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                In my last blog, we took a detailed dive into how to choose between Oxford and Cambridge, with a particular examination of the nuances of the Natural Sciences Tripos at Cambridge. In this month’s blog I thought it would be useful to step back and ask a more basic but extremely important question; why apply to university to study science at all?

Many of you reading this will have only finished your GCSEs a year or so ago, a time where you studied a broad range of subjects, with many students now achieving over 10 GCSEs as standard. As you moved into sixth form, you would have reduced your choice of subjects to 4 or 5 AS level, but for some students this means still a broad range of topics. To use myself as an example, in my AS year I took Maths, Further Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Fine Art. While you can see that I was leaning towards science-themed subjects, I very much enjoyed art and was seriously considering applying to study Art at university. I knew many other students who had an even broader mix of AS-levels. In a similar manner to how you culled several subjects when you selected you AS-levels post GCSE, when you apply to university, with its singular focus, you must again make a cull – usually down to just one subject (or close grouping, such as PPE at Oxford). However, it is this round of culling that students normally find the most difficult for several reasons:

  • They are normally fonder of their selected AS-levels (we all had GCSE subjects we were happy to drop!)
  • Choosing a single degree means specializing in one topic, and in several cases means committing to a career that could last a lifetime (medicine, law etc.)
  • Not many 17 year olds know how they want to spend their summers post A-levels, let alone the rest of their professional careers!

I have tutored many students over the years who were applying for science, but you could see it in their eyes, clear as day, that they wish they had applied for history or theatre or another subject where their passions truly lay. And here lies lesson 1:

  • Apply for your favourite subject: Don’t let family, friends or teachers pressure you into applying for a course (or indeed a university) that you are not passionate about. Many students may succumb to pressure to study a “useful” degree like engineering, when what they really love and are passionate about is Latin and Ancient Greek. While the latter subjects may not lead to obvious career choices, you will not thrive nor enjoy university studying a subject that you don’t hold dear to your heart.

But what happens when you don’t know what your passion is, or you enjoy History and Mathematics equally? This is where you might need to do some additional research to figure things out. Your university degree will impact significantly impact your job prospects upon graduation, so in cases where you are torn between different subjects, it is best to think beyond the degree and examine what sort of jobs or careers you may enjoy after university. This part requires some work; be it reading about or talking to parents and family friends about different careers, through to engaging in work experience and internships over the holidays to learn more about a particular career (of utmost importance anyway to inspiring medics!). If you fall into this latter camp, the earlier you start exploring, the more confident you will feel as you apply for courses this autumn. And remember – it’s ok to change your mind! I started out wanting to apply for Fine Art, then medicine, and finally settled on Natural Sciences – and have been very happy that I made that choice!

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