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University student’s advice

Is Oxbridge right for you?

By | Career coaching, University advice, University student's advice | No Comments

Everyone knows that Oxbridge – which means Oxford and Cambridge – are top universities, but does that mean that they suit all high flyers? What are they looking for, and more importantly, what are you looking for, in your higher education experience? Natalie Lancer from MyUniApplication demystifies the Oxbridge application process for us.

One of the key things that set the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge apart is the way they teach. Work is set and discussed in tutorials (which are called ‘supervisions’ at Cambridge) which are led by the subject tutor. These can be in a ratio of one to one, i.e. just you and the subject tutor or maybe up to four students and the subject tutor. Although these tend to be in an informal setting, such as the tutor’s college rooms, there is nowhere to hide in the tutorial – you really need to have done your work and contribute to a feisty discussion in the tutorial. Some students will relish this – but this is a far cry from school. Work is not spoon-fed and regurgitated a few months later in an examination. So if you are able to think on your feet and can explain your views to others, as well as study independently and cope with the pressure of one or two essays a week to present, then Oxbridge would suit you well. Furthermore, both Oxford and Cambridge have amazing sports facilities and well-funded extra-curricular activities in which you can participate, which also attracts applicants.

Something to bear in mind is that Cambridge and Oxford universities do not offer all subjects and very few combinations are possible. So if you are keen to study Politics with Spanish, for example, this is not actually possible at either university. You may have to study Politics with something else, or Modern Languages with something else. Consult the course pages on the university websites to check what subjects are on offer. If what you want to study is not an option, then either you can tinker with your choice or decide not to apply there – you have to weigh up whether what you want to study is more important, or where you go to university. Remember, there may be some solutions of which you are unaware such as the possibility to study a language informally in the Language Centre.

Once you have worked out what you want to study, you need to make sure you can demonstrate your commitment and interest in the subject. This is most likely to be through reading about your subject. There are book lists and other resources readily available on the Cambridge website. Be sure to keep a note of what you read and lectures to which you have listened, so you can discuss them in your Personal Statement.

Something else to bear in mind is that as an Oxbridge student, you are a member of a department and a college. You live, eat, make friends, use the library and have tutorials at your college so it is like a mini-university, within the larger university. The best way to decide what college to apply for is to visit some and speak to current students. You cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year, so you also need to choose which university best suits you. A large factor will be the course content as even courses with the same titles will have different structures and modules. If you do decide to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, remember the application deadline is earlier – October 15th, and you may well have to sit an extra examination, for which you will need to prepare. If you meet their initial criteria, you will be invited for an interview with subject specialists. They offer you a place based on consideration of all aspects of your application, including your teacher’s references, GCSE scores, predicted A-level grades, personal statement, admissions test and your performance at interview. After all your research, you may decide that Oxbridge is not for you. We are so lucky in the UK to have so many top universities – Oxford and Cambridge are not the only ones, so shop around and find five universities that will suit you.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Can you see both sides of an argument?
  • Are you open to changing your opinions when presented with new facts?
  • Do you like coming up with innovative ideas and discussing them?
  • Do you have motivation and enthusiasm for your chosen subject?
  • Do you like reading and thinking critically about what you have read?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then Oxbridge may well be for you!


Natalie Lancer is an expert in mentoring Oxbridge applicants and can advise on subject choice, personal statements and interview technique. She can help you choose a college and prepare for the admissions tests. She will discuss a strategy with you to help you maximise your chance of success. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or on 07747 612 513. www.myuniapplication.com; www.natalielancer.com.


 

Getting the most out of university

By | University advice, University student's advice

Hello Freshers! University starts in a matter of weeks but after all the excitement of getting in, have you thought about how best to approach your undergraduate studies? Natalie Lancer from NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication offers some advice.

