How to Choose the Best University for You

Would you agree that finding the right university can be challenging? In the UK, there are approximately 130 universities offering academic courses, so many of us can feel overwhelmed by such an abundance of options. You will find some tried and tested techniques below to help you find the best university, whether in the UK or internationally.

Finding your preferred university options is a project in itself. It is a bit like planning a trip. The more you investigate the route, read about the sights in advance, and ask people who have already visited, the more successful your trip will be. So let’s get started…

Researching University is Key

Begin with a three-step approach: researching alumni, faculty and university rankings. If the university provides an opportunity to connect you with alumni members, take advantage of it. Talk to former students about their university experience. Ask them about what they enjoyed most and what they wish had been different. Do not forget to explore the list of faculty members who teach at the university. You can browse their profiles online and find out what academic projects they have been involved in. Being taught by remarkable academics is one of the things which will make your university experience most rewarding.

Meet Face-to-Face

Universities like to represent themselves at student recruitment fairs. It gives them an opportunity to meet face-to-face with aspiring candidates. Shortlist a number of your university choices based on your research. Keep in mind that first impressions are paramount. You really want to make sur all your interactions are positive, professional and polished. Take a business card of the admissions, marketing or student recruitment officer you have talked to and do stay in touch with them if you have further questions.

Explore the wider city or town you will be living in. Are there inspiring events taking place outside of the university you are considering? Oxford, Cambridge and London provide a lavish range of events like no other UK cities. There will be plenty of things to do in most major cities of course, as you’d expect. Conferences, festivals, science and academic events offer vibrant opportunities to be involved in and enhance your student experience. Whether you are interested in art, literature, dancing or science, there will be no shortage.

Finding your best university is also similar to planning a trip. The more you investigate, the more likely you are to make the right decisions. Ask lots of questions. Research online and face-to-face. And enjoy the journey.

A few months ago I wrote an article about the impact of the First World War on medical treatments for bodily injuries, diseases and infections such as those from burns and Typhoid fever. However, this told only half the story. As I cover here, the harm caused by the Great War was as much mental as it was physical. This post will look at the major developments made in psychological medicine in the immediate aftermath of a conflict that left at least 80,000 suffering from “shell shock.”

Advancements had to be made first in the attitude towards psychological breakdown before any progress could be made in its treatment. Thanks to the stigma of mental illness in society at the time, the British Army were initially bewildered by the number of casualties who reported no physical injury yet were suffering symptoms as wide-ranging as insomnia to uncontrollable shaking, and the high command were inclined to treat the situation as a disciplinary matter rather than a medical one, with little sympathy for sufferers.

Those who weren’t charged with desertion or other offences were frequently subjected to unsympathetic, painful treatments – isolation, restricted diet, aversion therapy, and electric shocks. Dr. Lewis Yealland, a neurologist based in London, was a major proponent of “Electric Shock Treatment” (now Electroconvulsive Therapy): an unforgiving method in which electric shocks were applied to the part of the body where symptoms presented, such as the throat of a mute patient. Success rates for these therapies were extremely poor – as low as two per cent.

Looking back today, this sounds more like punishment than treatment. Gradually, thanks to the work of doctors like W.H.R. Rivers, this began to change. As the stigma associated with shell shock lifted, treatments for the ailment became more sympathetic.

At Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, Rivers adopted a humane approach using a technique known as cognitive restructuring – looking at negative situations in a positive light. A poignant example of this can be found in Ben Shephard’s book A War of Nerves. It gives an account of a man, who having suppressed the memory of discovering his ‘friend’s mangled body’, suffered terrible nightmares about the experience every night. Rivers suggested that the condition of the body proved that he had been killed instantly, spared the agony of a slow death from his wounds. Encouraged, the man
‘dreamt that he went out into no-man’s land to seek his friend, saw his mangled body just as in his other dreams, but without the horror that had always previously been present. He knelt beside his friend to save for the relatives any objects of value, a pious duty he had fulfilled in the actual scene, and as he was taking off the Sam Browne belt he woke with none of the horror and terror of the past, but weeping gently feeling only grief for the loss of a friend.’

