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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Let's Talk About University; Choosing Which University To Go To & More. Personal Post!

Hello hello! So a little personal post from me today, I was approached by St Mary's University and asked if I'd like to talk about my experience when choosing which university to attend. I think it's a really good and ridiculously important topic to talk about - even if you've been to university, I'd love to know how you chose which one to go to as everyone has a different story and your story could help someone out so much. I know that people start thinking about what university to choose around May/June time as that's when open days tend to be (from memory anyway). I wrote about my top university tips quite some time ago and it went down really well so I thought that this little personal discussion may help some of you too or just be an interesting read!

Things University Taught Me;

First, I wanted to do a little paragraph about things university taught me because university is great in so many ways - fair enough it isn't for everyone but I would say university, 100% changed my life. I was so petrified to go to university, we are kind of thrown into it as soon as we finish higher education and I didn't really have much support or guidance from my 6th form, the one person who really helped me was my English teacher - she was amazing and made sure I had enough experience to get onto my dream degree. I didn't have the best experience in my first year of university as I really didn't like my accommodation and felt unfulfilled friendship-wise (you can read about how I over-came that in my university tips post here) but apart from that little hiccup, come second year, I branched out, joined sports teams, met some incredible, life-long friends, a long-term boyfriend, I started new hobbies, I met like minded people and I even won funding for my business. I saw a whole new side to university and started to love it. My main tips for getting the most out of your university experience? Put yourself forward, be confident, step out of your comfort zone, everything you want is just on the other side of fear - I didn't do this in first year, you’re in such a big place with so many big voices and you can drown amongst them all if you're not careful. Mainly though, be true to yourself and just be you.

So what stood out to me and what were important factors to look out for when the big decision came and I had to choose a university? I originally decided to do a psychology degree and this would have made my life much harder university wise actually as so many universities offer this degree, a few weeks later I actually changed my mind and decided to do more of a specific degree - not many universities, or good universities anyway offer my degree which is why I only had a few to choose from. I knew I wanted to go to a really academic and challenging university because I had chosen more of a creative degree, so I wanted it to show employers that I did have good grades and I did attend a very good university. Choosing which university to spend your time at is a very hard choice for a number of reasons and I'm going to give you some tips/tell you what I did when choosing the university I ended up going to.

- So Many Options - At aged 18, I look back now and wonder what I would have done differently if I started university now. I am such a different person, it's crazy that you have to choose your degree when you're so young but it is such a difficult decision to make. My Mum always said to me, make sure you choose somewhere where you will be happy for a full 3 years. That’s why I decided not to study psychology, I was only choosing it because I didn’t know what else to do but no way would I have wanted a job in it and no way would I have enjoyed it for three years. Really think carefully about your skills and the degree you’re going for to begin with. One of my best friends postponed university until she was 21 (she starts this September)  because she finally really knows what she wants to do now - I have a lot of respect for her because she really did a lot of research and waited until the time was right for her. I do think having to choose somewhere and something at 18 is extremely daunting but hopefully I can help you.

- Think About Your Degree First - As much as university is a fun experience and it will round and help you to grow as an individual, you're going there to work, study and get your dream career at the end of it hopefully. Choosing a university based on night life really wasn't for me. For me it wasn't just about the university, but it was about where was the best for my degree. I had good grades and knew I wanted to go to a redbrick/Russell group university so I did quite a lot of research at University rankings etc and spent hours on university websites to read course feedback and see what jobs people had got from doing my chosen degree at each university. I then made a shortlist before I'd even visited any of the open days. 

- Make A List - I’d say it’s a good idea to make a list of what you want from your university, is it social life, is it a year abroad option, is it a close knit community or is it top lecturers? It will probably be a mix of many things - that will help you narrow your searches. 

- There Are So Many Factors To Think About - For me though, as much as I wanted to be somewhere academic and somewhere that would look great to employers and obviously, somewhere with great standards of teaching in my field, I also wanted somewhere which would be a place for me to grow as a person, a place to meet people but I also wanted to be living in a good, cool, vibrant city too. I immediately knew that I didn't like certain cities so I didn't end up even looking at them for university. A main factor for me when looking at universities actually was the university having a good gym, good extracurricular clubs, sports teams and more - it sounds crazy but I wanted to keep active whilst studying so this was a big factor for me. I also really cared about campus sizes too so I tried to look for universities with small campuses. This is something I learnt when going round the universities - when comparing them to each other I realised I loved the small campus ones best - they felt cosy and homely. You need to look for somewhere where you can imagine yourself being comfortable and happy.

- Look Around, Use Open Days! - This is where you will learn what you want from a university (besides from just the teaching and the degree) and get a real feel for the university, for example it was on an open day that I realised I really didn't like huge spread out campuses. I looked around only Northern universities and I think that was actually one of my problems. I knew I didn't want to be too far away from home, I didn't want to leave my Mum, I was tied down with a boyfriend who didn't really want me to go far away (huge tip, do not let anyone ever hold you back!) and also, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my brother who went to an amazing university in the North too. I also didn't want to follow the crowd and go where all my friends went. I wish I broadened my horizons a little bit more though and really took a leap and went to university somewhere miles away, for me, I know that living in London would have benefited me greatly but actually only a few places did the degree I wanted to do so I didn't have much freedom when it came to choosing a university. If you have the freedom and many places offer your degree, give as many universities as you can a chance - have a look around them all, as many as you can because they will all offer something different! I've finally broadened my horizons now (2 years later) by going to Canada for 5 months and I actually studied there for a little bit too so got to see an amazing Canadian education system (more about my travelling journey coming on my blog soon!). I honestly had no idea that I could even do a degree abroad, it never crossed my mind but when I got to Canada I met so many people who are doing a full 3-4 year degree abroad, it really opened my eyes. When I look back by only looking at Northern universities I probably held myself back quite a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I love the university I attended but it would have been amazing to go somewhere in London just because of the industry I am in. 

- Speak To People! - There are so many forums/videos/groups online where you can speak to people who have done the degree, who have gone to those universities - you may have silly questions to ask like me, what's the gym like or are there double beds in the accommodation but honestly, it'll put your mind at ease. You might not be able to go to an open day but don’t disregard that university because of it, people like St Mary’s have made amazing videos which mean you can find out about the university from the comfort of your home. 

St Mary's in particular are doing so much to support students looking to go to university with their 'Be Part Of It' campaign. It is really hard knowing what a university is really like before you start there, yes you may have been to the open days etc but St Mary's University have tried to make the process easier by asking existing and former students why they wanted to "Be Part Of It" at St Mary's - something I feel more universities should do. They have created videos around different topics - I think it is so valuable it is to be able to see inside a University and properly meet the people too - let's not forget that you can't always get to the open days or if the university is too far away but you wonder what it is like. 

You can find out more about the Be Part Of It campaign here and hopefully it will help you when choosing a university! 

This is one of my favourite videos from the campaign, it really shows how friendly and warm the university is;

So there we have it, hopefully my post will have helped you a little bit if you're looking at choosing a university, as I said, it's not an easy choice but hopefully, this is going to help you out a little bit.

For me, I am happy with my choice, I chose a warm, friendly university with an amazing community, which is why I chose to work with St Mary's actually, even though I didn't attend there, it seems warm, and like they also have an amazing community, I love that they're doing this campaign to try and help people make their university choice easier.

How did you find choosing a university? Have you been to university? How did you choose what university to go to? Are you going to university?

*I worked with St Mary's on this but it is 100% my opinion and I really do hope this helps someone out. ** All photos from Pinterest and not owned by me.

Lots of love, Em x

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