Choosing 2: Lists

Look at www.ucas.ac.uk

This needs rewriting, but none of those who claim to have read all my pages has bothered to tell me. I have written about lists since 2007. When you prompt me, I’ll change this page.

Yours, irritated,

                                      DJS 20100722

This next bit is copied from the other page on choosing:

If you don’t know what courses you are interested in, log on to www.ucas.ac.uk/students/beforeyouapply/whattostudy and click on the Stamford test. Give your address as your school; don’t give a telephone but do give your email address. Do the test and print or save the results. Look at all the suggestions it makes and look particularly through the list for words you don’t know or didn’t expect. These are your next research topics.


When you think you know the course title(s) that interst you, go looking for data on the best universities for that course. Stick with UCAS for a little while, to learn the names of the  Russell Group universities.... To this list of cities add particularly Lancaster, Loughborough, Hull and St Andrews.

Next, go look at listings of university by subject choice, TimesOnline ,the Good University Guide, and Guardian websites do this. Be careful to remove the ones which are high in the table because of their research standing—you want teaching, probably, which is why Hull stands out.


UK   3 years per course; 4 for Masters (e.g. M Eng) or sandwich course

1st      Subject,                            2nd   Place

Ranking lists are biased by post-graduate research. You need to explore subject ranking.  Offers are based on predicted A level (A2) grades.

There is a growing push in the UK for a two-year course. Buckingham offers this.


US      4 years usually, but what really counts is accrued credits.

1st    Place,                                2nd   Subject

Fact or Opinion?

I am going to a famous university

All degrees are equally good

I am going to university for MY reasons

School is all about results

Life is work, work is life

I never change my mind

A pastime is a waste of time

All opinions are equal

Ranking lists are biased by money in research.

120 credits = a degree. Good A-levels = 30 to 40 credits, so can perhaps reduce the time to 3 years. Be aware that credits at different universities mean different things (despite any writing that says they're the same). Credits even between courses. You cannot predict the value of A levels and should expect to do some negotiation what your grades are worth as credits when you arrive. Because credits vary, you cannot predict very much at all.

Offers are made on AS levels. A2 grades are unknown so excluded; that's why this additional qualification is worth some credits when you arrive.

Going to University in the US is expensive compared to Britain even on a per annum basis. To reduce costs, you could start with the intention of finishing sooner—all you need is enough credits.

Look at the entry requirements. BBB at A2 means 300 UCAS points. Look at the tables for average points gained by the intake and gauge your appropriate level. These are different. As an example, last time I looked, the requirement for Cambridge was 3 A* (360 points) but the mean intake was  600. Do NOT aim too high (well, not more than once in your list). If you think you are Oxford or Cambridge material, go ask a teacher—they’ll tell you. There may be none this year, but that doesn’t stop you asking, does it? As a guide, you need to think you’re at least as clever as all of the staff, just not as experienced. Look also at what else can be used to collect UCAS points, music exams for instance.


Lists:

Suggestions

Why are we at University?

It is not the result that counts, but what you do with it

Your last exam is the one that counts most

Experience and skills are also important

There is more to life than just study

There is more to university than just beer (etc)

People you meet after university are likely to ask what ELSE you did.

I have a presentation that looks at big cities of the world. What you learn is that it is very hard to define what you mean by a city enough to count people or measure area. We can agree that Beijing and London are big, but London is not the smaller on all lists. It is much the same with universities, though I can say that since I started moaning about this the situation has improved.

If you were making an investment in shares in a company, you are required to have done ‘due diligence’, amounting to proof that you have taken proper care not to be stupid. Much the same should apply to making a university choice. Since very few of us go to more than one university, we are unable to say with any confidence that the university did or did not suit us; we might be able to say we had a good time, or that we made a success of the experience, or made the best of it, or even achieved enough to step forwards to other things. But we cannot say that this was the best place for us. I went to Oxford, but I might well have had a totally better experience by going to Texas.