The government began to realise that change was needed, and soon more British Hospitals began to follow Rivers’ lead in their use of compassionate treatments. Training centres were set up at Maghull Hospital in Liverpool and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley, Hampshire, establishing techniques akin to today’s cognitive therapy, which placed great importance on the need to acknowledge and re-experience traumatic events based on individual analysis.

By 1939 there were 187 psychological clinics in the country. Medical schools began implementing compulsory psychological training for their students, and the Mental Treatment Act of 1930 encouraged voluntary patients and outpatients and abolished the term “asylum”, replacing it with the more sensitive “mental hospital.” The Cassel Hospital and Tavistock Clinic, two institutions that specialise in mental health cases, were established in the two years after the war, and have been ‘unequivocal forces for good in British life.’ The war forced a reconsideration of how Britain treated its mentally wounded soldiers, and proved to have a lasting effect in society at large.

Hopefully you have not left all of your revision to the last minute!  But even if you have, these tips should help you.

First things first – relax.  You cannot study well or absorb information if you are stressed. It may be last minute, but you are not out of time. And you’d be surprised at how much you can pack into your short-term memory.

Also make sure you take breaks. A common response to last-minute revision is to try and study for as long as possible. But you will remember more if you take regular short breaks and get enough uninterrupted sleep.

1.      Clock Revision

This is a tip that I first saw on TES and although it is described as a teacher activity, it is adaptable.

How it works: split topics into 5 minute chunks and make notes. That way you will only focus on the key areas and, get through  a lot of information in just 60 minutes.

This leads me to an important tip – don’t sweat the small stuff

When you are revising close to the exams, you need to prioritise on the major topics or key areas of each topic. 

2.      Identify Gaps

Instead of revising material you already know, try and identify your knowledge gaps and focus on filling them. It makes last minute revision both efficient and effective.

A good way of identifying gaps, is by using a checklist or the contents page of a textbook and ticking everything you feel confident on. That way, you can easily see areas that need more attention.

3.      Write your own Exam Paper and Mark Scheme

I love this one. The best way to know any topic is to teach it. And whilst you may not have the time or opportunity to actually teach others a topic, you do have time to write your own exam paper. 

In writing an exam paper, you will be forced to think about the topic in-line with the style of questions you will face in the real thing. The most useful part here is writing the mark scheme.

Look at sample material from your exam board and write in their style.  This will help you revise topics and improve your exam technique.

4.      Keep it Visual

A quick, and more importantly an effective way to revise, is by using visual aids like mind maps. 

Think about memory tricks and visual aids to avoid trying to remember large chunks of text or lots of terminology.

Recently in TES news, exam board AQA shared some feedback to teachers about what to avoid. What does this mean for students?

Here is what they said.

  1. Give adequate weight to all assessment objectives

One of the most useful skills you can develop as a GCSE student, of any subject, is to learn how to mark exam answers.

It is the single-most powerful method to understand what the examiner wants from you.

Most exam boards provide past papers and mark schemes for free, through their websites.  Use them.

A great way to learn what the assessment objectives mean, is to do some research. There are many useful YouTube videos that discuss these. You may even find some exemplar work to view – mark it yourself and see if your final grade matches theirs.

  • Practice the more ‘general’ questions

Many GCSE exam questions provide guidance on what to include in answers. Despite this, AQA found students struggled with the less structured questions.

Here is an example of a guided question (English Literature):

How does Priestley explore responsibility in ‘An Inspector Calls’?

Write about:

  • The ideas about responsibility
  • How Priestley presents these ideas by the way he writes

Here is an example of a less structured question:

Compare the ways poets present ideas about power on ‘Ozymandias’ and one other poem from ‘Power and Conflict’.

Neither of these questions are easy. The first does at least tell us what to write about, though. The second is a lot more open-ended and therefore harder. Approaching them needs to be practiced.

  • Make the most of mock-exam support

I am going to tweak this one slightly and translate it to: ‘practice past papers’.

Learning the topics is one thing. But understanding an exam question, recalling your learning in its context and writing full-answers in timed conditions, is no mean feat.

The more you practice, the better you will become. If you are starting to time yourself, try and assign yourself 1 minute per mark. So, if a question is worth 20 marks, it should take you no more than 20 minutes to answer.  You won’t be able to achieve this a first but, if you  practice, you will be surprised at how quickly you improve.

