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Malika

March 21st, 2013

Applying to University: Where do I Start?

1 comment

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Malika

March 21st, 2013

Applying to University: Where do I Start?

1 comment

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

This post is intended for those who will apply for higher education (undergraduate or postgraduate degree) in the next academic year. I am often asked ‘how did know what you wanted to study?’ or ‘why did you choose LSE?’. These are the result of much thought. I am posting this now, because there are questions you should start asking yourself long before applying.

The first one is: What do I love? What makes me tick? This is arguably the most important question to start with. Forget social pressures for a moment, forget your family, your status aspirations, your cousin who did very well and whom everyone compares you to, and just think about what you genuinely enjoy. Not what you wish you enjoyed, just what energises you. This will not necessarily be what I would advise you to study (if it were, then I would probably be in a dance school by now). But think about what is it you like doing, and why: it may guide your choice. Think about both the content of subjects that you might like studying, but also the method of teaching which suits your strengths. Remember you will always be more likely to do well, if you’re studying something you chose (rather than something, that society, or someone, imposed on you). As one of my high school teacher used to say: ‘A good student is a happy student’.

The second question to ask yourself is not easier than the first. What job do you want to do? What do you need to know, what skills do you need to acquire to be able to work in this sector? I completely understand that you can be overwhelmed by the question. I know people who have a number of degrees in different subjects from excellent universities, and who still do not know what they want to do. I don’t think this is necessarily bad, but I suspect they have not spent enough time pondering on these questions. So start thinking about it. Talk to people about their jobs. Register at http://www.prospects.ac.uk/myprospects_planner_login.htm and visit http://www.prospects.ac.uk/types_of_jobs.htm to explore different career paths (I owe this piece of advice to one of the LSE Careers advisors). The second question in this section is also meant to make you think about the extra-curricular activities that you should take part in. Make sure you choose a university which offers opportunities to develop the skills you will need. I knew I enjoyed research, and I hoped my future job will involve a bit of this, and LSE gave me the opportunity to conduct original research in my first year. You don’t get this anywhere. Likewise, if you are considering founding your own business, LSE has many entrepreneurship initiatives. Other universities may have other strengths. Look beyond the degree.

The third question seems easier (but is it?): Where do I want to live for the next three years? If you’re applying for a master’s, my advice is: don’t be picky, you won’t have much time to benefit from all the opportunities your city will have to offer anyway. If you will be studying for three years, I think it is worth thinking about how far you want to be from your family, how close you need to be from an airport, if you love traveling (this is the reason I declined some universities I had an offer from), the weather to maximise your mood (yes, well, London does not rank very high here, but don’t forget to prioritise what is important for you).

Fourth question: not surprisingly, Reputation. Rankings seem to be taken very seriously in this country, and it is something that I discovered once I started applying for internships. However, the reason reputation matters to me, is not because of status, but because of the quality of the teaching. Economics lecturers are simply amazing at LSE, which is both a cause and a result of its reputation (to provide a balanced view however, I need to inform you that undergraduate Economics classes are taught by postgraduate students. But you do get to be lectured by very high profile academics). 

The last aspect of university life you need to research is something that will greatly affect your university life, but that too many applicants neglect in their research: the ‘student culture’. Being surrounded by engaged idealists at SOAS will be a very different experience from living among status-seeking pragmatists at LSE (yes I am exaggerating, but you get my point). I have already written about this here . The only way to find out what the student culture of a university is, is to contact current students or alumni. Ask different people to get a balanced picture.

And last of all, make sure you check the details of the modules you will be studying over the years (don’t check only your first year). You don’t want to be surprised by the fact that ‘Development’ or ‘International Relations’ don’t actually mean what you thought they did. Do your research. While every IR student at LSE complains that the course is too theoretical, I always wonder why the freshers seem to discover it after a term at LSE. Know what to expect. You don’t want to be changing courses in the middle of the academic year, or applying to other universities again next year.

About the author

Malika

BSc International Relations

Posted In: LSE

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