Google ‘university lists’ or ‘university rankings’ or ‘university league tables’ and you will soon find yourself a list such as this. There are headings and your due diligence requires you to understand what these mean. Each is properly defined (now: they weren’t in 2007) and a good list such as I linked to will allow you to click on the heading and have the order change in consequence.


Entry standards: You’d think this was easy to get right. Who is included? Probably only those who finish the course: that’s okay, it gives you an effective measure to fit in academically. On the table I’m reading, Cambridge 600, UCL 505, Cardiff 399, Worcester 300.


Common Mistakes

Thinking every degree is a ‘good’ degree 

Never having lived away from home

Not recognising the need to make friends

Knowing how to learn, but not how to study

Doing the course to please others

Thinking that a poor interim mark means working more hours instead of working better

Choosing a university because a friend did

Thinking your English is good enough

Going to university for only a degree

Student Satisfaction: This, if done properly, would be high on your preference list. Unfortunately, it rarely is done well, as those collecting the information are biased and those providing it react much as in Chinese schools, understanding that perfection is expected as your response. Basically this is a good idea, badly measured. Find ways to explore it for yourself, by finding past pupils of your school or location that have been there. Then ask sensible questions about that experience. The score is out of five and on the list I’m looking at Buckingham is top with 4.36 and LSE is bottom with 3.89. That says to me that British universities generally meet expectations. I’d suggest you might look at this historically to see if there has been a significant change, up or down. Again, students rarely change university, so how would they measure if the university is good? What they just might tell you is the extent to which their expectations were met, but then you have no idea whether those expectations were reasonable, or even whether the university has a similar set of expectations, both in what they deliver and what they think the students should be doing.


Degree completion: Again, this ought to be a well-defined measure telling you something useful. However, be aware that the returns made to the central collecting office are made in December of the first term, when it is not unusual for there to have been a 20% drop-out already. That figure usually represents something other than academic failure (not coping with being away from home, failing to pay up, failing to produce valid certificates etc). However, drop-out varies dramatically with subject and faculty, not just university, so you want to see the figures for a smaller part of the university you’re looking at, perhaps as detailed as just your course. My son had under 20% finish his course but the published figures declared an 8% drop out. Go figure.


Overall score: yeah, great: what does it mean? What are you thinking it means? It is weighted how? For whose benefit is any property of this list? How do you turn that around so it is useful to you?


Bad reasons for Uni choice

Dad says. Worse, someone I don’t know says so.

It’s famous. I’ve heard of it.   That might be relevant if all you future employers have heard of it and will be impressed—that’s a very short list.

Lots of my friends went there.  None of that means it will suit you.

My boyfriend / girlfriend is going there. One of the stupidest reasons; the relationship lasts at best three more weeks. Then what?

Still on Lists:

  1. Look to see who (which university) has moved recently in any of the lists and decide whether that makes your application to there a better or worse decision. Might you prefer to go to a place that has just jumped upwards? [Yes, if you’re the only person to notice that: No, if it means twice as many people apply].
  2. Every figure that you start to use as a discriminator needs to be thoroughly understood by you. That does not mean understood thoroughly by somebody else.
  3. Use the information you have to support arguments with other parties who are influencing your decision (e.g. parents). Is the choice your decision to make (Yes/No/Unsure)? You need to be clear.
  4. Make up your mind on a practical, pragmatic basis. If you find yourself making an emotive choice, be clear to yourself that this is what you are doing. Check my lists of don’ts.
  5. There are some unlikely universities that you have not heard of that are very good at a small range of subjects. Design, Northumbria; Computer games software, Sunderland; Journalism, Bournemouth. Find out who is unsually good for your preferred subject area.
  6. Have a look at the likely cost of doing a degree there. Example, Britain is cheaper than the US mostly because the course is shorter, Scotland is more expensive. But you might manage to finish in the US faster than four years (my pal Bill did, in 2.5 years) and thus make it pay.
  7. Work on your study skills. There is far too much research that says there is a correlation between better grasp of language and better results. Use you brains to improve your study skills, i.e., think about it. Manage your time well—plan to do sport or other pastimes and fill your life with activity not passivity.




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