If you are dyslexic, it does not need to be a barrier to education. After all, it doesn’t stop you from learning, you simply have a different way of learning.

Of course, you can deploy independent strategies to help you learn. But it is also important to communicate with your educators about what you need. 

Here are some simple study tips for you to use independently and to share with your teachers.

Take your time

Don’t rush to answer a question. If needed, ask your teacher for some extra time. At first you may not understand a question or text but don’t worry, you won’t be alone. Many students who don’t have dyslexia will be in the same position.

You specifically need time to read and re-read the text in front of you.

When you read it for the first time, underline any words that you are struggling to understand. Spend time annotating the text with what those words may mean.

Now you will be ready to read for the second time. This time, try and use your notes to understand the text.

Finally, try reading one or two more times. Use these readings to remember what you have read and its meaning.

You also need to give yourself enough time to write your answer. As with everyone else, you may need to re-write certain parts but, it may take you slightly longer.

Convert text to pictures

You won’t be the only one who understands visuals more than text. We all do.

When studying, revising or say, planning an essay, use visual tools like mind maps.  Fill your mind map with images, not text.  Make it colourful and playful. All of these things will help you understand and remember.

If you are struggling to follow the slideshow being presented in lessons, ask your teachers for a printed copy. That way, while the teacher is talking, you can follow the content at your own pace and even make notes wherever needed.

Stay organised

You may be in the position of needing to track various study materials and assignment deadlines. To help you do this, make sure that you stay organised. Do whatever works for you, but here are some ideas:

  • Study timetable
  • Calendar on the wall
  • Calendar or diary on your phone (apps like TeamUp are great)

When planning, make sure that you also factor in study time.  That way, you will be able to see exactly what you need to do (and when you need to do it), to meet your deadlines.

There are many ways to learn online. You can participate in online one-to-one lessons, remote classroom sessions, e-learning or a combination of all three.

Since online lessons do not lend themselves to a traditional way of teaching and learning, some people are sceptical about them. And they are entitled to be, because online courses aren’t for everyone. For most, though, it is a convenient and effective way to learn.

Is online learning suitable for you?

That’s a big question and a difficult one to answer because everybody has different learning preferences.
But, as a general guide, online learning should work well if you:
• Are organised, motivated and self-disciplined
• Have the right equipment
• Do not have serious learning difficulties
• Wish to learn a subject that lends itself to the medium. A practical course like hairdressing, for example, may not be suitable.

What are the advantages of online learning?

There is the obvious advantage of being able to work in an environment you are comfortable in without needing to travel. This is great for most learners, regardless of age. However, it is also true that for some, specific learning environments, like a classroom, work better.

Usually online courses allow you to go at your own pace. This presents an advantage for most people but particularly for mature students who may have other commitments. Since online courses have less overheads for course providers, they are often cheaper than face-to-face learning.
Aside from these specific advantages, online learning shares most of the advantages of face-to-face learning. This is because, with classroom software and even video calling software like Skype, you can do things like sharing screens. So viewing work or learning material is not a problem.
Homework can be completed and marked electronically. Since you may need to take your exam by hand, written practice can be carried out during lessons.

So, should I enrol on an online course?

The only real way to know whether it is right for you is to try a few different types of online learning. See whether you find the teaching effective. Discover if you have the discipline to see it through.
One thing, however, is always true. If you can welcome this modern learning method, you will open the doors to a wide range of learning opportunities.

Whether you are an adult learner or a teenager who is juggling multiple subjects, working efficiently and effectively can be challenging.

But it doesn’t have to be. The solution lies in being organised – specifically with your time.

Tip 1:  Use a diary system that works for you

Whether you prefer a handwritten calendar or an electronic one, think about colour coding it.

Perhaps you could assign a different colour for each subject.  Or maybe a different colour for different aspects of your life.

This is a great visual method to ascertain whether you are spending enough time on your learning, and helps you dedicate a solid part of your day to it rather than thinking ‘I’ll do that later’ and never quite getting around to it.

Tip 2:  Quality over quantity

Effective learning doesn’t depend on how many hours you put in. It depends on what you do in that time.

