Go Higher: Higher education: open to everyone

University is a natural choice for anyone who enjoys new experiences, writes Tamsin Smith
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The Independent Online
University is for anyone who wants to spend three or four years in an institution studying a subject which interests them with lots of other young people with the same interests.

If you have obtained the required exam grades it makes it all the easier to enter, but if you have missed out there is still a chance of a place if you apply through the clearing system.

On the academic side, university and college are about stretching your mind, challenging you to think different and independently about things and learning to debate, present and argue your point coherently.

But it is also about social and personal development. Anyone who wants to open their mind to new experiences, to meet new people, learn new skills and to develop in a learning, supportive environment, should think about applying.

"University needn't be just for people who have good A-level grades either," says Marsha Vitali, schools and colleges liaison officer for the University of Manchester.

"More and more universities are opening their doors to people who have found alternative routes in, and just because you fail to get your exams or gain the required grades for a course does not mean you will not benefit from a university education."

She says higher education is a natural choice for young people who have some academic ability and who want to enhance their career prospects by studying for a degree and sampling the joys of university life.

But it is fast becoming a choice for many older people who have perhaps missed out on education when they were of school age, and want to re-enter the education system to gain qualifications so they can change the direction of their lives.

"University is a melting pot of different people, cultures and academic disciplines," she added.

"Learning to find your way around will set anyone up well to cope with life. If you think you want to go, apply. It is much easier to drop out of the application process if you change your mind, than it is to apply late.

"If you are a mature student and do not have the traditional A-level entry requirements there are plenty of other ways to get into university." As a first stop, there is a National Careers Service with branches in most large towns and cities.

They will have an abundant supply of literature and staff to advise and inform you of your choice and to show you what options are available. If you are an A-level or higher student you should discuss your options with your teacher or whoever is in charge of the careers office.

Most schools have very good careers libraries with shelves of books about university and college life and subject areas and qualified staff to help you decide.

"I'd never suggest going into higher education unless it is something you have decided to do yourself," says Mrs Vitali.

"Too many students apply only because their parents have pressured them to do so.

"I'd also suggest that unless you have a particular career in mind which demands a specific degree, such as medicine or veterinary science, you chose a subject which interests you otherwise it will be a very long three years.

"Higher education benefits everyone. It will benefit you by developing your personality and you career prospects. Your employer benefits from your skills, the local community will benefit from having an educated and skilled workforce, and your university community will benefit from the income you bring to it."

Though a degree tends to be the most common qualification to study at university, it is also possible to study for an HND - Higher National Diploma, in many subjects.

A degree requires a higher standard of entry and is more academically orientated, while an HND course has a lower entry level and is more vocational.

"Both qualifications are a detailed and focused programme of study over three or four years, and both are well received by employers," says Ross Hayman, media relations officer for UCAS, the University and Colleges Admission Service.

"Which one to take depends very much on what you want to achieve at the end of it. If you are set on a job which requires a degree, or if you want to study a subject of general interest to you, then a degree course would be more suitable to you.

"If you want to follow a more work-related period of study, like business management, information technology or industry and commerce, then it might be wiser to take an HND."

Anyone can apply to go to university, regardless of age, background, or even academic history as many universities now offer access courses to help those lacking in qualifications.

The usual entry is by getting the right A-level grades in England and Higher exams in Scotland, but it is also possible to gain entry with GNVQs and by following an access course which bypasses school qualifications.

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