Thinking about University – How early is too early?

Posted by Gareth Short

Having recently graduated in law from Cardiff University it seems a long, long time ago that I was thinking about applications and the general prospect of applying to a University. I distinctly remember teachers saying “soon enough you’ll be thinking about what courses you want to do, where you want to do them and for how long” – and that was as far back as year 9. Of course around that time I didn’t give higher education too much thought and was happy to go about studying whatever it was I was studying without too much worry about the future. Now however I’ve realised the importance of understanding your goals and paths early on to give yourself the best chance at succeeding.

I’m going to draw on a lesson which my dad has repeated to me and my sister for the past 10 years – the open door analogy. He likes to say that one of the most important things as you move from years 9 to 10, from 11 to 12, and from 13 to University, is to keep your doors (or your options) open. The more doors you keep open, the more likely you are to succeed at something. It’s not always about becoming the world’s greatest neurosurgeon, but perhaps giving yourself the opportunity to become A neurosurgeon or at least study in that field. And the sooner you realise that there are certain things required to achieve that goal, the better.

For example, medicine is widely regarded as one of the most competitive courses in any university. Standards are extremely tough to achieve, with many high ranking universities asking for A*’s at GCSE and A*- A at A-Level, with at least Biology and Chemistry. If you get to the beginning of year 12 and you haven’t taken Biology and Chemistry then you’re no longer within a shot of taking medicine – that door is closed. This isn’t a problem if you know that you want to go on to do English and therefore chose to do English language, literature and philosophy but the crucial point is you need to know what YOU can do with your courses and grades.

As numbers of University applicants continue to increase despite higher fees, it’s becoming increasingly important to enhance your uni application with extra curriculars. This may sound like something you’ve heard before, but when it comes to personal statements it takes a lot to stand out in a pile of thousands of other applicants – all of whom will have similar grades to you. Work experience in the field of your choice is vital – for example small internships with a law firm will seriously help you in your application as it demonstrates independence and determination to get more than just a degree.

Whether you’re starting GCSE’s, or finishing them, or even coming close to the end of your time in sixth form, it’s important to bear in mind the path that you’ve laid out in front of yourself. On too many occasions students have been disappointed by their inability to study a course because they’re missing a key subject at a certain level – by planning ahead and being completely aware of what’s required to achieve your goals you can avoid that disappointment.

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