In order to maximise your grades, it pays to be strategic with your studying. In most cases, you ‘just’ have to pass your first year. Although the course tutors may not push you in the second year, it is worth emphasising that the second year may well contribute towards your final degree class (grade).  Cassie, who just graduated from the University of Birmingham with a 2:1, says, “I didn’t realise the significance of the second year grades – if I had got just 2% more in the second year, I would have got a first overall”. After the first year, you are likely to be able to choose modules. Some modules are assessed by examination, some by coursework and some by a mixture of the two. It is worth planning carefully so that overall, your chosen modules’ examinations and coursework deadlines are evenly spaced. By the end of your first year, it will become clear whether your strength lies in coursework or examinations (or both) and you should choose modules which have assessments reflecting your preference. It is also important that you find your modules interesting –talk to the course reps and people in older years to find out more about modules you may potentially take.

Although you have to knuckle down to your work in the final two years, your first year is all about getting acclimatised to university life, having fun, making new friendships and extending your interests. Join societies, get involved in volunteering and go to events – experience as many new things as possible while you have such freedom and everything at your fingertips. Participating in societies is a great way to develop new skills which will be invaluable to showcase on your CV. Go to the Freshers’ Fair to find out about the different societies on offer (and pick up loads of freebies while you are there). Sign up to Jewish Society (J-Soc), of course! Belong to a sports team or try out a new sport – it’s a great way of meeting new people.

Making new friends is easy in the first few weeks of university as everyone is in the same boat. Chat late into the night with people in your halls, go to club nights and events – the people you meet in the queue may well end up as your best buddies! Be prepared to add people to your Facebook –as this is the main way of keeping in contact with new friends and societies. Make sure you manage your money well – work out your food and going out budget and stick to it to make sure you don’t leave yourself short later on in the year. Be responsible when drinking alcohol – make sure you can get back to your halls safely with a friend if you are having a big night out.

The first year is often a “leveller” where the lectures focus on making sure everyone has the same level of background knowledge. Harriet is studying Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham and says, “I had a good foundation of the subject material from my A-levels so I haven’t had to work that hard [in my first year] compared to others, as the modules contain elements from Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Psychology, all of which I took at A-level”. It is vital to make friends on your course so you can motivate each other and help each other to understand the course. The first year prepares you for the subsequent years, so make sure you get to grips with academic referencing and use tutor feedback wisely. You will gain an understanding of what it is they are looking for and how to structure your ideas, putting you in the best place to hit the ground running in your second year. Use your first year to gauge how much work you have to do to get the marks you want and to ascertain that your revision strategies work. By engaging with the first year you will also be able to confirm whether you have chosen the right course. However, give yourself time to settle in to the course before you make any rash decisions. If you are convinced that you have made a mistake, it may be worth changing course rather than spending another two years on the “wrong” course.

Apart from the newness of living away from home (if you are), probably the biggest change is the mode of teaching and assessments. You are most likely to have lectures where you cannot put your hand up to ask a question every few minutes, unlike a classroom. Gordon, who studies Politics at the University of Leeds, advises “If you don’t understand something in a lecture, write your question down so you don’t forget it. Go up to the lecturer at the end of the lecture and ask. But, if you require a deeper explanation, send them an email to book a time slot when they can discuss it with you – there is often another lecture class coming in and there isn’t much time for an in depth response.” The lectures cover your syllabus (on which you will be examined), so try to go to most of them and make time to catch up any notes missed. Lecture notes, and sometimes even videos of lectures, are often posted on the university intranet. Watch the lectures again to help with revision and to augment your notes. Read any recommended articles or books, chase up references that the lecturer suggests and look for more articles on the subject using Google Scholar. Add further notes from these articles to your lecture notes to personalise them – this is key to attaining high marks in your essays and examinations.

