If you’re in your final year of education, now is probably a good time to start thinking about the future. Don’t worry, I am not here to lecture you. The question, “what do you intend to do with your life?” has probably popped up all too often and the last thing you need is another person trying to steer you in a direction you haven’t chosen for yourself. The process of applying to university can be extremely overwhelming and if you have indeed decided to take this route, we here at The Indiependent want to help.
I took conventional classes for most of my educational career so when I was suddenly provided with the opportunity to study anything, anywhere, I was overcome with a feeling of uncertainty. Whilst some people have a clear goal and have mapped out a way to achieve it, for the rest of us, the journey is slightly tougher. I changed my mind daily and feared the commitment of signing up to a three or four year course. There were endless questions that came with the prospect of studying. What if I do not like my subject? What if I don’t like the location? What if my degree will not help me get a job? In our society a heaping amount of pressure is put on young people to go to university and gain an edge on the increasingly competitive job market. Whilst your time at uni is said to be one of the greatest experiences of your life, the events leading up to actually getting in can be an extreme burden.
Before we begin, I would like to note that I am Swiss and this has made my experience a little different. As the admissions teams struggled to answer many questions regarding EU/EEA students I was left to do a lot of the research on my own. While this was very complicated there was one main upside. My passport has allowed me to benefit from reduced tuition fees. If you are an EU/EEA citizen it is likely this will apply for you as well. Whilst money shouldn’t dictate where you end up studying, I will admit that finances did influence my final decision. With course fees increasing at a staggering rate, many students are left pondering how they will be able to pay for their degree – or if their chosen program is even worth the cost. In America you hear horror stories of senior citizens paying off student loans up until their death. In Europe education tends to be more affordable and loan conditions more forgiving but the problem of starting your adult life in debt still affects countless people. In this feature I will give you the lowdown on fascinating and cost effective study options that you may not have previously considered along with some details about the application procedure. Here are eight steps to studying in Europe:
Step 1: Narrow down course choices
I did A Levels in English Literature, Biology and German. This rather random combination left me torn between two faculties, arts and science. It was extremely difficult to find a place that would have allowed me to combine the two so inevitably I was faced with a decision. If you’re like me and find the idea of committing your time to only one discipline extremely daunting or just aren’t sure what to study, then here are some suggestions for you….. If your mind is made up, you may want to skip over to step #2.
- Consider a joint honors degree. Many universities allow you to study two unrelated subjects at the same time. While the pros and cons of this are widely debated, I will leave that up to you. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales joint honors degrees are offered at many institutions but will require that you choose your subjects when initially applying through UCAS. This can make for a rather tricky scenario if not all of your choices offer similar combinations. You may only write one personal statement. Covering too many subjects will make for a messy and disorganized passage that communicates a lack of commitment to the admissions team. Alternatively, UCL has recently developed a new and innovative program allowing students to study the arts and social sciences together with a major/minor pathway. This may appeal to those having difficulty choosing.
- Cost: In England your course will run you 9,000+ GBP per year. Degrees are mainly three years unless you have opted for study abroad or work placement. While the UKCISA states that students from EU/EEA countries should qualify to pay home fees, this seems to vary greatly depending on the institution. I was offered a place at two English universities, both of which regarded me as an international student. In many cases you can fill out a fee reassessment form to argue your case. This usually needs to be submitted within 30 days of receiving an offer. Following this however, the university reserves the right to reassess your application although it is unlikely that they will.
- If you’re looking for even more flexibility consider going up North. At most Scottish universities an arts degree will require 160 credits from three additional subjects across your first and second year. These subjects don’t need to be related to your major and can sometimes also be from other faculties. Following your fourth semester you can then choose to continue on with a joint honors degree or choose to major in one of the other subjects you have studied. Some classes may have pre-requisites but for the most part you are provided with a wide range of choice, allowing you to cultivate new skills and discover interests you may not even know you had. It is worth having a look at the structure of the degree at each university and ensuring you are aware of what joint honors combinations exist. This will often change from year to year. While you may be able to study many subjects, not all of them can be continued up through honors due to clashes or lack of space. It is imperative that you know this beforehand. It is also important that you look at the final qualification you will receive. In Scotland both MAs and BAs are awarded, depending on the course and university in question. I am currently studying towards an MA, which is misleadingly called a Master of Arts. It is however an undergraduate degree offered at various ancient universities in Scotland including the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and St. Andrews to name a few. For more about the four year degree, see here.
