9 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Getting into a Top University Without Leaving Your Room

If you’re determined to get into a top university this academic year, you’re probably already starting to think about how you can give yourself the best possible chance of being given a place at your favourite university.

You’ll doubtless already have thought of the standard advice, such as taking part in activities relating to your chosen course, or getting involved in voluntary work. But if that’s not possible, don’t worry: you can actually do plenty to improve your chances without even leaving your room. One of the best things you can do to this end is, of course, reading; the more you read around your subject, the better. But reading isn’t the only way you can maximise your chances of success. In this article, we look at some of the other things you can do to give your university application the edge over your fellow applicants.

1. Join Twitter, and use it wisely

In this internet-obsessed age, many lecturers and university departments have succumbed to the lure of social media and are now on Twitter, tweeting interesting news and views about their subjects. Prominent examples are media-friendly lecturers such as Mary Beard and Richard Dawkins, but there are many, many more. Alice Hunt, for example, is a lecturer at Southampton University, currently tweeting interesting things about the English Civil War, as she’s in the process of writing a book about Oliver Cromwell. Dr Rebecca Williams is a lecturer in Volcanology at Hull University, and a good person to follow if you’re an aspiring geology student. And it’s not just individual lecturers who are worth following on Twitter; many university departments have Twitter accounts you could be following for relevant news (here’s the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford, for example), and so do the universities as a whole. There are also lots of useful Twitter accounts for any given subject, which tweet news and opinion that will prove valuable to you as you prepare to apply for university.

Following the lecturers for your subject at your chosen universities (and others – you don’t want it to look too obvious which universities you’re applying for!) is a particularly good idea, as you’ll easily be able to keep abreast of what they’re talking about and what they’re specifically interested in – and this is excellent preparation for writing your personal statement and going to interviews. They’re likely to tweet about the subjects they’re researching or writing about themselves, so you can learn more about these subjects ready to show an interest in your personal statement and interviews. You can also show an immediate interest – and get your name recognised by them – by retweeting and ‘favouriting’ their tweets, and replying to them with intelligent comments. And, of course, you can tweet interesting things about your subject yourself, so that if they happen to look at your profile, it’s a clear demonstration of your interest in the subject.

2. Start a blog

Another way of harnessing the power of the internet to help increase your chances of getting into a top university is to start a blog relating to your subject. Blogging about your subject allows you to share your thoughts about it with the world, and it gives you something to talk about on your personal statement that demonstrates your interest in the subject (the admissions tutors will probably look it up when assessing your application, so it’s almost like an extension to your personal statement). What’s more, the process of writing about topics relating to your subject forces you to be clear in your thinking, so you learn at the same time.
Blogs are free to set up (try platforms such as WordPress and Blogger), so you don’t even have to spend any money to feel the benefit of blogging. You could write posts about recent news stories relating to your subject, which gives you the added benefit of allowing you to gather your thoughts on recent developments in readiness for being asked about them at interview. You could also write about what most interests you about your subject, sharing interesting stories and facts, or giving your own interpretations and responses. A good example to illustrate what we mean is this art history blog, which was set up by an A-level student preparing a successful application to Oxford University.

3. Set up Google Alerts to keep abreast of subject-related news

We’ve already touched on the importance of keeping abreast of developments in your subject, and highlighted Twitter as one way of doing so. Another way of doing this is to set up Google Alerts. These send you an email whenever something new is published on the web that matches your requested search term. You can set Google Alerts to let you know as and when each new page is published, or you can go for weekly or daily digests of the most relevant results if you find yourself getting inundated with emails.
Set up Google Alerts for topics relating to your subject so that you can keep abreast of anything new and newsworthy. This will allow you to stay right up to date with what’s going on in your subject, and you’ll learn things that won’t be covered in your school textbooks. Interviewers will often ask for your opinion on a recent discovery or other news stories relating to your subject, just to test how interested you are, so Google Alerts will allow you to be prepared. For example, if you were an aspiring archaeology student, a good Google Alert to set up would be for the phrase “archaeologists discover”, as this will bring up news stories about new archaeological discoveries that you can then find out more about and mention in your interview. Each time your Google Alert lets you know about a new story relating to your subject, try to make time to read about it in a bit more depth, not just the headline and snippet you’ll get in the email.

