Thursday, 19 April 2018

Benefits of going to an open day (or two, or three…)

Summer. We associate it with good weather, barbeques and beach holidays, but for those of you wanting to apply for university next academic year, summer will soon be synonymous with open days.

When I was starting to think about applying to universities, open days were invaluable. Being able to get a sense of where you may be living and studying is really important, as you can therefore know if you would enjoy being in that place.

A really great benefit of open days is the talks, for both your subject and social life at the university. Some places even do talks for parents! The wonderful thing about these talks is that they will explain to you how the course works and really what it’s like to be a student at that particular university. 

If you’re applying to the same course at several different places, the subject talks can help to highlight the subtle differences between courses. I personally found taking notes in these talks really helpful, as I could then look over them later and refresh my memory about the specifics of each course. In terms of the student life talks, it can be really good to go to these if you have time, just to get a sense of the support and activities offered by the university and their students’ union.

Most universities should also have a subject fair or something similar, where you can talk individually to students studying your course and some of the lectures who may teach you. For me, this was one of the most helpful parts of the open day. Being able to speak to people who really understand how the course works can clarify parts that were perhaps glossed over in the prospectus or subject talks. At these stalls, you’ll be able to find out the balance of exams to coursework for assessments, student experiences of the course and university life in general, and be able to ask any personal questions you may have to admissions staff and lecturers.

Don’t forget on open days to have a look at accommodation and eating facilities. For some people being able to self-cater would be an absolute dream/a complete nightmare, so make sure you know what facilities are available, so that you’re able to choose what you would prefer. Also, for some universities where the accommodation is off-campus, find out how long it would take you to get to campus, as that may be an important consideration as well.

Open days can be quite hectic, so make sure to book online to reserve your place (if that’s necessary), plan your day so that you’re able to do everything you want to, don’t forget to bag lots of free merch whilst you’re there and have a great time!

Enia x

Monday, 16 April 2018

Is being a live at home student the right choice for your family?

Once the university offers start to pour in, thoughts inevitably turn to September and where you will live when you start your course. If you choose to study miles away from home, you can choose from halls of residence or a shared house or flat. However, if you are going to study close to home you could also choose to be a live at home student. According to statistics collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, living at home whilst studying at university is an increasingly popular option.

There is a clear financial advantage and you will be able to maintain regular face-to-face contact with your family. You will get more peace to work than in a shared house and your parents are on hand to keep an eye on your physical and mental health. Nevertheless, is this really a good idea for you and is it a good idea for your parents?

The disadvantages of being a live at home student 

Some students feel that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages:

1. It makes it hard to fit in – there is no doubt that living in halls of residence is the best way to meet people in your first year at university. It can be challenging because you will be thrown together for 24 hours a day. However, as you witness the best and worst of each other, lifelong friendships are often forged. If you live at home, it is possible that the peer group will develop but you may feel like an outsider.

2. Attending social events can be tricky - it is daunting to walk into an event during freshers’ week on your own. When you live in halls of residence, you will probably all attend as a group. When it comes to getting home after social events, there is safety in numbers. Getting back to your family home alone is a bit riskier. Many universities lay on ‘safe buses’ during freshers’ week to make sure you get home safely but Mum and Dad may not be so accommodating!

3. A lack of freedom - parents worry and students like to stay out late. This is, quite simply, not a great combination. You may prefer to lead your life without your parents watching.

4. Becoming an adult – having your parents continue to cook, clean and drive you around may sound like a fantastic idea but it is not necessarily good for you and not necessarily good for them.  Sometimes, learning from your own mistakes is the best way.

5. There are still costs - parents may let you skip the rent but there may be increased travel costs to lectures and taxis home after nights out.

8. You never get the ‘halls’ experience – good or bad, you’ll probably never get another chance!

Advice for a live at home student

The decision to become a live at home student is entirely personal and what works for one student and their family will not work for another but there are a few things that you can do to make it more successful.

1. Work hard at your social life by being proactive in making friends. Attend all the social events and go up and introduce yourself to people. Joining societies and clubs may also help. Some universities offer special support for live at home students.

2. Find other students who live at home and organise regular meet-ups. Hang around the common rooms and get into conversations with fellow students.

3. Don’t expect Mum and Dad to do all your cooking and cleaning. Have a food budget and make your own meals, do your own laundry and clean the house. Nothing builds independence like cleaning a toilet!

4. Look for a campus job where you will meet other students.

Hopefully this post will help you make the right decision.

A longer version of this article was first published on After the Playground.

