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Year 12s: five ways to get ahead over summer

Your Ucas application may be the last thing on your mind. However, as student Nicole writes, the holidays are a great time to get ahead…

As a current A-level student studying history, English literature, economics and psychology (hoping to go on to study history as a degree), I'm only a blissful few weeks of summer away from entering what's likely to be a hectic final year. Studying... uni applications... revising... coursework... more revising... uni decisions...oh, and exams await!

So, while my holidays will be mainly about taking a break, I'll also be trying to take a few steps that'll get me into a good position come the start of term. Here are a few ideas you can try, too.

1. Get some work experience

Work experience can be a great way of demonstrating key skills you have gained to an admissions tutor in your personal statement, as well as helping to really convey your interest and enthusiasm in a particular subject area.

If you’re interested in a career in medicine, for example, it would be a good idea to try and get some experience in a medical practice or something related. Having said that, any experience in a work environment is a good thing when it comes to building up transferable skills - yep, even that part-time shelf-stacking job...

2. Go to university open days and taster sessions

Open days are a good idea to help you to get a feel for the university and the area that you’d be living in. The open days I’ve visited so far have really helped to confirm that I'm ideally looking to go to a campus university based in a city centre (for the best of both worlds!).

They've also given me a much better insight into possible topics I can study within history at different universities. Plus they can help you decide if a particular university is the best one for the course you want to study. You may find that a university you were really keen on doesn’t have the modules you are interested in, for instance.

Taster sessions will help give you an overview of what studying a subject at university actually entails. Going to a law taster session earlier this year helped me decide that the subject wasn't for me, which has left me with more time to explore different subjects. 

3. Get a clearer idea of the subject you’d like to study

Use your free time to look more closely into any degree subjects that you are interested in - not just what studying that area at a degree level involves, but also things like the sort of career path it might lead you to. 

It's also helpful to start digging into the detail of individual courses offered by different universities. Even courses with the same name will have something different to offer, from the way you'll be taught and assessed to individual module content. Plus there are other options to get your head round, such as whether you want to do a year in industry or spend time abroad as part of your course.

And if you still don't know what you'd like to study (which is normal, too!), try and come up with a shortlist of possible options by the end of the summer; from there you can follow-up with further research into each idea.

4. Make a start on your personal statement

Your personal statement makes up an important part of your Ucas application and is one of the things you can use to stand out from the crowd and explain why you deserve a place at uni. 

I, like many others, find the thought of writing my personal statement pretty daunting, though, which is why it’s a good idea to try and start early and not leave it to the last minute! So I'll be aiming to get at least something drafted - even if that's just a basic structure to add to and improve upon later. It'll hopefully mean less stress once Year 13 kicks off.

5. Start thinking ahead to Year 13 and uni applications

It's going to be a big year ahead, so take a bit of time out to start preparing for September. That includes deciding what subject you may want to drop (if any), how you can improve upon last year and what you're going to need to do to reach or even exceed your predicted grades.

For me, I'll be workng on my organisation skills and aiming to properly file and date my work as I go along - it should make revision a lot less stressful!
Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. Nicole Mercer is a Year 12 A-level student and hoping to take a degree in history at university. 

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