4. Research the universities you’re applying to

When you’re applying to university, it’s not just your subject you need to be as informed about as possible; it will help to have an in-depth knowledge of the university itself, and the department to which you’re applying. Conducting detailed research into the universities and departments you’re applying to is an easy way to improve your chances of getting a place without even leaving your room. This will allow you to prepare tailored answers to questions such as “why do you want to study at this university?” Find out about the history of the university and department, and get as much information as you can about the application process, interviews and what to expect. Read about the lecturers and their research interests, and about the course itself – this way, you won’t get caught out when you’re asked a question such as, “what aspect of this course interests you the most?” Some departments may publish guidelines about what they’re looking for in prospective students, so read these in detail too.

5. Set your Facebook profile to private

As we’ve already seen, lecturers are much more social media-savvy now, with an online presence themselves. While this is great for allowing you to learn more about them, the downside is that they might well look at your online presence when evaluating your application. This means that you need to be very careful about the impression given by your social media profiles. Make sure that your Facebook profile is set to private, so that admissions tutors can’t see pictures of you doing or saying things you might not want them to see. You can go onto your Facebook profile and view it as a member of the public (someone who isn’t friends with you) to check what will be visible and change your profile settings to remove it from the public eye.

6. Update your LinkedIn profile

Another social network to think about is LinkedIn, a professional network that many lecturers will be on and so should you. This is your opportunity to make the connection between your desired degree and your career ambitions, as well as giving you another chance to showcase your range of skills and experience. In case lecturers look you up, make sure that your LinkedIn profile creates the right impression. Use it to show your previous work experience, which demonstrates that you’re a well-rounded person with a range of skills. You can also use it to highlight your long-term aims by filling in the profile summary section, outlining your future career plans and where your proposed degree fits in with them. In the education section, you can go into more detail than you did on your UCAS form, with grades you’ve achieved and that you’re predicted, adding details such as the specific topics you’ve pursued for extended projects and coursework. You’ll be able to tell whether any admissions tutors have viewed your profile, as LinkedIn will notify you of this (unless they’ve chosen to remain anonymous).

7. Join a student forum

Student forums are a great place to pick up application tips from current students of the university you’re hoping to go to. A good example is The Student Room, which has individual forums for all the major universities and subjects. Find the relevant forum for your chosen university and search for threads talking about applying. You’ll be able to get a look at the competition (other prospective students) so that you can get some ideas by seeing what they’re doing to prepare, and you’ll be able to ask questions of current students to get insider views on what the admissions process is like, such as what to expect from interviews.

8. Learn some new skills and improve existing ones

Thanks to the internet and books, you don’t need to leave your room to learn new skills that will enhance your university application. For a start, there are plenty of online courses to teach you new subjects, deepen your knowledge of the subject you’re applying for, and help you develop the academic skills you’ll need for university. Then there are self-study books and articles that help you improve your knowledge of useful skills such as essay-writing, languages or public speaking. You could take up a musical instrument, practising in your room for an hour every day. You could even learn a new language with a private tutor who gives you lessons over Skype. General academic skills will be useful for any subject you apply for at university, and as well as benefiting from the skills themselves, you’ll have the added advantage of impressing with your ingenuity and commitment to improving yourself.

9. Tutor someone else by email

Finally, tutoring a younger student is a good way of showing your own interest and competence in the subject you’re applying for, and you can do it from home over the internet using email, Skype and so on. There’s plenty of demand for this kind of work, and its flexibility means that it’s easy to fit it in around your school work. Even better, it’s going to look excellent on your university application, because it demonstrates that you’re not just interested in the subject – you have the communication skills and clarity of thinking to be able to teach it to someone else. This experience will stand you in good stead not just for university, but for your future career, no matter what field you end up working in. And you get some extra pocket money, so it’s a good idea all round.
As you can see from this list, there are many useful things you can be doing to improve your chances of getting into your favourite university from the comfort of your own room. Getting into a top university requires a lot of effort, but the time will come when you’ll be glad you went to the trouble.

Finally, another great way of boosting your chances of getting in to a top university is to attend a summer school. Along with students from all over the world, you will learn and develop new and existing skills across a choice of subjects. You don’t even need to attend our Oxford, Cambridge or Yale campuses – we offer a number of summer courses online!