Right, Supernatural reference aside, looking back at what has happened in my life, I realised how far I’ve come in making my dream become a reality. I’ve always wanted to go to the U.K. to study and now that I’ve actually done it, I just honestly feel so proud of myself.
The process to get to where I am today isn’t easy. It was a long and rather tedious journey which at times I felt like giving up because of the sheer amount of things I had to do. Back then I was juggling internship. After that came exams, alongside attending interviews and putting together a portfolio site, which I honestly should have started earlier. I’m pretty sure that if it hadn’t been for the guidance and extra boost that my parents gave me, I would probably have given up and I wouldn’t have been able to get this far.
So, if you’re asking: “How to study in the U.K.”, if you’re wondering what the process is like, or if you simply just want to know how I did it, then here’s a guide to studying in the U.K.
Now before we dive in, here’s a little bit of terms that you’ll need to know about:
- Undergraduate Courses At University And College (UCAS) – the portal where you’ll be applying for your universities
- Conditional Offer – when the university you are applying to has accepted you provided you meet their conditions (in terms of grades)
- Unconditional Offer – the best thing to happen, no conditions to meet, or you have fulfilled your conditions and the university has updated the status of your offer. YOU ARE ACCEPTED INTO YOUR COURSE! (yay you!)
- International English Language Testing System (IELTS) – an English proficiency test that some universities/courses will require you to take
A Guide To Studying in the U.K. (Part 1)
A Support Squad + God
The road will be long and tough so you’re going to need is a group of very supportive people by your side. This can be your parents, friends, siblings etc. and they’re going to be your backbone throughout this whole journey of yours. They’ll be the ones to pick you up when you fall and be there to share in your joyous moments. Also, prayer helps. Being a Catholic, I’ve found that praying and asking God for guidance helps in making choices and gives you empowerment in situations where you might feel discouraged or lost. This goes for any other religion out there, sometimes when you feel that people aren’t helping you then turn to supernatural powers.
Additionally, you’ll face people who will tell you that what you want to do is not possible and you’re just dreaming. They will try to put you down by scaring you and telling you that there are a thousand and one restrictions and reasons why you shouldn’t pursue your course of study. These are the people who are weeds that are trying to crush your dreams and hold you back. Never listen to the nay-sayers, all they will ever succeed in is making you feel worthless.
It’s easier said than done trust me, because I had a person who tried to crush this dream of mine and it set me back for a bit and made me question if I was doing the right thing in life (this was still during the application period for me) or if I had just made the biggest mistake. I guess you can thank them after that because their desire to trample on your plans will honestly just make you want to put up more of a fight and prove to yourself (and them) that hey, you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it.
Planning + Research
Wanting to study overseas doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of planning, research and a whole lot of effort on your part. You need to know your schedule (be it schooling or working) and you need to make sure that you meet deadlines for portfolio submissions, or essay submissions that the university will request from you. Plan way in advance and make a note of all the important dates.
For me, I started looking at universities after I went for an overseas education fair in March 2015. It took me awhile to narrow down my choices after much research into the universities and course curriculums. This is where you might want to read up on forums or just do a basic Google search about your university, the campus life and the course they’re offering.
Look out especially for the modules and course curriculum as well as accommodation cost and the tuition fees. What I did was to make a spreadsheet to get a general feel of all the courses in the different universities and to see how much it would cost. Finally, do remember to share your research and findings with your parents. It is important to always keep them in the loop so that they know what you’re looking for. Sometimes they will even send you helpful links to help you in your research.
Applying via UCAS
I applied on UCAS about a year in advance, around early August 2015. Thankfully my Polytechnic was offering to help students apply together as a school. I felt this was easier and more through as the teachers-in-charge will help you to check your application once more before it is sent to the universities.
You have to pay a fee of £25 for 5 choices or £12 for 1 choice (2015), this has changed since and you can read more here. You don’t have to use all the slots but if you’re paying money for it you might as well go all out and make use of all the slots. Keep your choices realistic and within reach so as not to be disappointed or worrying that you won’t get into the course of your choice. It will take about a few months until you decide on your top 5 choices. Have regular discussions with your parents about the options you’ve selected and see if they agree.
After you’ve made your choices it’s time to submit your application, sit back (prepare for your exams) and keep a look out on UCAS track for your university’s reply. For those who are curious I submitted my application in early November 2015.
In the application on UCAS, besides filling in your personal particulars and selecting the courses at your university of choice, you will also need one reference from a teacher who knows you well. This is where your good behaviour and basically everything that you’ve done in each of your classes will show. If you’ve been a great student then you’ve got nothing to worry about! 🙂
Try to inform your teachers early if you want them to help you to write a reference for you. They have their own lives to lead as well and you wouldn’t want you to just spring a random assignment on them. Have a chat with them after class, bring the topic up and ask them if they would be willing to help you out. Alternatively you can drop them an email. Do remember your P’s and Q’s!
Another highlight of the UCAS application is the Personal Statement section. This is basically about selling yourself and your qualities, the experience you have in the field that you will be applying to and so on. This page will probably be useful and I also made use of this worksheet to write my statement. Remember you only have a word limit of 4,000 characters (not words), so make every word count! When you’re done you can show it to your parents and your friends so that they can help you to read through as well as point out any mistakes that you might have made.
Education Fairs/University Fairs
I like to think that these fairs are the appetisers to the main course, which is the bulk of the application on UCAS. For me I attended the ‘Education UK Exhibition’ in 2015 and then again in 2016 which were hosted by the British Council here in Singapore. These fairs usually happen early in the year around March, so do keep a look out on that.
The first year that I went to the fair I was collecting numerous prospectus (course catalogues as I like to call them) from schools that had the course I was interested in. These fairs are the best time to speak to some of the regional officers that are handling the booths for the respective schools. Take a seat at the booth and have a nice little chat with them. You’ll get to find out a bit more about what life is like at the campus and neighbouring areas as well as ask more questions about the course that you’re interested in.
The second time I attended in March 2016 was because the university of my choice was going to attend as one of the exhibitors and I wanted to know more about the school as well as the environment that I could potentially be living in. The regional officer for my school was really friendly (and also a Potterhead) and offered great insight and information that later helped me to make my final decision. Admission is free and you can sign up on the British Council website when they open registrations.
IELTS Test, is it compulsory?
This usually depends on your university and the course that you will be applying to. I suggest you email your university to check if you need to take the test. I emailed someone from my university and was told that I had to do complete the Academic Training test because my course required it.
To apply, you will have to book a date for both a written and oral test on the British Council website and pay a fee of $300. It’s pretty much like a secondary school O-Level English exam with a listening test section, essay and writing section along with a comprehension section all in the same day and then another separate day for the 10-15 minute oral test. If you want to know more you can read about it here. If you want to get the practice books (which is what I did) you can do so here or probably try to find it on Carousell at a more affordable price.
A few other things that you might need:
- League Tables – if you want to know where the school of your choice stands in the U.K. university rankings.
- The Student Room – your best friend from beginning to end this is where I go to read about the university, campus life and everything you need to know about your future school. This is also the place to meet new friends and future course-mates.
- Whatuni – comparisons galore for all the courses you are interested in, all you need to do is to get a free account and then you can compare courses to your hearts content.
With that I’ll end this post here for today, feel free to leave a comment if you need help or have questions. Do stay tuned for part 2 of this guide, which will cover interviews, visa application and anything else that I might have missed out on today!