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.

The term STEM refers to a group of subjects; science, technology, engineering and mathematics. All have their own branch subjects as well, such as chemistry and physics for science, and these are considered to be STEM fields also. Obviously, then, it’s an important area of study – but does that mean STEM subjects are the best to pursue, definitively? Are they popular? Are they completely superior to all other subjects in every regard? Let’s do some further investigating and uncover the truth of the matter!

Level of Interest

We can start with the most obvious way to gauge if something really is living up to the hype: determining its popularity. No one is disputing that STEM fields are vital, and each year many talented and innovative minds gravitate towards these areas. Every breakthrough society that has been has, in one way or another, stemmed (pun not intended) from the STEM arena.

But how has that interest fluctuated as time’s gone on? Well, using data from 2013 in a 2017 study, the University of Cambridge discovered that the most popular country for STEM study was actually Germany, with 36% of their students studying in these fields. Only 19% of students in the United States followed suit. The UK didn’t fare much better, as interest waned significantly in Information and Communication technologies, with a mere 9% uptake – a sure surprise in today’s digitised and computer-centric world. Clearly, these aren’t ground-breaking figures.

It could be said that, to some degree, more creative subjects attract a higher intake of students. Lifelong passions become moneymaking opportunities, and there could be greater room for working on things that are perhaps more universally cherished (music, performance, literature, etc). In any event, STEM subjects need a popularity boost!

Discrimination and Behaviour

Needless to say, any career path or academic subject that discriminates on any basis is far from being considered ‘superior’ at all. The aforementioned study from Cambridge regarding STEM subjects simultaneously revealed that there’s a huge gender disparity at the heart of these fields. More men sign up and study these subjects than women in a heavily disproportionate number.

Through a blend of crippling stereotypes and outlandish misconceptions, STEM subjects still fail to involve many women and girls the world over. This isn’t just a minor quibble, but a major problem festering at the heart of these fields, and indeed in other professional circles too. Still, it’s worth mentioning that the arts are practically open to all and are spearheading the movement for representation and equality in all its forms.

A lot of snobbery and antagonistic behaviour can originate here too, so from an attitude and behavioural standpoint, things definitely need to improve. Some might see the unforgiving nature of the STEM field as a process of elimination in ‘weeding out the weak ones’, but frankly, that’s not an entirely helpful or welcoming culture to promote. It’s worth noting that not everyone in the STEM fields subscribes to these attitudes, but on a whole, some changes need to be made.

Job Availability

STEM subjects typically lead to better job prospects. There’s no way around this; the breadth of practical knowledge students acquire in these fields is astounding. The job market is always demanding graduates with these skills, offering great career enhancing opportunities for those who’ve gone down this route. Few STEM graduates will have a hard time finding work.
Should they fail to find a role that suits them, some of these graduates then strike out and launch their own start up tech businesses instead. In that sense, it’s far easier for them to create their own opportunities too, due to the plethora of knowledge they have at their disposal. Admittedly, some creative graduates could likely follow suit and start their own firm depending on their skills, but many of them unfortunately get stuck in a rut after graduation day and find themselves unemployed or being overqualified for the jobs they’re in.

Rate of Pay

Students who enrol on STEM courses will also have an easier time in securing a high rate of pay. The skills they learn are highly specialist, and the jobs themselves often involve enormous amounts of responsibility. While the arts are fulfilling in their own way and pay ludicrously well for the lucky or famous few, it’s the STEM fields that truly change the world with each passing day. Consequently, the pay in these areas skyrockets accordingly.

Unfortunately, it tends to be quite the reverse for those in the arts. Reportedly, arts graduates cost the taxpayer £35,000 each, simply because countless art graduates never earn enough money to pay back their student loan in full. Obviously, this is a rather concerning discovery, and means that many people enrolled on a creative degree won’t ever earn a truly impactful wage. In fact, numerous art graduates end up earning less than non-graduates, who spent those three years pursuing a career through alternative means.

