I write this statement from inexperienced hands, but I think that most people who class university as an important element of education will be investigating, or at least considering, it from mid-teens age. I, personally, found myself crossing a border when I turned 15 where, as my inquisitiveness developed, several million questions awaited me. Therefore, I think this article will outline some of the pressures that teenagers of this age are likely to feel when confronting these questions.

1) What is university all about?
The first thing in my mind would probably be an obvious question to most older people now, but it is important for somebody like me, who has little idea of what all this talk of ‘future’ and ‘higher education’ is all about. I was lucky in the fact that I have strong connections with university lecturers and professors and could get a firm grasp of what I wanted to know.

A common misconception with universities is that they are all the same. I know now that this is almost entirely wrong. Even the very concepts vary. For example, some universities will pride themselves on certain subjects more than others; some universities will ask you to specialise straight away while others provide more general courses. These are differences without even taking into consideration teachers, campus, accommodation, fees, funding, location, etc. But more about all of those later.

2) Where should I aim?
Perhaps the most difficult question to answer, depending on how confident you are within yourself. For someone with a weakness in self-confidence, like myself, it was – and still is – very tricky. What grades am I getting? What grades will I get? Why would universities want me? What’s my best subject and do I even have one?

I pondered and eventually delved into some research. Based on how interested I am in certain subjects, I researched courses paying careful attention to what’s involved, career prospects and the universities to suit that choice: as overall league tables do not always match.

Once you have a basic idea of what you could be doing later on in life, the tricky decision of your own limits comes into action. This is the toughest thing. What if you aim too high and get rejected by everywhere? What if you aim too low and end up with a mediocre degree? The best way to look at it is that your limits are set by yourself. If you are willing to work for it, and pull your side of the bargain, then you can afford to aim high. There is arguably more satisfaction in trying your best to get something you want, even if it ends in failure, than to not try much and end in success, would you believe it?

Further research should continue. You’re asking all the right questions, but, if my experience is anything to go by, you’re getting a blur of answers too confusing to trust. I took a step which took me off the internet (shock horror) and into the real world. I went and visited potential towns to get a grasp of what I could be getting into. No matter if it rules out some places and puts in others, it’s worth it to get a clearer view. Just make sure you have a completely non-judgemental and open mind when doing so.

Research is the main stage to any university. You need to know it before you jump in. Get ideas of courses, departments, requirements and, of course, fees. Any other information you can derive from websites and people you know. All will be useful. If you’re at a later stage, apply/go for a open day/event/tour (if possible). Knowledge will be the most comforting thing in the ‘Getting In’ stage.

3) What exams do I need for this?
Again, an important aspect. Whichever university it is, you need to be looking at what the requirements are. What A-levels (or equivalents) should I take? Do universities look at GCSE’s (or equivalents)? Is there specific GCSE’s (or equivalents) I need to take? What kind of grades do I need to get in? All answers will be specific to both university and course, but easily located on their websites. It may be advisable to check out singular departments of universities for their ideas for undergraduate entry requirements. Obviously, the tricky bit for everyone is to pull off your benchmark (expected) grades for everything. What if I fail? What happens if I don’t get what I expected? Trust me, most people, and definitely myself, have felt this or are feeling it. The pressure is excessive, I agree.

4) What happens if I fail?
I’m not unfamiliar with this question. In fact, I freak out about it. Please don’t assume that because your friend is ‘the clever one’ (or whatever that means) or ‘the not-bothered one’ (again, whatever that means) that they are not feeling the same kind of pressure. With each person, there are different expectations due to family, circumstance, upbringing, etc. Often, people work equally as hard, despite the grades they may be working for. You should always take everything into account before deeming someone as having an ‘easier’ time than yourself in this matter.

Now, when facing the thought of failure, by whatever expectation, whether it be not getting into Oxbridge or not getting a pass (doesn’t matter which), we need to seek reality. Is it really the end of the world? It’s likely, if you’re someone like me, you would say ‘yes’. But if you think deeply, although you are likely to get a hard time, you have more opportunity and more bearing to try again. You could always take a gap year you never thought you’d have, or get a job you’ve always wanted. Just remember there is always options and try your best to succeed next time or in re-takes.

5) What do I need to study abroad?
By studying abroad, I’m talking applying for university outside of your country. Although a never-racking prospect, it may reap its benefits. It is likely you will have to start planning very early on if you want to get everything sorted in time, so a large amount of research must go into it. Visas and legal immigration details will need to be considered (generally given to accepted students for studying). Language spoken at the university is another important detail: is it necessary to be fluent in it? Can you take courses in your language? Check and double check entry requirements. Other countries are likely to want different exams (e.g USA) which you may need to take on top of your own country’s. What method can you send the application and results? I found, when considering The States there were several websites which could help with application processes. Leave yourself time, because all of the forms and requirements needed will take a lot of preparation. Also, look at the fees and the funding, because you can find some private educational facilities charge A LOT, but may also be able to help you out with travelling and accommodation.

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