Go Higher: The emphasis is on enjoyment

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Indy Lifestyle Online
ALL OVER the country, those wanting to go to university or college next year are beginning to put pen to paper as they tussle with the UCAS application form. I say put pen to paper, but there is an alternative.

As of this year, potential students can apply through the new electronic applications system. The EAS, as it is known, allows applicants to have a much more flexible format in which to set out their applications and, because the computer programme has an in-built error check, it stops applicants making some of the more common mistakes we encounter every year.

When the conventional application form arrives in UCAS it is checked manually, to ensure that all sections of the form have been completed, that there are no obvious errors and that it is legible. Once the forms have been checked the data is then input through keyboards so that we have a record of all applicants and their choices of courses.

The EAS carries out all the necessary checks in a few seconds and then records the appropriate data in a few further seconds. This means that applications are forwarded to universities and colleges much quicker than they have been in the past and that therefore applicants get decisions on their applications much earlier than they would otherwise do.

Whatever method of application is used it is essential, however, that the potential student has researched the application carefully.

Here I would like to emphasise one word. Enjoyment. You need to enjoy the subject that you are going to study at university or college. It is important to select a course that you really fancy and not to apply for something which you feel pressurised into by family or teachers because they think you ought to be doing that.

You will, of course, have a potential career in mind but, apart from highly specialised and technical subjects, such as medicine, or veterinary medicine, there is no essential course which acts as a prerequisite for a career. For example, if you want to be a lawyer you do not have to study law. It is perfectly possible to study a subject which you think you would enjoy and then to top up with a professional qualification before going into law. Equally, there are many computing companies who like to take on Classics graduates. They believe that the sort of logical thought processes which are needed by students of Greek or Latin grammar are similar to those which are needed in the minds of computer programmers.

You also need to enjoy where you are going to study. This is almost like buying a house. You would not buy a house where you did not want to live. So it is with your potential university or college. if you fancy the beat and noise of inner city life then you would be foolish to go to a college or university which was situated in a small town or on a greenfield site. Similarly, if you are looking for a reasonably quiet environment in which to study, it would be a mistake to go to a major civic university in one of our bigger cities.

Before you apply, therefore, you should visit potential university campuses, towns and cities to ensure that this is where you feel like spending the next few years of your life.

Also talk to your friends who are in higher education. It's OK to talk to teachers at school or careers offices, or even people like me, but we were students perhaps 10, 20 or 30 years ago and things have changed since then.

Only friends of your own age can answer the sort of questions that you need to ask. How many hours of formal teaching are there? Is it continuous assessment or are all the examinations taken at the end of each year? What are the chances of getting a job during term time and will a job affect the way I approach my workload?

Are there decent counselling services eg, chaplaincies, 24 hour students' helplines, health service and so on? Of course, partying, night life, bars, discos, sports facilities are an essential ingredient of choice but remember you are at university or college to get your degree or diploma and there is important research to do before you make the application.

You might be invited for interview. This might take the form of the typical person-to-person confrontation across the desk. OK, they are trying to find out whether you are suitable to be a student in their department but this is your chance to interview them as well. Did they try to get you to answer what you thought were trick questions? Did they invite you halfway across the country for a mere ten minutes? You may be going to spend the next three or four years of your life with these people. Are they sorts of people with whom you would enjoy working?

Above all, remember that it is your life, your future, your decision. Take all the advice which you can find but do not be pushed around others. Do what you want to do and enjoy it. In that way you will have a great time at university or college, meet new people, explore new ideas, widen your horizons so that, at the end of your time there, you can move into a decent well paid job and a potential exciting career.

Apart from reading university prospectuses, it is essential that potential applicants read the UCAS Handbook which is now available both on CD Rom and on the UCAS Website www.ucas.ac.uk, and University and College Entrance which appears in multi media CD Rom format as Studylink UK which can be purchased from Sheed and Ward, 14 Coopers Row, London EC3N 2BH.