Getting those final choices right
The Expert View
Critical decisions need a period of reflection
Read this to get the complete picture…
Finally, the IB is almost over and a long, lazy, relaxing, well-earned summer vacation stretches out before you. And before you can blink, you’ll be off to university. The question is, which one? The most important thing is to find the right fit, we are going to give you a few tips on how to do this as well as taking a quick look at the paperwork trail/ deadlines to accept offers in UK, USA, Canada, the Netherlands and other countries.
April is decision month. The US universities/colleges have replied by March 31st, most of the British universities have, too. Indeed, irrespective of which countries you’ve applied to, most will have replied by the beginning of April; and many, like the UK and the US will want you to decide which one of your several offers to accept.
That may well be a lot of conflicting ideas spinning around in your head, after all it’s a big decision as you will have to go and live and study there for three or four years.
You will need to consider the following:
- Course content
- Faculty/student ratio
- Teaching styles
- Size of the university
- Career support
There are just so many things to think about. You could try putting the list above into priority order, or you could rank them by allocating points on a scale of 1 to 10 and then total them up at the end; you could go on and on changing your mind and driving yourself crazy. Or you could just go with your gut feeling…
Let’s look at the items on this list one by one:
Go back and re-read the course content, it’s probably been several months since you looked at that. Just to be sure it is what you want. Make sure you look at the add-ons or extras such as internships, work opportunities, study abroad programs.
You’ll be spending a lot of time in the library. Does it provide the working environment that you are seeking?
How important is this to you? Overall rankings and also rankings for your subject area.
Size of University
40,000 or 4,000?
If you opt for a large university, there will be thousands of people on campus, a wider range of subjects on offer, more extra-curricular activities, more cafeterias etc. At a small university it’s more personal and you will know a lot of the people you bump into on campus each day.
Which one suits you best?
Do you want the excitement and bright lights of the big city with all the noise, pollution and possible safety issues? Or do you want the convenience of living on a safer, green campus in a quiet location outside the city?
Do you want to spend time and money commuting from where you live to your lectures, or do you want to roll out of bed 15 minutes before lectures start, stroll across the lawn clutching your coffee to go and sit down in the lecture theater with a minute to spare?
Big lifestyle difference. This is an important decision as it will make a huge impact on your whole university experience.
Does the university provide extra – curricular activities that you enjoy? Is there a bar, a nightclub, concert venue, theater, social meeting places at the university?
Sports: if you already play a sport at a high standard, does the university provide this? Is it a Division I school? Will you get time off from your academic program to represent the university?
University life is not just about studying; you work together, play together, live together.
Can you work on the university campus during term time? Will your student visa restrict your opportunity to work? Is your choice of university restricted to countries which will allow you to work?
What percentage of graduates find a job within six months? Does the university provide careers advice?
What percentage of the students are from minority groups? What percentage are international students? What percentage are male/female? Etc.
Last but not least. 24/7 café
When you are pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline to submit your paper, you will really appreciate an all-night café on campus.
Faculty to student ratio
A lower faculty to student ratio means smaller class sizes and more individual attention.
Internships / placement years / sandwich courses
If a mix of academic and work experience is important to you, then does the university give you this opportunity?
There may be a big difference in costs between the various universities who have offered you a place. Maybe your dream university didn’t offer you any scholarship money, whereas one of the other universities has offered you a very attractive financial package. You could always accept this for your bachelor degree and then go and do your master’s degree at your dream university.
Many universities offer a mix between large lectures and smaller tutorial groups.Will you be taught by lecturers, post grad students, or a mixture of both? Do you prefer problem-based learning, or lecture-based learning?
These are all factors that you need to consider carefully.
Did you go and visit the campus? If you did, did you get a good feeling, positive vibes as you walked around?
Do you want to live on campus? All the facilities you need are there, indeed you need never stray off-campus. Would this be ideal for you, maybe a bit claustrophobic? Would you like to live on campus in the first year and enjoy the safety and convenience, and then move out and rent a place in town for your subsequent years?
Is university housing guaranteed for all first-year students? Can you live in university housing for the entirety of your undergraduate program? Does the university housing have good facilities – kitchens, bathroom, laundry room, common room, the study rooms, social area? Will you have a single room or will you have to share? Does the room have en suite facilities? Do you have the option of catered accommodation (there is a dining room that provides cooked meals for you) or do you need to do your own cooking?
It is essential that the accommodation you live in is nice and friendly, somewhere you can call your “home”. Compare the cost of university housing with the cost of renting an apartment in town.
Consider what careers advice/support and job placement assistance the university can offer. Is there a strong alumni network? Do employers come onto the campus to recruit students?
Where do your parents want you to go?
This is important as they may have some reservations about certain universities based on a number of possible factors such as academic reputation, ranking, safety, distance from home, cost etc. Talk to them.
Lots and lots and lots of questions. Some, or indeed most, may be important to you. They are certainly worth thinking about and attempting to answer.
Now having addressed all of these questions, you will probably discover that there is no one university that ticks all the boxes. Not to worry, there is no perfect university, just the right fit.