- Cost: If you are applying to a Scottish university as an EU student, note that there is a cap for students receiving funding and this may decrease your chances of being made an offer. I was given a conditional offer to study English at The University of Edinburgh which was later revoked upon clarifying my fee status. Despite the original offer being made at BBB, I was told that as a funded student A*A*A* would be expected of me and they could therefore they could no longer offer me a place. As an EU/EEA national you can apply to have all of your tuition fees paid by SAAS given that you reside in Scotland before the relevant date, which is the 1st of August. This will need to be done independently of the university by making an account and submitting documents for The Student Awards Agency Scotland to review. You will otherwise be charged a fee of 1,820 GBP per annum to cover your tuition and this can be paid directly to the university. Unfortunately, these fee reductions do not apply to students from England or Northern Ireland. On the bright side some universities have capped fees at 27,000 GBP for the four year program. It is worth considering that a year of additional study has has both positives and negatives. It will equate to higher expenses in living costs and will postpone work opportunity for an additional period. It can however, provide you with more time to explore new disciplines and really immerse yourself in your chosen subject.
- Go to Ireland. At universities such as UCD you will study four subjects in your first year and then have the opportunity to opt for a joint honors degree. In Ireland matriculation is based on a points system.This can be very beneficial because it allows you to obtain he points from various combinations of subjects rather than having specific requirements in each, e.g. an A in Biology. To convert your grades to points, have a look at this page.
- Cost: In Ireland, EU/EEA students that meet the criteria can benefit from free tuition. They will however, need to pay a student contribution fee of 3,000 euros per year. Please note that this also applies to students living in the UK. If you do not meet these criteria the fees will run you more than twice that per year.
- Another option available to students eager to excel in a wide range of subjects would be attending a University College in The Netherlands. While these prestigious institutes are extremely competitive, often requiring exceptional scores in disciplines such as math for matriculation, they provide a wonderful opportunity. Here you can study a fascinating combination of topics within your faculty and benefit from an intimate atmosphere. University Colleges in The Netherlands are linked to the larger institutions but provide an alternative program. Have a look at Amsterdam University College and University College Utrecht which are both internationally renowned for high academic standards. The courses will be taught in English, so they appeal to a diverse range of students.
Cost: The Netherlands is known for providing affordable education. For example at Amsterdam University college UK students along with all other EEA/Swiss and Surinamese nationals will pay home fees amounting to a approximately 4,000 Euros per annum. Degrees are three years and most University Colleges require you live on campus, allowing you to budget your accommodation fees prior to starting the course.
Step 2: Search for courses according to subject interest.
A few very helpful sites exist to make your life a bit easier.
- UCAS. If you intend to apply for university in the UK, its best you familiarize yourself with this site as all applications are processed through here. It has a very handy search engine, allowing you to look for institutions based on course and location. It does not however, allow you to search by entry requirements and occasionally there will be discrepancies between the information provided on UCAS and the information given on the official website of the university. In these cases it is best to contact the institution directly.
- If you are looking to study in Ireland, head on over to the central applications office website. This is their equivalent of UCAS.
- This is probably the most useful place to begin your search. http://www.studyineurope.eu allows you to look for courses across Europe by keyword, tuition fees, language of instruction or country. It can be challenging finding courses in English in countries where this is not their national language. However, The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark offer many courses in English, as do other European countries. It also provides you with a brief summary of what to expect while studying in each nation. This website will also expose you to some courses you probably didn’t know existed.
Step 3: Deciding if both the course and university are a good fit for you.
While the course should be your main focus, it isn’t sensible to overlook the fact that you will be spending three to four years in a new place. For this reason, it is best to research the location and visit if you have a chance. If open days do not match up with your schedule, contact the school. Most institutions will be happy to give you a private tour, which may allow you to see how things run on a normal day. Thanks to technology, if you cannot visit have a look at google maps street view and get a feel for what the area looks like. Research university rankings, ratings and reviews but take them with a grain of salt. Feedback from former students can be very helpful but occasionally misleading. Just because a course is right for someone else, does not mean it is right for you. Here are some questions to think about when reaching a decision.
- Is the uni located in a city or the countryside?
- Are buildings spread out or close together on campus?
- How many students are there? What size lectures and tutorials can be expected?
- Are there any clubs and societies that interest me ?
- Is there a possibility for work or internship during the duration of the program?
