange your own visit day – this means you wont miss out, and shows the universities you’re interested enough to organise it yourself.

Open days usually have lots of stuff available to the attendee, including presentations on courses and services, tours of the campus and accommodation, as well as plenty current students wandering around, ready to answer any questions. I definitely found this helpful, as it gave a perspective on life there much more relevant to me.

Before the day itself, make sure your application to the open day has been confirmed by the university, and avoid doing anything last minute on the day – open days are a fun day out, and you don’t want to be stressing. Investigate transport (eg trains/planes/car parks) before hand, and make sure you have a campus map, notebooks and maybe even a camera. You might want to sample union or city food while you’re there, or maybe leave part of the day free so you can check local shops or whatever interests you. A good idea is also to come up with any questions you want to ask pre-day, as this is your best opportunity.

It might seem kind of embarrassing, but taking your parents to the open day is sensible – they’ll notice things you didn’t, or bring up other issues you weren’t focusing on. Plus, it reassures them that they’re not sending you out into the complete unknown – my mum was very much relieved when she saw the university accommodation, and relaxed a bit after seeing that there was a pretty solid support network in the welfare services.

The open days will also throw the equivalent of an amazon rain forest in leaflets and prospectuses at you and my advice is TAKE IT ALL. You’ll need it to research the university afterwards. The prospectus is a good starting place, and your chose school probably has it’s own provisions to hand out. The Internet is also your friend – mydundee has a heck of a lot of information I used not only for deciding, but also for writing my personal statement (more on that in another post) and for my interview.

One of the key things the open day is for, however, is finding out if it’s where you feel like you can spend four plus years in. League tables and recommendations are all very well, but if you don’t feel at home there then it’s going to be a long degree. I was barely interested in Dundee before I came, but as soon as I got on campus I knew I liked the place. It seems kind of cheesy, but you need to love the atmosphere.

And that’s it, I’m afraid – the next update shouldn’t be so horrifically long, and will probably focus on the contents of my freshers pack and last minute preparations. If you have any other advice, be sure to comment. Will post soon!





Useful links

The Student Room A-Z University Guides

The Student Room: Choosing a University

The Student Room: Choosing a Subject

The Guardian’s university section, with university and course league tables

Dundee University’s site for prospective students

Dundee University visiting information

(Feel free to suggest any other sites you find useful!)

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