You will probably be assessed by a mixture of coursework/essays, presentations and end of year exams. Depending on your subject, you may get three assessments a term for each module you take (maybe six a year) – that’s potentially 18 essays a year. Talia, a Psychology student from the University of Bristol, suggests that you should start your essays straight away and do a little every day: “You often get given the essay questions at the beginning of the module, and you may have a choice of questions so start to read up on the subject that most interests you as soon as you can, so you don’t have to write your essays all at once”.  She recommends sending your tutor a list of bullet points or an essay plan to check that you are on the right track with your essay. Some tutors accept drafts of all or part of your essay and give feedback before you give your essay in – this is an excellent way to improve your writing style and ultimately your grade. You will only be able to make use of your tutors in this way if you have given yourself (and them) enough time. University assessments are quite different to A-levels. Sometimes you are given the exam question in advance, other times you can make up your own essay titles – in fact, your most in depth pieces of work – your dissertation, will most probably be on a topic of your choice. Other exams require you to have studied topics independently – just using the lecture notes will not be enough. For each essay you write (approximately 2000-4000 words) you need to read about 15 peer-reviewed articles and understand the background of your topic, perhaps by reading some selected books. Reading articles will make you familiar with key terms, the academic writing style and how to conduct analysis – all of which will elevate your writing.

There are many support systems in place for you at university. You will be assigned a Personal Tutor who you may meet with termly. They will address any concerns and help you improve academically. Tom says “I kept on getting grading down for not referencing my essays properly. The Personal Tutor suggested I visit the Academic Skills Centre who ran sessions on this, which improved my grades dramatically”. It is also worth vising the Careers Service, certainly by the middle of the second year, as they will help you apply for internships, polish your CV and conduct mock interviews. Applications for jobs and internships have to be done up to a year in advance so it is important to establish key dates as soon as you can.

Natalie is the founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication. She can help you create a winning CV and cover letter and give you expert guidance on your A-level choice, university applications, Personal Statement, interviews and dissertations. She also offers personal development sessions. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or at natalie@natalielancer.com. www.natalielancer.com


Natalie’s top tips on getting the most out of university:

  • Make use of your tutors’ expertise as much as you can – don’t be afraid to email them essay plans or drafts.
  • Choose your modules strategically
  • Visit Academic Support and the Careers Service early on
  • Go out and enjoy yourself in your first year – make new friends and join societies
  • Speak to a university specialist for tailored advice about studying, careers and your personal development

Maximising your success in Years 10-13

By | Schools subjects advice, Study advice, University advice, University student's advice

Success at GCSEs and A-levels is important as it will give you a wide choice in your next level of education. School starts to get more serious when you are preparing for these Public Examinations, and so you may be entering Years 11-13 with some trepidation. In order to maximise your success, Natalie Lancer, from NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication offers some advice.

Preparation for public examinations is a marathon, not a sprint. This is especially true for students commencing the new linear A-levels, where you are assessed on the whole course at the end of the two years, rather than at the end of Year 12. Therefore, it is important to work consistently from the beginning, making sure you understand each topic as you go along. Take time at the end of each week to reread your notes and arrange to see your teacher to go over anything you do not understand. Then, make new notes based on your new understanding which you will be able to reread as you near revision. You want to be able to revise topics that you already understand (and have the notes for) rather than learning something afresh, as this will take up valuable time. Make sure your keep your notes in order with clear divisions between topics so that you can refer to them easily – perhaps in a lever arch file or on your computer – and so that you do not waste time organising your notes when you revise.

It is important to get the most out of your lessons. This means that you need to actively participate and engage with your teacher and classmates. Make sure you ask questions in class if you want clarification – you will not look silly! – chances are your classmates will want to know the answer too.

Equip yourself with the correct stationery (folders, highlighters etc) and also invest in some exam board-specific revision guides and text books. These books have been written specifically for your syllabus and so you can be confident that the information they contain will be relevant. It is very helpful to consult different books as you go along – some books are better than others at explaining different topics. Furthermore, revision guides are concise and useful if you want to read ahead so that you can get the most out of your lessons. However, for revision, use these in conjunction with your own class notes and other text books as they are not detailed enough on their own.

Make sure you revise actively by writing out flashcards and reading notes with a pen in your hand – underlining key concepts. Above all, practise past or specimen exam papers (you can download them from the exam board’s website). Use the mark schemes to assess your knowledge and, just as importantly, to see how the examiners expect you to express that knowledge. You could also try working with your classmates. Each member of your revision group should research their allocated topic and then teach it to the rest of the group, perhaps swapping detailed notes.  Explaining the topic and discussing it with someone else will enrich your understanding.

