9 Bizarre Assumptions Behind Common Student Questions
As university application season begins for another year, we’ve been scouring the student forums in search of interesting questions asked by prospective university applicants.
We uncovered a raft of questions from worried applicants and soon-to-be freshers – questions that demonstrate that fear of the unknown gives rise to some irrational concerns and assumptions. There are some truly remarkable misconceptions revealed by these questions, and they may lead misinformed students to make poor choices. In this article, we address some of the most common fallacies in an attempt to allay your fears.
1. Will missing an open day count against me when I apply?
The assumption behind this common question is that open days form part of the university’s selection process, which is not the case. Nobody’s going to be keeping a record of who’s attended an open day and matching it up to applicants, with an automatic black mark against anyone who hasn’t been on one. Open days are entirely optional, and do not form part of the selection process. Actually, universities put on open days because they want to attract you to them – it’s not all a one-sided process! Open days are designed to help you get a feel for what the university is like, so that you can see its facilities, experience the atmosphere, meet the people, and so on. There are some things you can’t tell from looking at prospectuses and websites – particularly whether you feel comfortable there or not – and that’s why you’d attend an open day. Not because you’re already being assessed at this early stage.
What matters when it comes to applying is the quality of your application (primarily your academic ability, as assessed through your UCAS form, plus your performance in any entrance exams or interviews), not whether you attended an open day. Besides, lots of applicants change their minds and decide at the last minute to apply to a particular university, and may not have had time to attend an open day. Or they may have had other more important commitments, such as lessons, and not been able to attend because of that. The only way in which you might be at a slight disadvantage is that by not attending an open day, you might miss out on the chance to ask questions, meet university teaching staff for your subject and pick up tips about what they’re looking for in applicants; but with such information usually available on the internet these days, this shouldn’t harm your chances of a successful application.
It’s a common fear among prospective applicants, but the bizarre assumption behind this question is that fellow open day attendees will be judging you. It also assumes that open days are some kind of social situation; prospective applicants think to themselves that they wouldn’t dare go to a party on their own for fear of seeming ‘sad’, and fear a similar social stigma if they turn up to a university open day alone. It’s perfectly acceptable to go solo to an open day, and nobody is going to think less of you for doing so. In fact, lots of prospective students go to open days on their own, and those who don’t might even admire you for being braver than them!
If anything, going on your own demonstrates maturity, as it shows that you’re taking responsibility for your own education and you’re not afraid of independence, which is all part of the transition to adulthood that happens when you go to university. It also gives you the chance to get to know the university by yourself, and see how comfortable you feel on your own in this environment; after all, you’re going to be on your own when you first arrive at university, so you might as well see how it feels now. If you feel welcome and at ease, you’ll know that this university could be a good one to apply to.
The only concrete argument in favour of taking someone with you is to get a second opinion, but it’s you who’s applying, so it’s your opinion that matters. If you take a friend who’s also interested in applying to this university, you can compare notes, but it’s still your decision and you may find you can view the university more objectively on your own, without the influence of anyone who may be judging the university based on how well it would suit them, not you. What’s more, going on your own means that you’re more likely to get chatting to other prospective applicants, current students and staff; if you’re with a friend or parent, you’ll probably just talk to them, which means you could be missing some interesting exchanges with people who could give you insider information about the university.
3. Is it weird to bring your parents to open days?
Again, the assumption behind this question is that people on the open day will be judging you. Perhaps those asking this question are worried that they’ll come across as childish or overly dependent for taking their parents, or incapable of doing anything on their own. However, it’s very common for prospective applicants to take their parents to open days, and many parents want to be involved in the process so that they can see where you might end up studying. What’s more, they might think of questions to ask that you hadn’t. It’s not as if an open day is like Freshers’ Week, when you won’t want your parents getting in the way of making friends; many (if not most) of the people on the open day won’t end up starting at this university, as they’ll all be applying to five universities each, and they’re still at the stage of ruling out institutions, so the proportion who end up taking up a place there will be small.
