ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A potential applicant should question the credentials of any adviser, so here are mine.
I have been a teacher in a range of institutions, from university to UN refugee camps. I have mostly taught Classics in UK secondary schools. I have also been an HMC/ISI Inspector.
For the last 25 years I have been involved in advising Year 12 and Year 13 students about university application in a variety of schools and colleges. I served my apprenticeship with Rob Lloyd, a pioneer of “fieldwork”, who in a sabbatical year in 1990-1 travelled to all British universities and polytechnics (which became universities in 1992), interviewing academic staff and undergraduate students. In his subsequent discussions with Sixth Form students he showed me that it is necessary to focus on supporting the individual in front of you: by encouraging the student in researching options, and by feeding ideas rather than insisting on certain answers. I saw that an experienced interviewer who tries to keep up to date with developments in universities can, by setting out a variety of possibilities, often build applicants’ confidence and sometimes help them to have that “eureka moment” of finding a congenial subject that had never previously been considered.
From 1997 to 2017 I was Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School in Dorset, where we promoted an evidence-based approach to university application. During that time I visited all UK universities, from Inverness to Falmouth and from Belfast to Canterbury, interviewing, whenever I could, both students and admissions’ staff. I have also visited universities in Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland and USA. Some universities I have visited several times and I produced detailed reports on the current situation of most of the UK universities.
I have researched and written papers on specific topics related to undergraduate admissions, which were received positively in both the university and school sectors: e.g., “Do universities agree on an exchange rate for IB Diploma and A Level qualifications in entry requirements for undergraduate programmes?” (2007 and 2011): “Is the Russell Group a distinguishable élite among UK universities?” (2013); “How useful to prospective undergraduate applicants are references to league table rankings and surveys in university prospectuses?” (2014). I was asked to share the 2007 article with Heads of Admissions at Russell Group universities, as I was told that no-one had done this research before.
Every person has different needs, but I do believe that a more evidence-based approach than that which I have come across elsewhere can make it more likely that the applicant will end up on a degree programme on which she or he will flourish. “Flourish” is the key word here. There is no such thing as a “good university” or a “good university for Subject X” in absolute terms: what is good for one person will be bad for another. Ultimately, I think all applicants, advisers, teachers and parents agree that we want the individual to find a university degree programme on which he or she will flourish the most. We should therefore beware of imposing other prejudiced agendas before looking at a sound body of evidence. It might be that a potential applicant, having looked at this evidence, decides to apply for an apprenticeship, instead of applying for university, although it is possible to apply for both in parallel and there are now also Degree Apprenticeships available. That is fine. There should be no preconceptions about the inevitability of university, just because someone is surrounded by others choosing that route. Nor should there be an assumption that the possibility of university is not on the agenda. We should guard against the “psychology of entitlement” (“People like me go to uni..”) as much as against the “psychology of exclusion” (“People like me don’t go to uni..”).
I am committed to equal opportunity and have been extensively involved in “outreach” work. I think that it is incumbent on those of us experienced in this field to share materials and insights. I have offered free resources and advice to many schools and colleges, including all maintained sector senior schools and colleges in Dorset, and to those HE advisers in the UK and abroad who participated in an online course (MOOC) run by UCAS. I have also freely offered advice to admissions’ staff in a variety of universities and to school liaison staff at UCAS. After several years of attempting to persuade universities to set up a website to support less experienced and less well resourced advisers and their students, I was pleased that the University of East Anglia decided to implement this idea, and for several years contributed a lot of articles and other resources to this site. I am, however, independent of any university and the views expressed in this website are my own. In 2011, in the context of the debate on whether the imminent rise in tuition fees represented value for money, I appeared on BBC Television’s “Inside Out” programme, where I stated: “Ultimately value is very much an individual judgement, but I do think universities should give clearer evidence of what they are delivering in terms of teaching.” This website indicates in detail what I meant.
I have conducted interviews and workshops in a variety of schools and at the big “What Career Live? What University Live?” event at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Some of this voluntary work has been through the charity “MyBigCareer” (http://www.mybigcareer.org/ ), which was set up to address the lack of careers and university information, advice and guidance in many schools. This involvement, including seeing the long queues for the 15 minute individual interviews we were offering at the NEC event, has served to confirm my belief that a clear step-by-step approach is very much needed.