The significance of Years 10-13 in terms of exams may make you feel stressed and it is important to nip this in the bud. Air any concerns with your teachers or Head of Year who will help you manage your workload and give you strategies to reduce stress. One way of doing this is to make sure that you have things to focus on other than work – get involved in clubs and societies, sports, music, volunteering or leadership programmes, both in and out of school. Not only will this provide a welcome break but you will learn new skills and get to know and interact with different people. These skills are just as important for your career and development as your academic work.

Natalie is the founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication. She can help you create a winning CV and cover letter and give you expert guidance on your A-level choice, university applications, Personal Statement, interviews and dissertations. She also offers personal development sessions. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or at natalie@natalielancer.com. www.natalielancer.com


Natalie’s top tips on maximising your success in Years 10-13:

  • Make sure you understand each topic as you go along and don’t be afraid to ask your teachers for help
  • Keep your notes in an organised fashion from the beginning
  • Buy exam-board specific study guides so that you can get a different perspective on topics you don’t understand
  • Experiment with different revision techniques, finding the ones that work for you
  • Speak to a professional for tailored advice about studying, careers and your personal development

 

Dissertation without desperation

By | Coaching in Education, University student's advice

Many undergraduate courses require students to write a dissertation in their final year. The exact length and specifications varies between departments and universities, but as a rough guide, these are in-depth pieces of work between 8,000 and 10,000 words long. Sometimes it is possible to submit work in an alternative format, such as website or video.  Natalie Lancer from MyUniApplication explains how to tackle your dissertation.

The dissertation is probably the hardest and most rewarding part of your course. This is your opportunity to showcase your interest, knowledge and skills of analysis, not only to your tutors who will mark the work, but to potential employers, who will be interested in these skills too. Your dissertation is an excellent example of your work and originality. If possible, choose a topic with an eye on both your course requirements and what potential employers may find interesting.

You will be assigned a dissertation tutor and will have individual tutorials to discuss the title and structure. You will also be able to submit chapters for them to read and offer feedback on, which you can improve if necessary. Make sure you are clear from the outset how much time you are allocated and how far in advance they would like work submitted. It is up to you to get the most from your tutor. Your tutor will have had much experience in supervising dissertations and may have lots of tips as well as knowledge of what works and what is achievable within your time and word limit. They will also advise how to apportion your words to each section.

One of the hardest parts of the dissertation is deciding what to write about. Over your undergraduate course you have been exposed to new ideas and frameworks within your discipline, and you may be encouraged to explore these further or to apply them to a topic of your choice. It is a good idea to keep an ‘ideas list’ going over the course of your degree. Every time you come across a concept that makes your want to find out more, if only you had the time, write it on this working document. When you come to thinking about your dissertation, you can refer to this list and decide which of these topics to ‘work up’. ‘Working up’ means coming up with a way to analyse the topic, a structure and a direction. Your tutor will help you with this, but to get started see the box below and write down your responses to the headings.

In your dissertation you should be presenting a lively, logical, creative and well-researched argument. In order to do this you need to have read lots of relevant articles and books. Your tutor may start you off and suggest some reading material, but after that it is up to you to use an academic search engine such as Google Scholar to find relevant articles. Both the finding of relevant articles and the reading of them takes time and cannot be rushed. Use the abstract (summary) at the top of each article to check if it is really relevant and worth reading. Keep a log of everything you read and brief notes about the paper. There are many internet based tools that can help you do this which are worth learning to use as it will save you time in the long run, such as EndNote and Zotero. Your librarians will help you with this and your university will provide free versions to use (some of them are free anyway).

Once you have got your head round what the main academics say about your topic, you can decide what approach you should take to designing your study. This is where your tutor will be invaluable. If you are undertaking empirical research (gathering primary data), you need to get ethical approval from your university. You can start writing the Introduction, Literature Review and Methodology before you collect your data. Once you have analysed your data you can write the remaining chapters: the Analysis, Discussion and Conclusion. Break the writing into chunks and set yourself time specific achievable goals, such as “I will have written the Introduction by next Tuesday”. Plan out the whole dissertation to make sure you have enough time to read, write, analyse and proofread.