So when organising your learning time, don’t simply slot study periods into your diary. List what you will specifically work on during that time. This will not only help you stay on-track but also ensure that you are making steady progress in all areas that need attention.

Don’t forget to schedule in some relaxation too!

Tip 3:  Master the art of prioritising

Look ahead at your learning schedule and think about what you need to do now, and what can wait until tomorrow (so to speak).

It can be overwhelming when you have a long list of tasks – especially if you feel like all of them had to be completed yesterday. But when you zoom in, you will see that you can divide your list into manageable chunks.

This will help you actually complete your list and is a great strategy if you have a tendency to procrastinate.

Tip 4:  Spend more time on things you find hard

We all like the feeling of being successful. So when we find something difficult, we can often be tempted to avoid it. This is the opposite of what you need to do. Think about it: if you spend more time on things you find hard, they will soon become easier.

Tips 1 to 3 feed into this – if you dedicate specific time to the harder topics, and prioritise them over ones you have already mastered, your learning will be more effective.

Tip 5:  Find out when you learn best

Some of us work better in the mornings, others at night. Still others find it is easier to work in the afternoon. Find out what your own peak learning time is. It will be when you make the most progress, feel freshest and absorb learning best.

Cramming before an exam is tempting and in principle, it can be effective. But only as long as you choose your study time wisely.

War is the only proper school for a surgeon.
– Hippocrates

The First World War was a watershed moment in history. Never before had such a relatively short period in time seen such seismic shifts in technology, society and culture. The newly industrialised nature of the conflict and parallel stalemate of the trenches, all under near-constant artillery bombardment, was fertile ground for rapid innovation. In just four years the battlefields of France and beyond saw the introduction of tanks, militarised aircraft, machine guns and chemical warfare. But what war harms, society inevitably must find ways to heal. These novel technologies of death and destruction brought with them wounds and bodily disorders completely new to medicine, and as a result the medical field would embark on a journey of similarly hasty scientific advancement.

Physical Injury

The nature of trench warfare meant that, with soldiers’ bodies protected most of the time, there were a disproportionate amount of head and facial injuries. Surgeons were at a loss as to how best to treat these horrific wounds and burns, often stitching together open wounds with no time to consider the consequences of the healing process.

At Sidcup in London, a New Zealand-born, British-trained surgeon, Harold Gillies, was a crucial figure in the development of reconstructive surgery. Gillies advocated a highly experimental, never-before-seen method of treating facial gunshot and burn victims with skin grafts – taking tissue from, for example, the chest or leg and using it to repair the face – a technique still in mainstream use today. In a pre-antibiotic age, his pioneering “Pedicle Tube,” a tube of skin leading from the donor site to the graft site, allowed blood flow from a healthy area of the body to the injured area, nourishing the graft tissue, and preventing infection.

Other advancements in the treatment of physical injury included the Thomas splint, developed by Welsh surgeons Hugh Owen Thomas and Robert Jones, which drastically reduced the number of deaths from broken bones, and the mobile X-ray unit, invented by Marie Curie in France and launched onto the battlefields with the help of 150 female operators.

Disease and Infection

It wasn’t just physical injury that soldiers risked on the frontlines. Disease, including the 1918 flu pandemic, accounted for around one third of military casualties, while around six million civilians perished due to disease and war-related famine. After seeing the widespread death caused by Typhoid fever during the Second Boer War, a British bacteriologist called Almroth Wright lobbied the British Army to provide 10 million vaccines against the disease to its troops on the Western Front, preventing, by some estimates, around half a million deaths.

Infection originating from wounds was also rife, thanks in part to the foul conditions in the trenches, where lice and mud were ubiquitous. An antiseptic solution developed by the French-British partnership of Alexis Carrel and Henry Dakin drastically reduced the need for amputation due to sepsis.

The Advancement of Medicine in World War I

From the ashes of war progress so often springs, the decay and destruction of conflict powering innovation and change. The First World War was billed as the war to end all wars, a title that as we well know could not have proved further from the truth, but soldiers and doctors of subsequent conflicts benefited immeasurably from the new medical knowledge, technologies and techniques that emerged from it.

Education is constantly evolving. Billed as one of the fastest growing tech markets in the UK,  our schools collectively spend more than £900 million a year on education technology, or edtech as it’s commonly dubbed. Neither does the sector show any sign of slowing down.