If a school/college would like me to run a workshop on topics covered in this website, please contact me at: email@example.com
I also offer individual consultations in Sherborne, Dorset. Please note that, for safeguarding reasons, Email contact should be by a parent/guardian, who must also accompany a school age student to a consultation.
A huge number of people contributed to this website.
Firstly, there are the undergraduate students. Almost without exception, the many that I have met on campus - at Open Days or on other visits - have been ready to share their experiences and insights. Hundreds of former students of Sherborne School have supplied equally valuable information in their responses to our annual questionnaires sent both while they were at uni. and again four years later, to help us answer the question “What does this uni. degree programme lead to?” There is no more important source of information than those currently experiencing what the prospective applicant is considering joining.
I am also grateful to the many university staff, including subject and admissions’ specialists, who have been generous with their time and views. The more I have learnt from them about the complexity of their admissions’ decisions, the more I have been impressed with the acuity and fair-mindedness that these roles demand. It is tempting for those of us on the other side of the application process to focus unduly on disappointing decisions, but I urge applicants and those supporting them to consider the constraints under which admissions’ staff are operating. I would like in particular to thank Andrew Cameron and Mark Young (Aberdeen), William Bain and David Trotter (Aberystwyth), Mark Orton (Arts Uni. Bournemouth), Jessica Wood (Aston), Morag McDonald (Bangor), Mike Nicholson (Bath and Oxford), Claire Edwards Evans and Melanie Gregory (Bath Spa), Nathan Spencer (Bedfordshire), John Ash, Anne Foster, Adrian Randall and Roderick Smith (Birmingham), Mark Ridolfo and Stephen Jukes (Bournemouth), Sally Ann Burrows (Bradford), Sarah Elliott and Nick Goldberg (Brighton), Angela Milln (Bristol), Dianne Francombe (Bristol UWE), Tom Kissack (Brunel), Tim Gutsell and Irving Stevens (Buckingham), Russell Harbison (Bucks. New), Geoff Parks and Richard Partington (Cambridge), John Slater (Canterbury Christ Church), Liz Evans (Cardiff), Ben Hughes (Cardiff Met.), Maureen Hutchinson (Central Lancashire), Chris Dancer and Ben Hall (Chichester), Andrew Jackson (City), Andrew Penman (Courtauld Institute), Jamie Bradford (De Montfort), Lara Moir and Jason Norris (Dundee), Shane Collins, Nicola Dockerill, Kathryn Shaw and Claire Smiles-Harrison (Durham), Julian Andrews, Richard Harvey, David Heylings, Malcolm McLaughlin and Claire Petley (East Anglia), Niall Bradley (Edinburgh), Caroline Dimbleby and Theresa Crowley (Essex), Victoria Hayes, Pamela Hoad and Sharon Marshall (Exeter), Martin Horricks (Falmouth), Fiona Black and James Brown (Glasgow), Simon Dove (Gloucestershire), Vicky Annand, Kieron Broadhead, Saul Newman, Lucinda Parr and Stephen Pigney (Goldsmiths), Noel-Ann Bradshaw and Tony Mann (Greenwich), Richard Jopling (Harper Adams), Bob Tuttle (Heriot-Watt), Ross Renton (Hertfordshire), Peter Gallagher (Heythrop), Jayne Hemmingham and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (Huddersfield), John Green (Imperial), Angela Moulton and Mandy Firth (Keele), James Corbin, Steve Holdcroft and Fred Ryder (Kent), Elizabeth Mantilas (KCL), Sue Hubbard (Lancaster), Simon Bright (Leeds), Jacky Wetzig (Leicester), Gaynor Glover and Christine Todd (Liverpool), Corinne Lewis (LIPA), Grahame Boocock (Loughborough), Catherine Baldwin (LSE), Paul Govey and Jennifer Williams (Manchester), Patrick Mead (Manchester Met.), Christopher Dromey (Middlesex), Anne Coxhead (Newcastle), Bob Hartley and David Seaton (Northampton), Norma Urquhart (Northumbria), Rachel Atkin and Martine Lowes (Nottingham), Mandy Pine (Nottingham Trent), Rowena Archer, Nigel Bowles and Nicholas Cronk (Oxford), Krys Daniels (Oxford Brookes), Dave Easterbrook and Cynthia Richings (Plymouth), Sally Rumbles (Portsmouth), Rachael Gilmour (Queen Mary), Jennifer Dwyer and Donna Rogers (Queen’s Belfast), Miriam Stevens (Royal Agricultural