Read Time: 5-10 minutes
After about 14 years of schooling, for most people begins their journey into university, a more independent life- adulthood, responsibilities, challenges, exposure and what not. A lot more parameters take form, deciding a university is a bigger task than deciding a high school, and one that involves more of your decision, in contrast to schools where for the most part your parents made the call.
This post will focus on Fall (September) 2020 intake locally (UAE) and abroad. Students usually begin looking for universities in the summer or winter vacations in the preceding year, and those with higher aims start even earlier but everyone is different, has their own pace, have their own interests, need varying amount of time to figure things out and actually decide what interest(s) of theirs do they want to continue their university life with.
Even at this point, there are some of you out there who may not be sure of what you want to take, which university you want to go to, and whether you want to go at all. Don’t panic, it’s alright, it happens. We’ll get through this, step by step! Hope is not lost.
Deciding your field/course
It’s a hard, and important decision- what you want to study, which course are you going for, what do you want to do in life. We’re expected to have answers to these questions by the end of our high school journey but some of us still don’t, and that’s okay.
However at this point of time, you have to speed up your thinking, and try to figure something out by adopting various methods, and if you still can’t, don’t waste your time and funds experimenting what you think you can do, you don’t want to be stuck in a field you don’t enjoy for the rest of your life, so, take a gap year if you reach that point and use the extra year to explore activities, internships, introspection, research, communication, networking and what not. Better delay one year, than waste time and funds worth 3-5 years and live a life you’re no longer interested in.
If you’re taking a gap year, your application process would either remain following the proceeding steps with a request to a deferred entry (make sure the universities you’re applying for are okay with that otherwise you’re wasting an application!), or you apply normally between October’20 and January’21 for the Fall 2021 intake.
Taking the decision: Self-Analysis and Introspection
The first thing you must do, is identify your strengths, weaknesses, and interests, even if they’re vague- note them down, it’s progress! You might find it hard to put into words what’s on your mind, don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s natural and healthy to do so. Approach your parents, friends, relatives, teachers, counsellors, advisers, or anyone else you seem fit for the job and ask them to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and perhaps interests too.
There are plenty of resources and tests online which can extensively help you in two minutes. https://www.collegefactual.com/tools/find-my-major/introduction/ is a website that tells you your strengths and recommended courses in the order of importance, as well as which universities offer those courses, and the range of salaries.
It’s one of the processes I underwent to decide my field: Economics and International Relations. Am I interested in working under a fixed set of rules? (science), no. I find myself to be more of a people-person. An Empath, someone who prefers finding solutions to issues, at a personal level, psychological level, conflict resolution among people, and even world issues and thus politics. I spread my process of figuring out through the years, by tapping multiple opportunities to see what interests me. For the most part, I was just interested in creating a versatile portfolio and set of skills, and deciding what to do with it when the time comes, and not the other way round.
Self Analysis and introspection will also be important for determining whether you want to study in the same country, or go abroad. Are you ready for that kind of independence?
Classifying and Selecting Among Your Interests
You will end up finding multiple answers that may/may not be combined together. I, for example, also had interest in psychology and mental health but it’s not the field I am pursuing as a profession. You’ve got to decide what do you see yourself doing more, and your other interests, you can still carry them on in another form. I read up things and help those around me to whatever extent I can, but those fields aren’t what I’m pursuing. That way, it doesn’t go to waste!
Many of you are also interested in music, painting, dancing and what not. While for the most part, these are hobbies, some may imagine it to be a career choice. When it comes to fields like these. The degree of risk is usually perceived to be higher in terms of stable income. So you have to analyse whether your interests are economically sustainable. By this, I definitely don’t mean that you drop them, but perhaps find a sustainable income option while carrying this on the side, so in case it doesn’t work out, you’re not doomed.
Apart from that kind of classification, you will also have to find out which universities offer those courses, and at what admission fees, and where. These factors will also be very important for narrowing down your course(s).
Classification and selection among your interests also involves assessment of demand of that profession in the market and related factors. The same can be done if you’re a flexible person and can shift your interests by money motive. By assessing market situation for certain jobs, you can work towards a field that has high potential/pay/security and develop interests for it henceforth instead of the reverse process.