Curriculums change through the years, and with them the means of presenting their educational content to school pupils. We’ve already seen chalkboards exchanged for interactive whiteboards and projectors, and textbooks largely swapped out for laptops and computers. We’re all familiar with these developments, but ground-breaking progress continues to be made.

On October 16th, 2018, the BBC published a report on a parliamentary meeting that served as a landmark event for technology in education. Based at Middlesex University, a robot named Pepper sat down with MP’s to discuss the impact that robotics and artificial intelligence have had on education, and how things could move forward in the future. While all the questions and answers were predetermined, the main thrust of the conversation with Pepper was to encourage a blend of technology and human oversight, rather than replacing one with the other.

This merger focuses on viewing technology as something that is of service to teachers and pupils rather than something to be subservient to. An LSE study has already proven that banning smartphones in schools significantly improved results, but the question worth asking is; can technology be repurposed for education’s sake?

Though robotics and AI are being introduced to the learning environment, for now they largely handle the more administrative tasks in the schooling arena. For example, they’ll record test results or manage student data. That said, the robot Pepper facilitated duties in front line learning too, such as aiding special needs children with their numeracy development. Clearly, this edtech is all of enormous help to teachers, who have been notoriously overworked for years, resigning and even falling ill from the stress of their exploited roles.

An App called Kahoot! has also made waves amongst school pupils both in the UK and the US. It allows teachers to create their own digital games that their pupils can access through the app, enhancing their learning through a fun use of technology. The app had a recorded 50 million monthly users in June 2017, which shows just how quickly edtech can gain traction in popularity. Under teacher supervision, apps enable the learning experience to become exciting and interactive in a way that textbooks, unfortunately, can’t be.

To some degree, edtech allows children to have a more prominent hand in their education. It gives them greater agency in terms of not only what they learn, but how they learn it. Technology is something that young people are very familiar with, and that same familiarity can spur their engagement in the classroom. Edtech use means that learning becomes a less passive experience; pupils can now get involved using their screens, instead of listening to teachers monologue in ways they can’t fully comprehend.

In 2018 the BBC reported that over the last three years the number of children who are being homeschooled in the UK has risen by around 40%. It’s not hard to see why; for parents, ensuring their child’s schooling is top quality is vital, and home schooling is definitely worth consideration as the new school year starts. Whether you’re considering homeschooling for your little ones or terrible teens, choosing to self-teach offers the perfect method for many parents who seek a more hands-on approach in their children’s education. In the UK, as a parent you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, moving through Key Stages 1-3 and on to GCSE and potentially A-Level education.

So is homeschooling right for you? Whatever the age or abilities of your child(ren), learning from home presents many benefits. Let’s look at a few of these advantages, which may help you decide.

Avoid classroom distractions

Two of the main reasons influencing UK parents’ decision to choose homeschooling include protecting their children’s mental health and the ability to avoid exclusion. Being in a large classroom environment can present a number of challenges for children, including exposure to bullies, feelings of inadequacy from being around superior-performing peers and being singled out for being ‘different’ from other children. Many children may feel as if they simply don’t ‘fit in’. Home schooling offers a solution to avoid these situations and protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing.

One-to-one time

The chance to learn one-to-one rather than one-to-many offers many children the chance to feel fully involved and immersed in their own learning. This increases their chances of remaining engaged and interested in their studies. This also allows you, as a parent, to build a stronger bond with your child; to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with them on these. It is attention that they may not get in a large classroom environment.

Go at their pace

Homeschooling allows your child to proceed through their education at their own pace rather than that of scheduled class. Every child is unique, with their own abilities, and these abilities may vary from subject to subject. If your child needs more help with Mathematics and less so with English, you can adjust their learning schedule accordingly.

No school run

This means more healthy sleeping patterns and time to study – you have the time to flex your child’s learning timetable around your lifestyle and circumstances. You can take holidays when you want, too. A definite win-win.

Homeschooling offers many benefits over more traditional school classroom study. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of both options before making a decision to homeschool of course, and there are plenty of resources to do this, including the UK Government’s website, which can provide further advice.

Connect with Oxford Home Schooling