How to ace a job interview

Nobody likes them. Everyone has to do them. Dreaded job interviews: the joyful prospect of sitting across a table from a future employer, being grilled on questions you’ve never thought about before, trying to smile without crying and praying that you’re saying all the *right* things.

The key? Preparation. That’s where this post comes in. This isn’t just for grad jobs- it can be applied to part-time work whilst you’re at Uni or work experience interviews/chats too. I’ve probably had around six interviews in my time, for jobs in everything from a swimming instructor to a waitress in the grubbiest restaurant going. They’ve all been completely different- for one, I had to wait for an hour to be interviewed whilst I waited for the manager to finish chatting to his mate- another was over in about two minutes as it was clear they just wanted some staff. I recently had my first ‘proper’ job interview too and I’ve since been offered to work for them part-time whilst I finish my degree. No matter what the job is, the preparation will always be the same.

So, grab yourself a cuppa…

1) CV

Make sure your CV is up to scratch before your interview, and print it off and take it with you. In my recent job interview the interviewer took time at the start to read over my CV, and asked how up to date it was. Luckily, I could safely say that I had been for a meeting to discuss my CV and had a lot of advice about what to do with it. But if you turn up to an interview with a half-written CV from 2011, chances are you might not get the job.

2) Portfolio prep

This ties in with your CV and largely depends on what job you are going for. My interview was for a reporter job, so I took in examples of my articles for them to look over in a big A3 folder. Similarly, if you’re going for a job where showing examples of your work will help you- take a folder along and it’ll show that you’re motivated and keen. It will also give you something to reference whilst you’re talking and keep you focused.

3) Mock interviews

Googling ‘interview questions for a reporter job’ was a simple but easy way to get an idea of what kind of thing I would be asked in my interview. Of course, you’ve got the general questions as well which most employers ask- what is your greatest achievement, what are your weaknesses, how would you describe yourself in three words, etc. There’s no better way to practice than asking one of your friends to interview you by giving them a list of questions.

4) Read about the company

If you turn up for a job interview with a magazine, for example, and you’ve never read it, you’re pretty much writing moron on your head from the get go. Even if you just look on the company’s website or speak to some of their staff, at the very least you’ll have an idea about the values of the place you’re applying for. It also might help you out in realising whether it is the right place for you to work.

5) Iron your clothes!

Ironing my shirt with a hairdryer the night before an interview really wasn’t ideal (although it did work, surprisingly.) If your student house doesn’t have an iron, don’t leave it until the last minute like I did. Dressing smartly is key- first impressions are everything and if you turn up wearing your great aunt’s battered shoes from the 80’s you’re probably not helping yourself out. Smart trousers, a shirt and blazer- Bob’s your uncle.

I hope this post was useful! I’m no interview expert but I hope that I’ve given you a little bit of confidence that you can do it- with lots of prep and a big smile, you’ll go miles.

Anna x

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Why I applied to uni…

As a 37 year old, father to two precious girls, with a seemingly successful 20 year career in financial services behind me, my desire to go to university has surprised many.  However, as is true in life, there is more to a person’s story than can be assumed from merely looking at them or applying presumptions about their stage in life... to understand my dream to go to university now, you need to understand what’s led me to this point.

As an 18 year old, fresh from scraping through my A-levels, I had the opportunity to go to university.  At that point, however, I was trying to pick myself up after three torturous years of bullying in secondary school, I was reeling from an inability to concentrate and make the most of my A-levels in sixth form, plus I was in love! I had little self-confidence at that stage, had no proven ability to apply myself to studying and wasn’t going for the lifestyle; as is the delusion of the all-conquering first love! So, deciding not to waste further time in education, I instead opted to work full-time.  Financial services seemed a smart fit while I figured out what to do with my life; I loved real maths, some of my family were financial advisers and I wanted to start earning, to finance an adult life - first home, holidays, car, etc. I was 18 and I secured employment working for a highly respect investment company. I embarked on a crash-course in surviving – then later thriving – in the adult world of work.

I stayed there for 9 years in all. I held various positions – some I enjoyed, many I didn’t – the highlights from that time; I met a lady who would later become my wife and the mother to my children. While professionally, I challenged myself and slowly climbed the ranks. Sadly, it ended on a sour note after my bosses let me down in style when my wife fell ill and was hospitalised. While still struggling with her health, my wife fell pregnant with our first child.  I had a big decision to make; by this stage, my income was the only thing keeping us afloat and I needed to earn more to enable us to survive as a family of three. There were many things I didn’t like about working in financial services, but needs must! I embarked on my first real financial services exams, a move designed to open up my options for higher earning potential. Shortly after completing the Certificate in Financial Planning, with my wife now five months pregnant, I secured a role as a financial adviser for a large bank. Now that was a rough time, it must be said; the credit crunch had just begun at a time when I was a first-time mortgage and protection adviser for one of the big banks. Add to that, my wife’s pregnancy was traumatic, followed by the joy, yet incredible pressure, of becoming a father.

