Go Higher: How to study with a smile on your face

Set yourself up for success by choosing the course that appeals to you most, says Tony Higgins
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The Independent Online
My message to those thinking of applying to university or college is to go for it. That is why UCAS is collaborating with the Independent on Sunday to produce the Go Higher series. Go and study what you want to and what you think you would enjoy. Do not be forced by external pressures to try to get on a course that you don't really fancy. Ask yourself the simple question: "when was the last time I was successful at something I didn't really enjoy?"

If you're going into higher education at the relatively early age of 18 you may still not be sure which career you want to follow when you graduate. In any event there is no such thing as a job for life and while you may in later life go for further education and training to be re-skilled, your university or college course can give you the basic grounding for a successful career in whatever direction or directions you choose in later life.

Of course, if you want to be a doctor you have to study medicine, although there are now one or two medical schools which are making arrangements to take in arts graduates for medical training. But if you want to become a lawyer you don't have to have a law degree. You can add the study of law on to a degree in any subject. Computer companies often like to take on classics graduates because students of Latin and Greek apparently think and use their minds in ways not dissimilar to those who are writing computer programs. The BBC for example likes to take a number of arts graduates into its engineering areas and then train them in the necessary engineering techniques to help to prepare them to present the widest variety of programmes.

So, take a subject you will enjoy and go to a university or college where you will enjoy living. You wouldn't wish to buy a house in an area you didn't like. Selecting a university or campus needs the same kind of decision. For example, there's often a completely different atmosphere about a university or college which is either very large or small, or offers a lot of student accommodation or doesn't have very much. And you'll also need to consider whether you'll feel more comfortable in the centre of a city or if you'd prefer to spend your time on a green field campus.

Always try to visit the institutions to which you are applying and try to talk to students and staff there. If you are formally invited to a departmental open day or an interview, take up the opportunity and see how they behave towards you. You have got to live and work alongside these people for perhaps three or four years and you will need to enjoy their company.

If, for example, at an interview, they start asking you "trick" questions or those to which you cannot really possibly know the answer, what's your view of their approach? If they have summoned you from half way down the country only to give you 10 minutes of their time what is your view of their treatment of you? Test them out.

Going to university or college can be difficult. Living on a grant, moving from home for the first time, making new friends, and studying at an increasingly intense level can pose problems. It is also, however, huge fun and unless you encounter a very serious problem (and it has to be admitted that some students do) I can almost guarantee that you will have the time of your life, get a good qualification, and move into well-paid employment which will then enable you to settle down into family life and probably have children of your own.

But remember this if you can in about 25 years' time: when it's your children's turn to apply to university or college let them follow their instincts and do not try to pressure them into doing something which you think is good for them!

Tony Higgins is Chief Executive of UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), Rosehill, New Barn Lane, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire,GL52 3LZ. Website:http://www.ucas.ac.uk