Uni. and Glasgow), Richard Alston (Royal Holloway), Gary Baxter (RVC), Andrew Disbury and Ann Rougvie (St Andrews), Lucia Byrne (St Mary's Twickenham), Geraldine Musajjakawa (Salford), Lesley Waldron (SOAS), Amanda Wilgoss (Sch. of Pharmacy/UCL), Amanda Hamilton (Sheffield), Bhavesh Joshi (Solent), Gail Alani (Southampton), Dave Lewis and Non Stevens (South Wales), Kate Davidson (Stirling), Zane Wright (Strathclyde), Mark Barlow and Jonathan Plummer (Surrey), Rhys Williams (Swansea), Brenda Cross and Bella Malins (UCL), Jennifer Riddalls (Uni. for the Creative Arts), Jane Humphrey (Uni. of the Arts), Alan Tissiman and Ruth Tamsett (Uni. of the Highlands and Islands), Chris Kennett and Hussein Boon (Westminster), Michael Hicks (Winchester), Sarah-Lou Edwards (Wrexham Glyndŵr).
I was fortunate to join a well established Careers Department at Sherborne School and to work with many talented and committed colleagues, for whom the individual pastoral needs of our students were paramount. I owe particular thanks to Rob Lloyd, at whose side I learned my trade. He set the high standards of accuracy and effort that the rest of us tried to emulate and established the department as a national leader in this field. I am also grateful for the commitment and perspicacity of the following colleagues, each of whom brought important individual knowledge and insights to our work: Martin Brooke, Craig Bryson, Don Cameron, Elaine Copping, Tim Dawson, Kim Dunning, Patrick Francis, Roger Gibson, Fiona Harrall, David Hedison, Nick Henderson, Shana Mertens, Clare Pemberton, Jonathan Salisbury and David Smart. As Headmasters, Simon Eliot and Peter Lapping appreciated the importance of having an effective Careers team and of resourcing the department with this in view.
I am grateful to Nicki Edwards, Head of The Gryphon School, Sherborne, for welcoming me to the school and to Philippa Huggins, Gareth Peirson, Stephen Strowger, Jane Tutton and other colleagues in the Sixth Form Office for their kind support. Richard Jones and Steve Martin have improved my knowledge of apprenticeships.
Thousands of hours have been spent by me discussing university application with Sixth Form students in Sherborne School and, most recently, The Gryphon School. Each student has brought individual issues. There have also often been meetings with the student that have included parents and colleagues with pastoral and academic roles. All of these discussions have contributed immeasurably to my Continuing Professional Development.
I am grateful to those schools, colleges and other organisations that have allowed me to widen my experience of interviewing students, particularly to Deborah Streatfield, the inspirational founder of MyBigCareer (). The students have got me to consider fresh issues and some familiar issues from a fresh perspective.
Angelina Bingley, Claire Petley and Craig Evans of University of East Anglia responded enthusiastically to my idea for a website to support less experienced and less well resourced HE advisers and launched “UniBox”, whose editor, Nick Manthorpe, was also very supportive of my contributions.
I am grateful to Professor Vikki Boliver of Durham University, who has played a major role in establishing a sound academic basis for recent discussions about fairness in undergraduate admissions, for repeatedly encouraging me to publish my work.
Much of my extensive fieldwork has been undertaken in vacations. Visiting UK unis. from Inverness to Falmouth and from Belfast to Canterbury, as well as trips to Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland and USA, has taken me away from my family, and I am very grateful to my wife, Ruth, and our daughters for their understanding. The latter have also helped me to see the process from a parent’s standpoint, as they have charted their course to and through three different universities.
While I am grateful to all of these people for their help and advice, none of them should be considered responsible for the opinions that I have expressed in this website. No two advisers are likely to agree entirely on what should be included and emphasised in a guide of this type. This website is very much my personal view of what is most likely to be useful.