A guest post from Anthony Beaumont, founder of Hashtag Tuition.
The key to any successful university application is immersion. I normally advise preparing for your application a year in advance, especially if you're planning for entry to Oxbridge. However, by following the steps below, you can boost your application over a much shorter period of time. The important thing to show university admissions tutors is that you have passion for your subject.
1. Be Widely Read
Books are fantastic and they're a great way of expanding your knowledge. The key to broadening your reading tastes is to begin with entry level texts that explain the background to concepts and theories that you're interested in. Once you grasp the basics, it won't be long before you'll want to expand your knowledge and focus on more complex material. Being widely read not only prepares you for your studies at university but also gives you more material to mention in your personal statement. Plus, if you're asked to attend an interview at the university of your choice, it'll give you topics to talk about.
2. Consider Attending Summer Schools
Whereas the idea of spending your summer holidays at school may not sound too appealing, the benefits you'll gain from doing so will be worthwhile. Firstly, a summer school will greatly boost your confidence. It'll introduce you to new ideas and help you develop the mind-set that universities look for in high school students.
When I was applying to university, I attended a summer school and it greatly improved my confidence in debating and expressing opinions no end. I also made some brilliant friends in the process. Summer schools are also a great thing to talk about on the personal statement section of your university application. At Hashtag Tuition, we run summer schools in London for sixth formers.
3. Showcase Your Talents by Entering Competitions
With all that extra reading you'll be doing, why not consider entering an essay competition? It doesn't neccessarily need to be about an English topic as many competitions are open to a range of subjects and are flexible in what you can write about. They can be a great way to focus your learning on a particular topic beyond the syllabus, which is something that the top universities look for in student applications. And don't worry about whether you win the competition or not, although it's a great acheivement if you do win, being able to say that you participated will show university admissions that you've shown commitment to your subject.
4. Attend Talks and Seminars
Although listening to podcasts can be a great way to passively improve your knowledge, there's no substitute for experiencing a lecture first hand. Just being there in the room gives you the opportunity to engage with the subject matter on a deeper level. Think of it as the foundations of the type of thought architecture that universities look for. By attending a live talk, you'll have more of an opportunity to think about what the speaker is saying. See what talks and seminars local universities and schools are offering in your area and follow the movements of the top academics in your subject - they often give talks at various university events.
5. Thoroughly Research the University You're Applying to
Before you apply to your university of choice, take the time to do as much research into the institution as you can. The more you know about the university and the course that you're hoping to take, the better equipped you'll be to tailor your application to that specific establishment. If possible, try to speak with current students at the university you're applying to. This can give you some useful insights into what university life is like and what that particular establishment offers in way of extra curricular activities.
6. Aim to Impress Your Current Teachers
As part of your application, a lot of weight is given to the reference you receive from your current school. It's worthwhile putting your best foot forward while you're still there as a good reference from your teachers can make all the difference in you gaining a place. It's important that you don't expect them to be biased though. If teachers exaggerate your abilities and you end up missing your grades, universities could be less likely to give students from your school a place in the future.
7. Keep up to Date with Current Affairs
As a student, your thoughts and opinons are greatly valued by society. The university that you become a part of, will want to know that you represent their best interests and have a desire to maintain their high standards. One way of demonstrating to the admissions service that you're a perfect candidate, is to show them that you keep up to date with topical issues in the news and in the subject you hope to study. If you're doing a social sciences subject like Politics or Economics, you'll really benefit from reading the daily news and if you're planning to study something cultural like a Modern Foreign Language, it's also a good idea to keep up to date with the latest happenings in that country.
8. Swap Your Spotify Playlist for a Radio 4 Documentary
A good way to supplement attending live talks is to listen to academic podcasts. I love the top ten as much as anyone, but listening to academic podcast shows really helped me broaden my knowledge when I was applying for universities. If you keep up to date with the latest literature, theories and academic developments, you'll give yourself a strong advantage if you're asked to attend a face to face interview at a university.
9. Focus on Achieving Your Predicted Grades
It goes without saying, but the best way to boost your application is to have a strong set of grades. This is one of the main things universities will look at. Remember, even if you don't have the offers that you were hoping for, a stronger than expected performance can give you a great chance when it comes to applying through the clearing process. In all the excitement at the prospect of getting into university, it's important not to become complacement with your current studies.
10. Gain Real Life Experience
Sometimes it can feel like a bit of catch 22, you're only 18 years old yet you're expected to have cultured life experiences to talk about. However, in saying that, universities do understand that part of the reason you're applying to them is to gain some of that life experience that they look for. One way of gaining valuable experience is to take on a part time job, or set yourself the task of taking on a a difficult challenge. Not only will having experience boost your CV, but working in a role related your subject in some capacity will give you first hand knowledge of the field.
Do you have any advice that you'd like to share about applying to universities? How would you recommend students boost their applications? We'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.
About the Author
Anthony Beaumont is the Founder of Hashtag Tuition, a tutoring agency in London, who offer one to one private tuition, Easter Gradebooster Courses and summer schools. To find out more, visit www.hashtagtuition.co.uk.
Image credit: Francisco Osorio - https://www.flickr.com/photos/francisco_osorio/9513730462