This is going to be the first in what will hopefully become a series of University related posts. This post is aimed at those who are either at the end of GCSEs or at the end of their AS level studies. I don't know how this would correlate to other parts of the world - sorry! - but it would be two of three years before you'd actually start going to University. I'm coming towards the end of my second year of Uni, and I've had my ups and downs just like everyone else. Hopefully this post will start to answer a couple of question you might have!
1) Do you want to go to University and WHY? This feels like a silly question, and if you're reading this you've probably already decided that Uni is the right choice for you. There are obviously loads of pros and cons to going to uni, but it's important that you know why it is that YOU specifically want to go. Maybe its because you know exactly what career you want and you know what it takes to get there? Maybe its because you don't know what career you want, so want to stay in education a bit longer to find out whats out there? Maybe you want to move out from your parents house, go somewhere new and meet a whole new set of people? Maybe you just love to study? At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what your reasons are, just so long as you have one and its important to YOU. I know people who've applied to and gone to Uni just because its what everyone else was doing, and they haven't lasted very long. Whether you decided Higher Education is right for you or not, the focus has to be on you.
For me, I never considered another option. I was academic at school, and knew exactly what I wanted to study. I also wanted to suspend 'real life' for as long as possible, so staying in education felt like the perfect choice!
2) What are you going to study? This is probably one of the most important things you've got to have started thinking about before you've selected your A level subjects (although, if you haven't thought about it yet and you're at the end of AS studies don't worry!) Some uni's will demand that you have certain A Levels at a certain grade before you can study their course - for example I'm on an English literature with creative writing course, and part of the course requirement was an A grade in either English lit or English lang (or the combined option). Most arts or humanities courses will only specify a grade in the subject you want to study, but for some science or medicine related courses they might asks for multiple subject requirements (ie, for medicine they may ask for an A grade in Chemistry, as well as another Science or Maths subject with a C grade at AS in Maths). What you pick at A level becomes super important for getting on the course you want to do, so its worth picking your options carefully.
If you don't know what you want to study yet, I'd recommend picking a range of subjects which work well together and you have an interest in. In my AS year I studied English lit, English lang, politics and media. I knew I wanted to do a literature course, but I needed some complimentary subjects too. I'd never studied politics before and it became my second favourite lesson (after Eng lit). Its worth going for something you've never tried before, but if you can go for a taster session before I'd really recommend it - I almost took sociology, but when I hated the taster session I knew that I wouldn't do well in it.
3) Where do you want to study? This is sometimes a hard question. For me, location didn't matter - I ended up going to the Uni with the best course which just so happened to be my local university. For one of my friends, they knew they wanted to be near the sea or a large body of water, so ruled out city universities. There are lots of things to consider when picking a uni, particularly their reputation and their expectations: what grades do they want you to get, are these grades achievable, and do these grades reflect the reputation of the course itself? Once you've narrowed down your options, its a good idea to check out open days. Most unis start holding open days towards the end of June, so its worth getting in there early. You can also go down the route of arranging private talks with the head of subject at your prospective uni's - it'll make you more memorable and will answer your specific set of questions or concerns.
This is also a question you can't really answer until the end of your AS year - you need to have some sort of idea what level you are working at and you need to make the universities expectations and your own realistic: if a university is asking for 3 A's and you got three D's and an E at AS, you're either going to have to do a lot of work, or change for a university which wants C's. Don't set a ridiculously high bar for yourself - it'll just stress you out.
If you do know exactly where you want to go at GCSE, then well done as you're a couple of steps ahead of everyone else! It just means you have to work with a clear goal throughout your A levels - and bear in mind that universities change their requirements each year.
4) Have you started work on your personal statement? This only applies to AS level students, although its useful to think about doing things to create material for your statement during the summer after GCSEs. The summer after AS levels is the perfect time to start work on your personal statement. Some universities will read statements, hold interviews and allocate places as soon as they start receiving them, so its worth it to get a statement in early. Cambridge and Oxford have a lot earlier deadlines than most other uni's, so if you want a shot at getting in you'll need to apply as soon as possible (their application process is a bit different and a lot more intense than most other UK uni's, so you might want to check that out before you apply).
If you're a bit stuck on what to put in your personal statement, remember universities want to know you're passionate about their subject AND that you're a rounded individual. Hobbies outside of school or extra curricular activities look great, as does work and volunteering experience. Its worth remembering that personal statements aren't very long, so only pack in what you think is really important and will make you stand out! I put a funny fact about me at the beginning of my statement (and made sure it was relative to the course I wanted), so it doesn't all have to be dry and informational. I had so many meetings with my form tutor about my statement - he was sure it should be organised differently - but remember at the end of the day its a PERSONAL statement. Take advice, but make sure it still feels like you.
I hope that helps a bit. If there's anything you'd really like to know leave me a comment or tweet me @VickiMaitland and I'll try to make a post about it asap, or if its super specific/urgent I can reply to you there and then!Over the next two weeks I'll be doing an English Lit specific post about how to prepare over the summer, so if you've got any specific questions about that, drop me a line and I'll try to cover them!