Applying to British universities…advice from four foreign students in London
The deadline for application to UCAS, the website that centralises requests to enrol at British universities for the academic year starting in September 2017, is set at 15 January 2017. If you haven’t yet completed your file, there’s no panic – unless you want to go to one of the top British universities (Cambridge or Oxford) which have their own closing date, before all the others! But you still shouldn’t waste any time. Some comments and advice from French-speaking students who’ve been there, and are now studying in London:
Don’t leave it till the last minute
The first term of your final year at school can be intense, but you mustn’t forget to take all the time you need to prepare your application properly. You need to take your time, and go back to UCAS several times to re-enter the data. Rushing it could have disastrous consequences: acceptance on a course that you didn’t want, rejection by the university of your dreams, etc.
Choose your course with care
Ideally, you will have given this lots of thought well ahead of your orientation, so that you don’t spend weeks changing your mind about the courses you chose. This is an important point; it’s better not to spread yourself too thinly by applying to lots of different courses, but aim for the same type of qualification in universities of different levels in order to ensure an offer. The process itself is not complicated. Some of our students were helped by people from their school or by friends or siblings who have already been through it. If you know former students, don’t hesitate to ask them whether the course will meet your expectations.
Choose your university with care
It is easy to be influenced by rankings, or by hearsay. The daughter of a cousin of a friend of my mother went to such-and-such a university, which therefore makes it the best. Find out more about the universities. University websites are generally well-presented and can be real mines of information. British universities select their students based on their grades. Strategically, it’s a good idea to choose two universities that ask for grades that are slightly above your average, and two that ask for grades that are the same as or slightly below the grades you usually achieve. Be aware that if you don’t get a conditional place at the university of your choice but then you achieve very good grades in your exams, you could try again in July through clearing.
Think carefully about your personal statement
The personal statement is a covering letter that is intended to highlight the strong points of your school career, which differentiate you from other candidates. When you are in your last year at school, extra-curricular activities and commitments (sports, cultural activities, etc.) are important to give your application that personal touch. This is a difficult exercise. Don’t hesitate to ask others to read over your personal statement several times; people you trust such as your parents or a member of the education team, who speak good English and can help you fine-tune your ideas. The registration staff have hundreds of personal statements to read, so you need to try and be original while at the same time fulfilling the criteria for the course you’re applying for. Remember that once the file is sent, you can’t change it!
Consider your choice of reference teacher from your school
There will be a teacher at your school who acts as the contact point with UCAS and the British universities, sending recommendation letters from your teachers and, more importantly, the grades that they expect you to get in your year-end exams (the baccalaureate). If you are not at an international school, choose a teacher who speaks good English. It might be a good idea to ask your English teacher, even if they aren’t your main teacher…