Thinking about going to university? UCAS applications closed in January, but it’s not too late to apply. Here’s some advice if you’re thinking about it and some local resources to help you afford it.

There were a lot of things holding me back when I thought about applying to study at university. I felt like I wasn’t smart enough because I didn’t get the best A level grades. I would also be the first person in my family to go to university, which is daunting for many complicated reasons but most notably because I didn’t have much guidance about the whole process. I came from a low-income family and university is expensive. Forget the £60k tuition and loan debt –  how do you find a £600 deposit for halls in three days? The friends I met at Castledown, Hillcrest and Bexhill College were struggling with the same problems. 

Having come out the other side and graduated from London’s Birkbeck evening university last year, I’ve reflected on the practical things that I wish I’d known when applying for university and during the course. I also spoke to some recent graduates who shared their experiences too.

If you missed the deadline:

The UCAS deadline this year for most universities was 15th January 2020. It’s great if you got your application in by then, but don’t be completely put off if not – you may still have time. This date is their ‘equal consideration’ deadline, meaning universities have to consider all applications submitted by then equally. Aside from any scepticism about the concept of ‘equal consideration’ in university admissions, if you apply between 15th January and 30th June (the deadline for late applications) you may still be considered if there are spaces left on your course. 

UCAS advises reaching out to your desired universities and asking if they still have vacancies on the course. I recommend opening up a line of conversation with them regardless. Phone, email or turn up and ask to speak to the admissions officer. After deciding which university and course I had my heart set on, I knew I didn’t have the grades to get in but I kept phoning the admissions officer until I was told: “Look, you should have just got better grades.” Coincidentally or not, that person has since left the university and I graduated from there this summer. 

Also, why not consider getting extra help with your application from a graduate that’s been through the process? Universities often have mentoring schemes in which graduates or current students can help you with anything from your application to the challenges of essay-writing and research, so do ask about these. 

Clearing 

Clearing is the UCAS admissions process of matching applicants with no acceptance offers to university places that are yet to be filled. As reported in The Guardian and The Times in 2018, many education experts believe that the clearing process benefits middle-class students and their chances of admission into Russell Group universities, while having a detrimental effect on the less well-off students who may lack the knowledge, confidence or guidance to navigate the complicated process. I had no idea what clearing was or that I might really benefit from it until I was halfway through my course. 

Remember: a lot of other prospective students will have a smoother ride in the application process. Those of us who have had to fight for opportunities will have to fight harder at this point. I strongly advise you to make yourself known to them and try not to give up. Also, research ‘clearing’ and start learning the game. 

If you’re worried about money:

There’s no easy way around this. I studied at evening university to combat the financial hurdle (see discussion below), but three Hastings’ friends received educational grants from the Isabel Blackman Foundation during their studies and felt that it relieved a lot of the financial stress that comes with studying. 

The Isabel Blackman Foundation supports students from Hastings and St Leonards. To apply, applicants must write a letter to the charity arguing their eligibility for the grant. 

Jacob Wells, 23, is studying a part-time postgraduate course in Classics at King’s College London and was a recipient of this grant. He said: “The Isabel Blackman foundation were very generous and helped me out a lot. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to work and study together, especially in London, but I couldn’t work enough hours in the week and still meet the demands of my course. When I sent a letter to the foundation, they seemed determined to help me; their support has been invaluable.”

The Magdalen & Lasher Educational Foundation also offer educational grants to individuals in Hastings that are studying. They award bursaries of up to £1,000 to individuals with undergraduate places in universities and invite applications from local 6th forms, colleges and individuals living in Hastings or who attended schools here. They also consider individuals embarking on a postgraduate course and can provide grants for courses at further education colleges. The applications need to be in by the end of May with a reference, and they usually spread the bursary across the three years of study. These resources are there for you to utilise if affording university is a struggle.

Also, most universities offer bursaries to low-income students. They will usually look at the intensity of your study and your household income and reassess each academic year.

Resources are there for you to utilise if affording university is a struggle

If you’re working full or part-time:

One way to afford university is to work at the same time. This isn’t always ideal, but many people work whilst studying because they’re happy with their job and further study might help to advance their current career. 

I studied full-time at Birkbeck and worked throughout my studies. It meant I could afford my £800 room in halls (London rent = joke) but it also shaped my learning and drew me to a corner of academia full of diverse and working class students, mature learners, experienced professionals and people that were unconventional compared to the Hastings world I grew up in. At Birkbeck, it’s not uncommon to find yourself sitting in-between a 70-year-old female Pakistani journalist who’s worked for BBC Arabic for 20+ years and a 35-year-old postman who’s come straight from work in his uniform. We all worked during the day and went to two evening lectures a week. Birkbeck’s ethos is to provide higher education for ordinary working people, therefore it could be the right choice if you want to continue working for professional and/or financial reasons. 

I spoke to Mahdi Mustafa, 25, about why he chose to work whilst studying at Birkbeck: “I took a break after my A-levels because of tuition fees, so I didn’t want to be in a classroom full of 18-year-olds when I came back. I think everyone knew why they were there. I also didn’t want to get myself in debt [because of Mahdi’s religious faith he cannot take out an interest-based loan]. I worked for the 3 years, paid the fees myself and it was really the only route to getting my degree.”

Looking back, I think it was worth it. For me, half the battle was realising I was capable of studying at university. There’s help along the way and it can be found right here in our town. If you have any thoughts on this topic or want more information, email [email protected] hastingsindependentpress.co.uk


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