Unlike essays you may have written in the past, it is advisable to use heading and subheadings to help your reader navigate around your dissertation. Your university will have strict formatting guidelines, such as which academic referencing style to use, whether the work should be double-spaced, the font size and how it should be bound, if at all. Furthermore, there are academic rules to follow such as indenting quotations if they are more than 20 words long to which you must adhere. There are strict rules on plagiarism and dissertations have been failed if they are in breach of these rules. Basically, if you are quoting or paraphrasing someone else’s ideas then you must put their names in brackets afterwards.  Remember, we are interested in how you are using existing ideas and bringing them together in your unique way to shed light on your particular subject matter. Formatting takes time, so make sure you build this in to your planning.

Your work needs to be carefully proofread. The best person to do this is you. After you write you last draft, put it away for a couple of weeks. Look at it again with fresh eyes and you will clearly see any mistakes. Plan your writing to allow yourself two weeks to spare at the end. Presentation is important, and gives your work a professional feel – remember you are showcasing your work to employees too, so it is worth spending time on this. Find out how to submit your dissertation and make sure you don’t leave it until the final day, just in case the internet crashes, or you lose your computer. Finally, make loads of back ups of your work everyday on different memory sticks so that if your computer fails, you have not lost your work.

Natalie is the founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication. She can discuss your university and career options in one-to-one sessions and give you expert guidance on your dissertation and job applications. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 01923 85 0781 or at natalie@natalielancer.com. www.natalielancer.com


Working up your dissertation – Write down your responses to the following and you will have a structure to your dissertation in no time!

The Title – don’t worry too much about this at the beginning. Just use a working title – you can always change it. The title should make clear what the dissertation is about in a short and pithy statement.

Introduction and Aims – this should explain what your dissertation is all about. In your introduction you should establish the boundaries of the research, e.g. are you focussing only on Wind Farms in the UK or in Scotland? Explain your purpose, aims, your approach and the significance of the research clearly. You may have specific questions that you are answering or you may be exploring a topic. Explain the structure of your dissertation and an overview of the contents of each section.

It is useful to have a literature review chapter. You will get marks for both breadth and depth. You need to demonstrate that you understand what you have read and why it is relevant to your dissertation and argument. Maybe you can pick holes in other people’s work to show how you can adopt a critical academic stance?

You will need a chapter on methodology and methods. Have you used a qualitative (descriptive) or quantitative (numerical) methodology and which exact methods have your used, e.g., interviews, questionnaires? How did you choose and design these? Could you have used another method, in hindsight, would that have been more or less useful?

You will then present an Analysis and Discussion of your findings. How do the findings result to the literature review. What new information or new stance have you brought to light? This is where we really hear your unique voice and can see what you have contributed to academic scholarship in your area.

The conclusion is where you pull it all together. You explain how you have met your original aims, the strengths and limitations of the research and possible avenues for further research around this topic.


Want a first? Try Coaching

By | Coaching in Education, University student's advice

Company executives have been coached since the 1980s. The focus is to increase performance by maximising what the employee brings to their role. The idea of coaching is simple: the coach, who should be accredited by a relevant professional body, should help the client unlock something within the client. Maybe the client has become stuck in some way or needs to make sense of a situation. The coach merely facilities this process, and helps the client to generate their own ideas, goals and solutions, thus avoiding a directive approach.  Coaching is different to mentoring which refers to a more experienced person guiding a less experienced person in the same field, whereas counselling is about making sense of past experiences to illuminate the present.

Applying coaching to education is relatively recent, more often applied to coaching teachers rather than students. However, coaching in education has been the focus of a recent conference run by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and is also the focus of my PhD and private business, Lancer Coaching. The solution-focussed approach of coaching, with its emphasis on students formulating their own future plans, is in contrast to more traditional, teacher-owned academic advice.