The only thing to consider here relates to what we said about the last question: will having a parent there with you allow you to make an objective decision about the university? Don’t forget, going to university is about gaining your independence, and you’ll probably get a better feel for how well the university would suit you without a parent in tow. What’s more, some parents may have strong opinions that could lead you to feel pressured into making a decision you don’t feel is right for you. So it really depends on your relationship with your parents and on their personalities. If you think that they’ll be supportive of whatever you decide, and they’re just there for transport, company and moral support, by all means take them. But don’t let your decision be swayed by any concerns about what other people will think if you take a parent, because it’s perfectly normal.
4. Will asking an awkward question on the open day count against me?
We’ve already pointed out that none of the admissions tutors are going to be checking whether or not you’ve attended an open day when they assess your application, so you can probably guess what we’re going to say about the assumption behind this common question. Many students worry that if they ask an awkward or stupid question when they meet admissions tutors on an open day, this will somehow count against them when they apply. This assumes not only that admissions tutors would remember who you are (and, considering that they probably meet hundreds of applicants every year, this is unlikely), but that they would go to the trouble of vindictively trying to hinder the progress of your application at all – and on such a petty basis, at that. Think about it: it just wouldn’t make sense!
5. Are Oxford and Cambridge the only universities that matter?
If online student forums are anything to go by, there seems to be a tendency among the country’s brightest students to get hung up about Oxford and Cambridge. While it’s not surprising that so many students have their sights set on the UK’s two most prestigious universities, this question assumes that all the rest of the UK’s universities aren’t worth bothering with, which is certainly not the case. If you’re thinking about applying to Oxford or Cambridge, you should also consider the other Russell Group universities, which are all superb choices even though they may not be quite so unique in their way of doing things as Oxbridge.
Don’t forget, the UK has an impressive density of universities that rank within the top institutions in the world; Imperial College London ranks above Oxford (and above Harvard University in the USA) in the current world rankings, and UCL also appears in the top 10 universities in the world alongside Oxford and Cambridge. So, while it’s definitely worth applying for Oxford or Cambridge if you’re on track for top grades, they’re by no means the only universities that matter, and you might even find that another university might suit you better. It takes a certain temperament to handle the intense workload and teaching style at Oxbridge, for example. So keep an open mind; if you don’t get into Oxbridge, it’s not the end of the world.
6. Do I need to have my entire career mapped out before I apply to university?
Another question some prospective students ponder is whether they have to have a clear idea of what they want to do for a career before they apply to university. While there are subjects – notably Medicine and Dentistry – where you’ll need to have your career pretty much planned out (not necessarily your specialisms, but at least that this is the broad path you want to go down), this is certainly not the case for all degrees. This question assumes that everyone knows what they want to do from an early age, and that people can’t be influenced by what experiences they may end up having at university or in work experience. People’s minds can be changed about their career, and that’s perfectly normal, and universities – having a great deal of experience at providing guidance to young people – expect this.
7. Will taking a gap year harm my chances of a successful application?
The assumption behind this question is that universities want to penalise students who choose to take a gap year, despite gap years being incredibly common and popular.
That said, it’s not a completely ridiculous question. Some universities are more in favour of gap years than others, and you should check on their individual policy. What’s more, if you do plan to take a gap year, you should ideally mention in your personal statement what your gap year plans are. If taking a gap year will give you benefits such as work experience, subject-specific activities, volunteering experience, and so on, these will make you a more well-rounded person who will make an excellent student; if anything, universities would value this extra life experience.
8. Will I struggle to make friends at university?
This common question reveals one of the biggest concerns people have about going to university, but it assumes that everyone else has already made friends and that you’re going to be an outsider. In fact, everyone is in the same situation as you when you get to university, and they want to make friends just as much as you do. Besides, making friends is a lot easier than you’re probably telling yourself. Close friendships may not be formed overnight, but you can certainly lay the foundations easily during your first weeks at university. Talk to people, invite them to meet up, join societies, meet to discuss work, go to organised social gatherings, and you’ll quickly make friends.
9. I’m worried that the work will be too difficult or I won’t be smart enough.
Our final question assumes that the admissions tutors aren’t doing their jobs properly. Many prospective students worry that they’ve been given a place through some kind of fluke, and that they won’t be smart enough to handle the difficulty of the work. Don’t forget, though, that admissions tutors have done this before, and they know what they’re looking for in an application. They’ve given you a place because they’ve seen what they’re looking for in your application. If they think you’re good enough for a place, you’ll be more than capable of handling the work. So try to relax about it and look forward to taking on this new challenge.