By Natalia Foster

UCAS and University, two small but quite powerful words. For any 18 year old, the UCAS process can be stressful, challenging and all together a mystery until you are on the other side of it.

As someone who completed and survived the UCAS journey, I wanted to give you my five top tips for navigating it with ease and confidence!

1. Give your personal statement that personal twist

This may seem like an obvious point to make, but you would be surprised as to how much the ‘personal’ part of a personal statement is ignored. Something that I believe gave me the offers I received is being able to link my personal experiences to the subject I wanted to study.

An advantage we have as vision impaired people is that we see the world from a slightly different perspective. Not just in the literal sense, but we are able to take gratitude for the things others don’t even think about. This can influence the way you think about your subject, how you approach the theory involved in the field you want to pursue, and overall, give the person reading your statement a little more insight into why you would be a great student at their institution.

Here is an example of how I did it!

These principles align themselves with the lifetime goal of humanity: To understand who we truly are. This is not only a journey of self-discovery but one of appreciating the world I live in. I have only just begun to walk on this path, but it is one I look forward to continuing.”

2. Don’t feel pressured to ‘go with the crowd’

Something I don’t think is discussed enough is the pressure people feel to go to a ‘normal’ university, to live in a flat with up to 10 people, to approach university in the same way that everyone else does. But I think this as far from the truth as possible.

University is the time I have truly began to understand myself and take confidence in my independence. Everyone is on their own journey, and the way you’ll feel the happiest is by doing what is right for you, and if that looks different to everyone else, then there is no shame in that.

In my first year I lived in a studio, in comparison to my friends who lived in a flat with other students. At first, I felt upset with myself for not having the ‘normal’ university experience, but by June of that year I realised how much I had loved it. I had still had the ‘university experience’, and if anything, my friends were envious of how I had tended to my own needs.

What I’m trying to say, is don’t feel uncomfortable if what you need doesn’t match up with the expectations in your head of what university is like. From my experience there is no ‘normal’, only what feels right.

3. Understand the support available to you

From DSA to the way you’ll get to class each morning, there is so much out there to aid you in your time studying. I would suggest getting ahead on this. Do you want a city-based university or one that is all on campus? What support do the university itself need to provide? Do you know if the lectures are recorded?

It can be hard to remember everything that is important to you when choosing where to go, that’s why I would suggest making a checklist, Excel spreadsheet or somewhere to keep track of all your research.

Here is an example of what I did, and what was important to me.

Things to consider include if the university has a catered option, how you would get to class each day, is it a city or campus university, does the course you are looking at have the options that you want (such as a placement). This can also help you work out what you will want from the university support services. Make that list and whittle it down!

4. What happens will meant to be

So well done! You’ve made it to UCAS results day. And oh no, it hasn’t gone how you expected. Maybe you didn’t get the grades for your firm choice, you have to go through clearing, or maybe you decided that university just isn’t for you anymore. All three options are both possible but importantly, completely OK. I didn’t get into my firm choice; I cried a lot. Watching this future, I had built up in my head fall to pieces knocked my confidence significantly. But I accepted my place at my insurance choice, and now looking back on it, I am much happier here than I think I would have been at my other choice. Things worked out the way they were meant to, and even if at the time it looked scary, I am in the place I should be. Don’t fear what happens, even if it is puzzling and filling you with all kinds of anxiety, the universe has a funny way of placing you on the right path.

5. First year is for learning how you work best

I think this is quite self-explanatory, but your first year can be filled with a variety of challenges and mountains to climb, and luckily, the first year doesn’t always count towards your final degree classification. Use it as an opportunity to not only work out how you work best academically but the best route to the supermarket, what’s the best day to do your laundry? Where’s the best study spaces? How do you take your notes? First year at university is not about the grades you get but the way you go about getting them.

I hope at least one of these tips will help you in your UCAS journey, from submitting the application to getting through the first year. You will succeed.

By Natalia Foster

Want to read more? Natalia has written other articles around the subject of starting university which you may find helpful at:

The photo shows Natalia standing outside the University of Birmingham holding her study books.