As of today, I’ve worked in the banking environment for over ten years. I only advised for three; it really isn’t a role that sits comfortably alongside the pressures of having a young family! Especially with a wife that was poorly.  So I moved into compliance. I completed the Diploma in Financial Planning and I climbed the ranks to eventually becoming a manager in a highly technical and pressured environment.

My ‘career’ has been one of necessity. When I was 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones that has a passion for a career in teaching, or medicine, or anything specific. I was a lost boy that hadn’t matured socially during his school years due to bullying and I had no self-confidence. No real self-identity, in truth. It’s only through the benefit of hindsight that I understand how vital those years are for a child, helping them to mature into a young adult with a purpose and passion. Trauma, isolation, bullying, whatever the impact may be, can rob a child of maturing at the same rate as others.  In my case, I was a shell of a ‘man’ at 18 and it took me years before I had an identity of my own. In fact, it was in my late-twenties that I finally had some intent about the career path I wished to follow. Two main avenues stood out to me then; the police and primary school teaching. I looked into my options for both – in fact, I applied to join the police force many years ago – but the truth was, I was trapped in a career I didn’t choose, with no real option to change direction. Financially, my wife couldn’t work, so my income was necessary to meet our mortgage and living costs. 

I was never passionate about my career in financial services. In truth, there were a few roles I’ve held over the years that I felt some passion for, but those moments were fleeting. By the time my marriage came to an end towards the end of 2016, following a nervous breakdown in February 2016 – a story in itself! – I had felt desperately trapped in my career and my life for years. It’s a horrible, panic-inducing feeling, to have no control over the direction in which your life is heading. While it’s not ideal to be starting over at my age, I consider whatever happens from hereon to be a blessing. That’s because I’m now making choices!

It felt like the end of the world when my marriage ended and I was confronted with a future as a part-time father.  My children are my world and I’d pushed myself beyond my breaking point in order to provide the best life I could for my family. It was a couple of months into my new life when it dawned on me – my silver lining – I have a do-over at life!  I can follow my dreams. I can choose a path for myself and I can live the way one should live; with passion.  With intent.

I began 2017 with one short-term goal; improving my science GCSE to a C grade. I didn’t want to force myself to decide my future at that point, as I know that real clarity of mind comes organically, so I simply considered my options. My desire to join the police had long since passed; the starting salary and the state of the country were handicaps. So at that point, with a career in primary teaching as a real option, I needed to ensure my GCSE grades were adequate.  Unfortunately, life had another cruel joke to play on me; I collapsed after a Thai kickboxing session and this led to the discovery that I had a heart defect. I had two surgeries in February last year to set me right, but it provided me with a further period of reflection. 

I started 2018 by completing the Biology GCSE papers and then I gave real thought to what direction I want to move in for my future career.  While primary teaching still appeals to me, a burning desire has come through over the last 12 months. As most people do, I’ve suffered many traumas and setbacks in my life. For numerous reasons, I’ve had cause to experience various forms of counselling and psychiatric support over the last 15 years; either for myself or in support of others. I’ve seen first-hand the impact that the right kind of support can have on the quality of life someone suffers/enjoys. I’ve always been fascinated in psychology; how different people are. Body language and social cues, the impact of trauma, the human ability to adapt. Therein lies my passion; to help other people as I’ve been helped (saved, in truth). So, why uni? The big, first step in realising my dream of a career that I can be passionate about. I’ve had an unconditional offer for a place with my first choice university for this coming September and I’ll be studying psychology… and I can’t wait to get started!

Why I'm (Finally) Going To Uni

I was very restless, but finally I found my way” - Emma Bonino

Way back in 2010 I was entering my first year of GCSE's. I was 14, I considered myself pretty clever and, most importantly, I had a plan. 8 years later I've thrown that plan out of the window and I'm starting again.

I was dead-set on going to an Oxbridge university. Then I changed my mind, then I decided not to go to university at all, until I did go. Then left. Then vowed never to go back. Yet here I am, 6 months away from starting my 1st year at Cardiff met. So...what happened?