The client takes ownership of the sessions and decides what the focus of each one should be. Possible topics might include getting the most out of school/university, starting a new school, career plans, choosing courses, managing workload, maintaining motivation and managing difficult relationships. An example could be a student, who wants to discuss how to make their goal of achieving a first class degree, a reality.  The coach would help the client to break down the overall goal into subgoals, evaluate options for achieving them and devise a time bound action plan. Each subgoal might be the focus of subsequent sessions. The coach will hold the client to account for agreed upon actions.

Of course, coaching techniques can be used in a variety of settings, and is particularly helpful when helping adults make career choices at transition points such as when women evaluate their options after having children, or after their children have left home. Some people will want to upskill – doing a course, perhaps a Master’s degree, in a new discipline. Others need to make some new connections via their existing networks and be proactive in telling people what they want to do. Coaching is also useful when employees aspire to a promotion and want to think through their strategy.

In my Psychology PhD, I am investigating what impact coaching can have on undergraduate students’ values, sense of self, key relationships, academic performance and life plans compared to those who do not have coaching sessions. I have had an overwhelming response from student volunteers and from volunteer coaches. The students will have six coaching sessions this academic year and I will interview before coaching commences, at the mid and end points and 6 months after the last session. This will help to illuminate whether coaching has any lasting impact.

Have you got some goals that you need some help working towards? Do you think you would benefit from coaching? Natalie is available for one-to-one coaching sessions for individuals of any age. She also does corporate coaching.  For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or 01923 85 0781. www.natalielancer.com

Degrees At A Distance

By | Coaching in Education, University advice, University student's advice

If you are of a certain generation the term ‘correspondence course’ might be more familiar to you than ‘distance learning’. Early morning educational television programmes and sending essays by post are a thing of the past as the internet has enabled these courses to flourish.

The Open University is well-known for its excellent stand-alone and university courses, with a range of media to aid learning including CDs, computer software, DVDs, and on-line resources such as study guides, as well as traditional books.

What many people may not realise is that distance learning rarely means you never meet other people. There may also be optional tutorials, Day Schools, study weekends or intensive residential schools for certain subjects. This merging of on and off-line support is called ‘blended learning’. Tutors can be contacted by telephone and email at almost any hour of the day, allowing for more support and interaction than most traditional university courses. In addition, on-line courses provide another mechanism for students to interact with each other.

Other institutions are now starting to provide distance learning programmes, offering students of all ages the flexibility to study from home. This means that non-traditional students, perhaps those with a disability, mothers, carers or people who need to have a job to finance their studies can pace their learning to match their circumstances. Since undergraduate university tuition fees have reached record highs, it makes sense for people to look at new modes of study to allow them to work. After all, some traditional universities even seek to restrict the number of hours their students can undertake paid work in an effort to make them focus on their studies. Distance learning MBAs have been around for about ten years and there are many other postgraduate degrees that can be studied in this way.

Distance learning requires students to be motivated and organised. Many of the degrees are recognised by professional bodies such as the British Psychological Society. However, it is not only degrees you can study. You may wish to do a distance learning course in interior design or perhaps study for a GCSE or A-level. Schools may not offer the subjects you wish to study due to staffing limitations or lack of demand, and studying on-line may offer you greater choice and a way of show-casing your initiative and organisational skills, which universities and employers prize highly. Information about available courses can be found on www.findanonlinecourse.com along with tips for choosing a course to suit you. For one-to-one advice go to the sister website, www.myuniapplication.com.

Natalie Lancer is the founder of MyUniApplication.com and www.findanonlinecourse.com.  She can guide you with all aspects of your application and give you expert guidance on finding the right course for you.

For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or at natalie@natalielancer.com. www.myuniapplication.com


FindAnOnlineCourse.com’s top tips for Distance Learning:

  • Make sure you have a clear idea of how much study time the course. requires and assess whether you have the time to make this commitment.
  • Make sure you have a dedicated quiet space to work in.
  • Research difference courses and check the entry requirements, fees and other costs such as materials.
  • Be clear what completion of the course will do for your career. Contact relevant professional bodies to check the course is accredited by them if relevant.
  • Talk to a professional adviser such as Natalie Lancer, about which course is right for you.