Go to university with a positive attitude and be determined to make the most of the opportunities afforded to you. Above all, university is a time for personal growth, time to move from your teenage years to becoming a fully-fledged, independent adult ready to go out to work and begin your career. The years at university are often described as, ‘the best years of your life’ and they certainly can be.
It’s up to you!
Things you can do that will make a big difference.
Make a list of your priorities
Academic program, housing, cost, extra-curricular etc. Then rate each university on a scale of 1 to 10 against each criterion.
Toss a coin & convince yourself that you will do what the coin decides
If you get a sinking feeling when you look at the coin, or you want to toss again then you know what you really want to do!
Or you could just go with your gut feeling….
It is often the most reliable way to make a difficult decision!
Accepting offers… dealing with the paper trail
Different countries, different systems and different deadlines; here is a quick overview.
Unfortunately students applying to universities in more than one country soon discover that each country operates its own system with its own deadlines, and they rarely fit together. This poses challenges for you to manage the timeline of acceptances.
After you have received replies from all of your universities, you will have to select your firm and insurance choices and the others are discarded. Depending on when you received your last reply, you will have a deadline to achieve this, normally in May. Please look in your UCAS track account as this where you will find your personal deadline.
When deciding which university to accept as your firm choice, have a look at the advice above, but also have a look at the conditional offer, the number of IB points they require and ask yourself realistically whether you can achieve this.
Dutch universities will normally offer you a place within approximately six weeks of you submitting the application. They will also set you a deadline to accept/ confirm the offer. You may want to wait for an offer from your preferred university, however if you don’t accept an offer by the deadline stipulated, then you will lose that place. It is best to accept the offer, and then if your preferred university comes through with an offer later, you can cancel the first offer.
You will have received all of your offers by midnight on March 31st , you now have until National Candidates Reply Day (May 1st) to decide which offer to accept. Please look at the advice above.
Canadian universities will normally make you an offer of a place within approximately six weeks of you submitting your application. They will also set you a deadline to accept the offer. You need to compare the offers carefully before committing.
Other universities and other countries
Most universities will set you a deadline to accept their offer. If you need more time because you’re waiting for another university to reply to you, then contact the first university and ask for an extension.
Some critical questions that need to be asked
Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.
What are my academic priorities?
Which country/city do I really want to live in?
What are my non-academic priorities?
After you have decided…
After you have decided which university to select, you’ll need to do the following:
- Contact the university and confirm that you will be taking up the place
- Contact all of the other universities that offered you a place and thank them politely and inform them that you will not be attending. This is important as they have students on their waiting list and after receiving your email they’ll be able to offer one of those students a place. It is just a matter of common courtesy
- If you have accepted a university that has offered you a financial aid package, then contact them and sort out the details of payment
- Apply for housing
- Attend the summer orientation program if your university offers this.
- Continue to maintain your grades in school as many universities will require your college counselor to send a final high school transcript.
And just a final word, many students are worried in case they make the wrong decision. University is not prison; you don’t have to stay there; you can transfer to a different university. Wigsbury has produced a module on the topic of transferring.
Good luck and find the right fit!
Wigsbury Frequently asked questions
Quick answers to the important questions
There are so many things to think about, I’m having a hard time to know what to look for?
You’re right, it’s a big decision and there are indeed many factors to consider. However, at the end of the day, go with your gut feeling, you just need to find the right fit.
I think I have found my dream university, but they don’t have any single rooms and I don’t want to share. What can I do?
You’re going to have to set some priorities. Are you prepared to compromise on sharing a room in order to access your dream course/ university?
My dream university is a long way from home, and I’m anxious about being so far away from my family.
Talk to your parents. Also look carefully at the support the university gives to first-year students, and finally remember that most of the other students will be in the same position as you. You’ll all be away from home for the first time and students build support groups, like a little mini family.
I have chosen the university that’s close to where my parents live. They want me to come home every weekend. Do you think this is a good idea?
Definitely not. You will be busy with your studies, building new friendship groups and there are extra-curricular activities at the weekends. If you come home every weekend you will miss out on much of this and it will be difficult to integrate and settle down at the university. You need to build your own life.
Can I take my pet to university? I know this sounds a bit weird, but this is important to me in making my choice of university.
There is nothing weird about loving your pet, pets make us feel happy. Some universities will let you bring your pet while others may have a rent-a-pet scheme for those who have to leave their pets at home. Looking after one of the university dogs is always popular.
Can I bring my car to university? Will there be on campus parking?
Most universities restrict the amount of parking allocated to students. Check the websites carefully.
Will I have to cook for myself?
All universities provide self-catering kitchens as well as multiple cafeterias. Don’t worry, you won’t starve. It is a good idea to learn how to cook a few basic meals before you go. Universities also have meal plans that enable you to eat all your meals at the cafeteria or dining room.
My parents don’t want me to go to a mixed/co-ed hall of residence/dormitory. Do you know if universities have single sex halls of residence/dormitories?
Yes. While most are mixed, some universities have single sex housing.
I’m worried about making friends at university.
Most students build a friendship group around the people they share housing with, the people on the same course as themselves and the people who have joined the same club or society.
I have narrowed my list of universities down to two, and I’m driving myself crazy trying to decide which one. Any advice?
If possible, go and visit them both, walk around the campuses and follow your gut feeling as to which one you would like to accept.