A 'How-Not-To-Style-Your-Life' Guide

Thursday, 23 January 2014

UCAS Ruined My Life

If any of you follow me on twitter or have read my introduction post that went up last week, you’ll be aware that a couple of months ago I applied to study English Literature at university. To anyone who has yet to apply to university or has chosen not to, the whole process may appear relatively simple and the constant complaining from 17 and 18 year olds going through said process may seem incomprehensibly melodramatic, but I can assure you it’s justified. Wanting to go to university is possibly the only aspect of my ideal future that hasn’t changed since I was little, but it wasn’t until the last four months of my life that I realised just how staggering the task of getting there would be. I can say without a doubt in my mind that applying to university was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, and I hope that I speak for everyone else who has ever been in that position when I say that UCAS ruined my life.

…Okay, so maybe that’s a little bit too overdramatic, but as I just said, I promise I can justify it. Thinking back, this all began ten months ago in March when I started to develop quite an impressive collection of university prospectuses. I went on a college trip to an exhibition in Portsmouth where nearly every university in the country tried to sell itself to potential future students. However this ‘exhibition’ really wasn’t well planned; imagine a relatively moderate open space filled with stalls manned by people persistently trying to grab your attention mixed with a constant stream of hundreds of humans at any one time moving uni-directionally at the same unbearably slow pace. It was like an educational Winter Wonderland, minus the risk of frostbite. To be completely honest the only thing I vividly remember from that day was the look on the woman’s face from Imperial College London, which is one of the best science-specialised universities in the country, when I accidentally asked her what their non-existent English course is like.

Once I’d thrown out my surplus of prospectuses, I started to go to open days in June. It’s one thing to read about a university in a glossy A4 booklet, but walking around the buildings that you previously only recognise from photographs is something completely different. The whole experience of entering such a new environment not only filled me with indescribable fear, but it put a stop to the doubts in my mind I’d been having about whether or not university was for me. I now knew for certain that it was, and I’d never felt so motivated in my life. I was the happiest I’d ever been for about a week, until I formally signed up to UCAS, and then everything became far too real.

If you ever want to make a second year sixth form student recoil in horror, there are only two words you need to say to them: personal statement. Two words which are capable of reducing a 17-year-old male to tears. Five syllables that can evoke post-traumatic stress in an 18-year-old girl. In total, 4000 characters that made teenagers up and down the country sick of the words they’d spent hours painstakingly writing. Essentially, you’re given 600 words to tell an admissions tutor what makes your application different from the ones they’ve read before and the ones they’re going to read after. You have to eloquently convey your passion for your subject in a unique way that prevents your application from becoming another “I’ve wanted to study *insert subject here* ever since I was young” cliché. And to make matters worse, you mustn’t forget that modesty reigns over Britain. Writing a captivating, concise, eloquent, unique and humble description of yourself is not easy.

Once everything’s ready and you’ve sent your full UCAS application off, the waiting begins. I cannot fathom the words to describe how agonising the wait is. It consumes the entirety of your thoughts until you’re spending every minute of every day refreshing track and checking your emails for updates on any possible changes to your track account. Anyone who has ever applied to university will tell you that once you’ve sent your UCAS off, getting an email is never the same again.

After all that, I suppose this is where my university application process is paused for the time being. As of a few days ago I heard from my final university and I’m really happy to say that I’ve received all of my offers. Whilst the initial relief is euphoric, it’s impossible to forget that the true task at hand isn’t over. I’ve still got to work for the grades I need to get in to my top choice university, and even then that opens a door to three years of my life where I’m going to have to work harder than I’ve ever worked before. But the thing is, I’m not dreading it at all. In fact, I’m looking forward to the challenges that await me and hopefully the opportunities it’ll bestow upon me. And honestly, I really can’t wait.

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