Updated: Sep 6
What's next? That's the big question everyone's asking when you're nearly at the end of your time at school. You've probably spent quite a lot of time thinking about this, and you've concluded, University is the logical next step. But that one word has much uncertainty behind it, which could vary from which country, subject, and University to choose. How do the league tables look? I believe this stage is the beginning of your professional career, and you think you need to get these answers 100% correct.
Understandably, there's a lot of pressure on you and the choices ahead. I've been there, and I've come out the other side. So let's see if I can help you out a bit.
I grew up in Sri Lanka, a beautiful country. The popular opinion is that it's a tropical paradise, and I agree. There are so many places I can go to have a dream holiday there, but every holiday ends, and you have to go back to your regular life and your career after a relaxing break. Here was my first problem; what would that career look like in the future? I liked messing around with machines, and I enjoyed looking at aircraft as they flew overhead. The answer came to me quite naturally: I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. I think you should start your journey too with what you enjoy. Figure out what your dream career looks like, but maybe it's not clear to you now, and that's ok. Not everybody knows what they want to do for the rest of their life, and I would be a little surprised if you had it all figured out. All you need is some idea of what you enjoy doing because if you like it, you will naturally put in the effort you need to succeed.
I then had to figure out where to study, and again, the answer was evident to me. I wanted to go to the UK. I had studied English throughout my school life, and I took A-Levels administered by a UK exams board. I was fluent in English, and I felt that I knew enough about life in the UK to be comfortable living there. I suppose this is something fundamental that you need to consider if you want to study in a foreign country. You will spend a few years away from home and the familiar faces, places and comforts while you attend University, so choose carefully. In my opinion, language proficiency is the most critical factor as you will need to communicate appropriately to get what you need and build your life there. You should also pay attention to that place's culture; it will shape your social life and your experiences while you are there, so try to look for something you can get on board with comfortably.
My next step was to choose the University, and here I had to consider many factors. First, how good is the University's reputation? There are many league tables you can look at to get this information about national rankings. You should also see how they rank the subject you were thinking of studying. Many universities seem to be particularly good in one field or the other, and most league tables allow you to filter by subject. I paid more attention to this because it was more important the University could provide a good education on the subject I wanted to study. One more thing you might want to look at is the student experience ranking. After all, this is what those who have gone before you think of the place.
However, don't focus only on the top ones; these tend to be the most expensive universities for international students. You need to keep in mind that you need to fund your degree, and they can sometimes be costly. Also, it would help if you considered that you would have to pay for your living costs. These can vary wildly depending on where you study. Living in a city is almost guaranteed to be more expensive than living in a small town. Most universities will have some guidance on their students' expected living costs. You need to be realistic about this and go for the best you can afford.
The final thing I looked at is the entry requirements. I put this last because you have the most control over this. Of course, it will be demanding, and it will be more so the higher up the league tables you go. The entry route for UK universities is usually going through the UCAS system, which lets you apply to around five universities at once. You will receive some points based on the grades you received at school. The A level exams are the default, but you will find information on the equivalent scores for other education systems in other countries. Universities will publish how many points they expect from you and their specific grades for certain subjects. Find out as much as you can about this because these are the goals one should focus on in the final year or two years of school.
There is no single correct answer to which University you should choose, and it will always be a trade-off between the things I mentioned above, so you should think about what matters most to you. I've given you a quick rundown of the process I went through, and it is essential, but I want you to remember that this is not the make or break moment that people make it out to be. I have seen people reinvent themselves after graduating and doing something else they fell in love with during their undergraduate programme. Keep in mind that attending University is a journey of discovery. You will use this time to make that dream of your future a little clearer. Learn as much as you can, both in and out of the lectures and put it to good use. It seems cliché, but it is true when I say that you've got a big adventure ahead of you, and you should be excited for what it will bring even though it may seem uncertain right now. After all, the most significant risks potentially have the best rewards.
Student,PhD in Operations Management