- What is the main language of the institution? While going abroad can be a great experience, it can be rather isolating if you cannot communicate with the majority of people. This is not likely to be an issue in larger European cities but it is something to be considered when looking at universities further out. Just because a university offers a select few courses in English, does not mean that the rest of the community is fluent in the language.
- Is there an airport or public transport nearby that will allow me to visit home? It is easy to feel homesick, especially during freshers week when university life is all so new to you. If you have the possibility it can be very pleasant to know that your family and friends are just a short trip away.
*Note that it is normal to feel nervous or have some doubts. You can never be 100% sure how it will go until you try. Planning will only take you so far.*
Step 4: Figuring out if it is worth applying.
Will I get in? This is always a valid question students ask themselves while considering university options. Perhaps now is the best time to overestimate yourself and your abilities. While I am certainly not suggesting you be unrealistic about your choices, I do think that you should apply to your dream schools even if they may seem a little out of reach. The typical offer feature on UCAS is only a suggestion and while admissions teams primarily focus on grades, other factors such as your personal statement and reference letter are taken into account. UCAS allows you to apply to five universities, so it is okay to apply to a few that may well end in rejection. The UCAS application will run you 23 GBP. In many other European nations there is no fee so there is no excuse for not trying. If you are not certain if you qualify for entry it is always best to call and speak to the university to clarify your situation as each case will be assessed differently.
Not sure what grades to expect in exams? Perhaps consider a back up option in another country. For example, arts courses in the Netherlands typically require passing grades (E or above) in six subjects, three of which must be at A Level. When comparing this to requirements in the UK this will seem incredibly low. However, this does not mean the teaching standard is poor. These universities often place higher than a large proportion of UK institutions despite their attitude welcoming students of all kinds.
Many other European countries have a similar approach. In Switzerland the requirements for most universities are the same. You will need grades C or higher in six specified subjects, three of which must be at A Level. However, in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria, teaching is primarily in a language other than English and most schools will ask for proof of proficiency in said language. If you are not taking A Levels, have a look at the entry requirements related to your diploma.
Step 5: Finding out where to apply.
Many countries have a central applications system whilst others allow you to apply to the institution directly. Each university will clarify this on their website. You may need to make numerous accounts, for numerous universities and applications portals, so it is best to start now and familiarize yourself with the pages.
Be aware of the application deadlines. For UCAS the final day to submit your choices is 15th of January unless you will be applying for Oxford, Cambridge etc. It is recommended that you do not wait until last minute as this may or may not decrease your chance of receiving an offer.
Step 6: Personal Statements
If you are applying to the UK or Ireland you will need to submit a personal statement. The same is true for some courses in other European nations. If you are applying to a variety of courses in different countries, for different subjects it is best to get a head start so you will have time to write coherent and convincing pieces. Be sure to look at examples and get a feel for the structure and appropriate language. The main point is always to show interest in your chosen subject and demonstrate why you would be a good fit for their course. Remember to focus on the positive aspects, now is not the time to second guess yourself or your chosen area of study. Stray away from cliches and redundancies. The admissions team will be reading thousands of applications, likely to be coming from students just as well qualified as yourself. I make no promises but an eloquent statement might just set you apart from the masses. Here are some tips and tricks.
Step 7: Do I need to submit additional documents? What about interviews? Entrance Exams?
In some cases you may need to submit copies of previous exam certificates, a copy of your passport (for fee assessment) and a letter of provisional results provided by your current school. This probably only applies if you are aiming to study at an institution outside of the UK. If your diploma is not in English, many schools will require you take a test to prove you have attained a level of English that is relevant for academic study and may require a translated copy of your transcript. It is best to get all of this paper work sorted out and scanned to your computer so when the time comes you can email this to the school and ensure the process is not delayed.
If a university expects students to turn up for an interview, present them with a portfolio or sit an entrance exam, this will be stated beforehand. It is something to think about before sending in an application. Are you willing to travel for an interview or exam? Does this exam clash with your final exams at school?
Step 8: Peer Review
Ask your friends, family and teachers to look over your application and see what they think about your choices. Sometimes it can helpful to get some feedback from the people that know you best. However, do not let their advice influence your decision too much. Once you are confident about your applications, send them off and take a deep breath. You are halfway there.
Final Word: Now it is time so sit back and try to enjoy your final year. Regardless of how your exams go, or where the coming months will lead you, you have completed many years of education and that is an accomplishment in itself.
Words by Tamyra Denoon