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March 13, 2011 / Nick

UCAS Track

6th formers, here’s my advice to you for using UCAS Track – Don’t take it lightly. This unassuming site holds the key to your future.

It was March 13th 2008 when I made my final decision on which UCAS offers to accept and decline. I remember deliberately choosing the 13th to do it as it had become my lucky day at the time (I passed both my driving theory and practical tests on 13ths). It felt like such a huge, scary deal knowing that I was just a few clicks of some drop down boxes away from cementing what was probably going to be one of the most important decisions of my life. It’s a brief moment of nervous thrill that is probably only equalled by accepting a date on or putting a parcel of body hair addressed to a celebrity into a post box.

I was lucky enough to have secured five out of five offers and the decisions I made at the time were as follows. Looking back, some of them may have been rash, but all’s well that ends well I suppose:

University of Sheffield – Firm
I loved Sheffield the minute that I first went. They really rolled the red carpet out on the open day and it felt almost like the prospectus and the reality actually made a match for once. Everywhere I looked in the city were young, laid-back, unpretentious student-types and I wanted to be in their gang. It was pretty much my favourite university right from the word go and the department really appealed to me. By getting their offer in so quickly (about a week after I sent my application) I had the longest time to imagine myself there. I really liked what I imagined. I lived what I imagined.

University of York – Insurance
The city of York was also instantly charming. The quaint little cafés and sweet shops made it seem like living there would be like living in a Lilliput Lane model. The university by contrast with its unusual UFO shaped Central Hall and brutalist accommodation blocks made it seem like living there would be like living in a concrete breeze block. I wasn’t keen on the idea of a campus uni where attending a lecture would be as easy as opening your window in the morning and letting the sound travel. But the course had a good reputation and I was being sensible by having it as my insurance.

Newcastle University – Declined
I adore Newcastle. I think it might be my favourite city in the UK. There’s enough clubs and bars that there could always be something to do at night. Every conceivable shop and restaurant so there could always be something to do in the day. The university was another top class institute for my course.  It was one of the toughest choices I had to make between where to place these three unis. Ultimately, I couldn’t bring myself to put it alongside Sheffield as they both made the same offer; if I missed it by one grade, then both unis could have rejected me and I’d have nothing. Plus Sheffield was already my ‘rave’ choice while York was my ‘behave’ choice. I thought that it would be silly to have two ‘rave’ choices (in hindsight, there’s really no reason why).

University of Leeds – Declined
I never visited Leeds. I still haven’t despite it being about an hour’s hop away. In fact, I have next to no idea what the university even looks like. We started on the wrong foot. I found their website confusing and amateurish, and all that people would tell me about the city was about the unusually high rate of burglary in the student neighbourhoods. They could have been in with a shout if they hadn’t made their offer a full 3 months after all the others. By the time they invited me to a subject open day I had all but decided who would be in my top 2 and already ruled them out of the picture before they had the chance to the same.

University of Sussex – Declined
Sussex was unlucky in that it was my 5th choice uni from the very outset. Problem 1 was that being from South London, Brighton is a familiar acquaintance. There’s less than an hour’s separation between the campus in Falmer and my house. I felt like I wouldn’t gain my independence by essentially being on my front doorstep. Problem 2 was that I pretty much hated the campus. All the accommodation that didn’t look like ugly Pontins chalets was pricey (Rent was about £100 per month more than of any of the other unis I was looking at), the union seemed lacklustre and it’s quite remote from the bright lights of the city by the sea. To me, campus living didn’t seem that far removed from being in an open prison. Problem 3 was that the staff seemed to think more highly of the uni than I ever could. At the open day, the lecturer giving a talk on the application process said half-jokingly, half-spitefully that they wouldn’t consider applicants who had narrowly missed their grade requirements if Sussex was their insurance choice.  Of all the universities, they seemed the most desperate for more bodies and I just wasn’t all that keen to be one of them. I felt a bit like I wasted a choice in the end.

Isn’t hindsight fun? But sometimes it make you realise how much you prioritized things that ultimately didn’t really matter in your life. As I say, all’s well that ends well and while I may or may not have made a muddle of choices 2 to 5, my number 1 would have always been the same. So where I’m writing this right now, 3 years later would have been the same whatever happened.

6th formers, choose wisely if you haven’t chosen already. It is a really big decision not to be made lightly. But relax, because maybe you could be as happy 3 years later as I am.

Review: Probably the most stressful but important website you’ll ever use.


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