Eight years ago, when my head of year announced a meeting for all students wishing to go on to Oxbridge universities, I jumped at the opportunity. I went to all the preliminary meetings, I signed up for the extra-curricular learning and I worked as hard as possible to get the best GCSE grades I could muster. It was all going very well. That is, until I finally got the opportunity to go to an Oxbridge open day near the end of year 11.

I was so excited to go. We arrived and I was overwhelmed, we walked around the stalls with pamphlets about different subjects and I was confident. I already know I'm going to be studying English Literature” I said over and over, feeling incredibly self-assured (and probably annoying all my friends in the process). Then came time to split up and listen to speeches about our chosen subjects. Again I rushed to the English literature hall and and sat, bright eyed and bushy tailed, waiting for the tutors to start. What followed was one of the most disappointing half an hours of my life. As it turns out, English Literature at Cambridge was not what I wanted to do at all. Now don't get me wrong, That course would be incredible for anyone who actually wanted to do it. It's just that I had a very different image of the course in my mind and to poor 15 year old me, my whole life had been flipped on its head.

I had decided upon that course about 2 years prior and I felt as though those 2 years had been wasted (despite all the definitely important work I had put into my exam). After that I went into overdrive, researching every university in the UK (and some outside of it) to figure out what I wanted to do. 2 years didn't seem like enough time to decide on a crazy as that sounds now. Finally I realised, “I still want to do English! But I want to do creative writing, not theory stuff!” It was a relief and I set out on the next 2 years of my education with pretty decent GCSE grades and a slightly different plan. Alas, half way though year 13, whilst I was knee deep in revision and UCAS applications I had yet another realisation...I wasn't sure I even wanted to go to University at all.

I found myself thinking about my chosen path, creative writing, and thinking; can this even be taught in a classroom? Will I be happy with someone else telling me how to be creative? Then, while I deliberated and tried to decide, the UCAS deadline loomed, then came....then went. I missed it. It was then that I made up my mind that YES I did want to go! And it was too late. Luckily for me, I managed to get into my first choice of university through clearing (thank god for clearing), and I was set again. Until I wasn't any more.

Three months into my first year of university I realised I should have trusted my gut; I hated it. The course, my housemates, everything. I was lost again. I vowed I would never go to university, much to the chagrin of my parents.

I went from university to working as a waitress at a pub/restaurant. All I figured out about myself whilst working there was that I did not want to work in hospitality my whole life. So I saved up my money and left, taking my search to Italy.

Whilst working as an Au Pair (which is fancy-speak for 'full-time nanny') I spent a lot of time drawing for the children in my care. It all started because the youngest had a whiteboard and wanted nothing more than for me to draw “nee naws” (fire trucks) for 5 hours straight. In order to spare myself from this slow torture I convinced him to let me draw his favourite cartoon characters instead. Then I started practising them whilst he was in nursery so I could get them right. I already had a digital drawing tablet because I'd dabbled in art before and it was whist I was drawing my 20,000th Peppa Pig that I realised that I actually really enjoyed it.

When I got home from Italy I dived straight into setting up my own art stall at Cardiff Comic Con and ended up selling...nothing. I wasn't a very good artist. I'd only been drawing seriously for about 3 months and I was only OK.

So I got another job, this time as a Lab Technician at my brothers school, and I spent all my free time drawing. I was still adamant that I would NOT be going back to university and so I utilised the internet for all my learning. I got better, but I reached a standstill. You see there's only so much you can learn without feedback from someone who knows what they're doing.

I realised somewhere along the way that I wanted to use my art to tell stories and so I set out to make a graphic novel. About a year after starting that project I'm still yet to draw more than 1 page of it. I hit a wall in every way possible. I ran out of motivation, ability to improve and time. I was back to being a waitress and drawing fan-art in my spare time. Then, one evening I was deep in “YouTube hell” wading through hundreds of video that I stumbled onto through no clear path, when I clicked on a video of Glen Keane.

Glen Keane is an animator who worked on Disney films like “beauty and the beast” and “the little mermaid”. The video was of him discussing technology and drawing Ariel in 3d using a VR headset. It sparked me. I wanted to be a part of everything he was talking about. And so, 6 months later I'm here. I've been through interview, submitted my portfolio and got my Unconditional offer to Cardiff metropolitan University to study animation. All because I didn't like Cambridge and some 3 year old made me draw a cartoon pig everyday for 4 months.

The moral of this story is that you may be unsure of what you want to do, and you may make mistakes along the way. Even this decision might be a mistake for me, who knows. But you can always change your mind, change paths, and figure yourself out. Through any crazy means that come to you.