Method of Cancellation / Flexibility
If even after the previous steps, you’re not sure of your course, and taking a gap year is not an option, you still have two tools at your disposal. Cancellation. Among all your options, see what you don’t want to do, and among the pool of what is left, try picking what you’re most interested in, or pick something that opens a versatile field for you in future so that you don’t get stuck in a field you don’t enjoy but will have flexibility.
Also keep in mind that you can change your majors once you enter university. You can apply with undecided majors and opt for a liberal arts program, giving you an extra year to explore your interests without taking a gap year!
Know that this is YOUR life decision
A lot of people will have a lot of things to say about your decisions at this point. Your friends, teachers, parents, relatives etc. But at the end, remember that this decision affects YOU the most, and your immediate family to an extent, not anyone else for the most part.
Some of you might be facing a dilemma with parents not letting you do what you truly want. This could be because of many reasons rational in their eyes: risk, safety concerns, expenses, sustainability, not wanting to send you away etc.
Discuss it with logic, hear them out, respect their opinions and ask them to respect yours too. Respond to all their concerns with knowledge. Research, and come back answering all their queries and hopefully things work out in your favour, if they don’t you could reach out to a career counsellor who could explain things to them.
Deciding your university
After you’ve figured out your course and interests, you need to finalise which universities you plan to apply to. Narrow it down first by place, do you plan to stay in the UAE or go abroad?
You can match your courses and universities via the aforementioned website as well as many other searchers such as: https://studyportals.com/
Then look for universities on the following factors:
1. Application dates: Given that these are last minute applications, a lot of universities go out of the options. Look for universities which are still accepting applications.
Apart from the top ones in the UK, you can apply to 5 universities through UCAS as late as 30 June. It obviously reduces your chances, but it’s not a lost cause.
OUAC (Ontario, Canada) deadlines differ as per university. Those can be checked out here: https://www.ouac.on.ca/university-links/.
UAE university deadlines are naturally till April and later, so if you’re staying, you don’t have to worry too much.
This Reddit post also has a list of updated deadlines amidst the COVID outbreak that may be handy (Click here)
2. Ranking in relevance to the course/field. NOT General ranking. As a whole, especially for undergraduate, rankings shouldn’t be that important but if you wish to take them into some form of consideration, focus on where it stands in your field more than in general. Run after genuine quality, not name and fame.
3. Entrance requirements: Basically, your aims should be realistic. It should be a university your grades can and/or will get you into.
4. Miscellaneous test requirements. Amidst the COVID breakout, many tests are no longer accessible, for them, there are substitutes coming up and universities are setting out alternatives. So be sure to check up on that as well.
5. Government Policy, Language and Social Factors: Check the sustainability of your stay in your target country after your course is over, do you wish to acquire a work permit and aim for citizenship? Does your target country not allow that?
Furthermore, other factors relating to personal safety will also be important. How are local attitudes towards migrants? Is the place safe for the community you belong in? Will you be able to communicate with those around you (language concerns)?
6. Other Factors: There are a lot of other factors that you can look into, but since this is meant for last minute stuff, I don’t intend to make this write-up too long, but some of those are checking up on the reputation of the lecturers, acceptance rates, how many students are there in a single classroom- this will help determine whether or not you’ll be able to get personalised help or be left to a more independent learning experience.
If you’re applying to UK you’ll be applying through the UCAS portal. As for the other regions in Canada, and UAE as well as India, such common application portals do not exist. For locations which make use of such portals, there may be a limit to the amount of universities you can apply. It’s 5 for UCAS, and costs 25 pounds if you apply between 2 to 5 universities.
So if you’re going for UK, it’s best to fill up that limit of 5. You can fill such a selection by picking 2 ambitious choices, 2 realistic choices, and 1 guaranteed (safety) choice.
Apply and Play the waiting game!
Once you’ve figured out what you want to do, and are done applying, or have decided to take a gap year. Do your best to keep the negative thoughts and worries at bay, don’t let them get to you. Begin working on essays if you need to submit any. Give it your best shot.
This process is likely to get overwhelming given the importance it holds in shaping your future so be sure to have hobbies to go to for unwinding and relaxing. You might come across rejections, but that’s the worse that can happen, it’s totally okay. None of this is worth more than your mental health and well being.