Of course, pay isn’t everything. What’s more important; having a big house and a nice car or feeling a sense of enjoyment, happiness and pride in every piece of work you produce? It all comes down to perspective. Some STEM workers absolutely despise what they do but do it for the pay, whereas those in the arts sometimes earn very little but adore their passion. Still, it can’t be disputed that, on average, STEM workers do earn more.

Conclusion

It does seem to be the case that STEM fields offer more room for career progression and higher earnings. However, these perks are mostly available to men. Once some of the snobbery fizzles away and more equality arrives in the field, STEM will be deserving of the respect and admiration its enthusiasts already believe it has.

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.

The space telescope Kepler, named after the seventeenth century German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, took centre stage in NASA’s first planet-hunting mission. Launched in 2009, Kepler travelled through space for nine years before it ran out of fuel at the end of October 2018.

Kepler discovered more than 2,600 exoplanets in our galaxy during its journey (An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system). When NASA announced that the telescope’s journey had come to an end, it stated, “…Kepler planet hunter… found a menagerie of many planet types, some unknown in our solar system and thought to be impossible.”

The planets discovered vary in size from that of Neptune to that of Earth. Full analysis of the data Kepler transmitted back to Earth will take decades. In fact, despite the mission being over, the information gathered is still being received today.

The diversity of the planets found has led many to speculate how many of them have habitable environments. Amongst the data investigated so far, NASA’s astronomers say they have discovered a planet (known as K2-288Bb), which is twice the size of Earth and within a zone that could allow liquid water to exist on its surface. In a NASA press release, Adina Feinstein, of the University of Chicago, said, “It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon.”.

NASA believes this planet, which is about 226 light-year away, could be gas-rich like Neptune, though it’s possible that it is rocky instead. K2-288Bb orbits the smaller of two cool stars in the stellar system called K2-288. The brighter of these stars, which are a massive 5.1 billion miles apart from each other, is half the size of the sun.

It is too soon to know just how habitable or not any of the planets Kepler discovered are, but there is one certainty; thanks to the Kepler space telescope, astronomers know more about the previously hidden depths of our solar system than ever before. As Bruce Macintosh of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California stated when talking to Science magazine about Kepler’s stunning discoveries, “The universe cooperated, beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.”

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.

On 25th January 2019, the Doomsday Clock was moved closer to midnight, from three to two and a half minutes to twelve.

Created by the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, the Doomsday Clock began as a visual representation of the world’s response to nuclear threats. In contrast to the perils it represents, the idea of the clock is very simple. The nearer to midnight the minute hand is placed, the closer the board of Atomic Scientists believes the world is to disaster. Midnight being a representation of the moment of a worldwide apocalypse.

The aim of this shock tactic is to raise awareness of how close human beings are getting to destroying the planet they inhabit. Speaking to USA Today, a representative from the Atomic Scientists explained that the clock “conveys how close we are to destroying our civilisation with dangerous technologies of our own making.”

When the Doomsday Clock was first invented, the scientists involved were also working on the Manhattan Project; a programme responsible for the construction of the first nuclear weapons. Very aware of the consequences of what they were doing, they introduced the clock to warn of the weapons’ power. In this first instance, the hands were set at 7 minutes to midnight.

Since its birth, the clock hands have been moved backwards and forwards. At its ‘safest,’ it was set at seventeen minutes to midnight in 1991. In 1953, at the height of the Cold War, the clock hands were moved to two minutes to midnight, when the USA invented the hydrogen bomb.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists gives the reason behind the current placement of the hands at two and a half minutes to minute in 2019, as “the failure of President Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change”.

There is no doubt that the reasoning behind the Doomsday Clock is both serious and worrying, but what factors are used to conclude its position?
Eugene Rabinowitch, from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, explains that several factors are taken into consideration when deciding the placement of the hands. These include nuclear threats, climate change, bioterrorism, biosecurity and side threats, such as cyber warfare. “The Bulletin’s clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age.”

Just how accurate is the Doomsday Clock, then? Well, the sad truth is that we won’t know until it’s too late. It can’t be denied however, that it does make you stop and think.

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.

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