My experience of Harvard Summer School

This summer, 23 Seren students have had the opportunity to attend the Harvard Pre-College Program Summer School.


 We hear from Tyler Rawlings, a Seren student from the Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire hub about his experience on this amazing trip…

Tell us about the trip

I went to the Harvard Pre-College Program between June 24th and July 5th to take the ‘Introduction to Astrophysics’ course.



What were your classes like?

My classes ran from Monday to Friday 8:30am to 11:30am, and I received about three hours of homework a day, with some homework assignments being much bigger tasks, such as making a presentation to give on the last day.

In my course, our classes were a general overview of what content would be covered in the full course that you could study as an undergraduate at Harvard.

I’ve been interested in becoming an astrophysicist for a few years now, but I’d never been sure of exactly what that would entail.

I decided that taking the astrophysics course would be the perfect way to experience what it would be like, and now that my two weeks are over, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

It was a massive step up from the level of difficulty in school, and classes were much more intense due to how densely packed with information they were.

However, this wasn’t a problem, as my professor was really understanding and was happy for us to make plenty of mistakes so we could learn from them to find the right answers.

My class also included an evening session where spent part of the night using one of the telescopes and domes on campus to observe some space objects such as nebulae, stars, planets, galaxies, and globular clusters.

I really enjoyed spending the night with my class and conducting some interesting practical work.

Through my class, I made plenty of friends through talking to people during lessons and breaks, and through group work.

Overall, I really enjoyed my classes, as the content was exactly what I hoped for and it was interesting to find how different the teaching process is in Harvard as opposed to my school.H4.jpg



What other classes did you take?

On top of the classes we were given, we were also able to choose some extra academic sessions and recreational activities to take part in.

I ended up choosing talks on public speaking, the future of the global economy, time management, and managing stress.

I really enjoyed the talks I signed up for, and I managed to learn a lot from them all.

As a result of the public speaking session, I felt myself grow in confidence a little.

The time management and managing stress talks were extremely helpful and gave me useful and insightful advice that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, and the global economy talk was also very interesting.

What was life outside of classes like?

On the recreational side, I chose a board game night, a day trip to Rhode Island, and going to see the Boston Red Sox (a baseball team) play.

The game night was a fun, slow evening which I could spend with the other Seren Students and with the new friends I made.

In my spare time when I wasn’t in any classes, doing any homework or participating in extra activities, I spent all my time socialising and adventuring around the Harvard campus and Boston.

Doing this, I managed to make lots of new friends from many different countries and we made some great memories together.

Meeting people and making friends with them was easy, even for someone who doesn’t excel socially like myself.

At Harvard, you’re also put in a ‘proctor group’ to meet new people. In my group, we had meetings where we got to know each other over the fortnight, and through those meetings I became good friends with my roommates and the people in the rooms nearby.

On the whole, we were given plenty of time to have a social life around our work, so that we could enjoy our time exploring the country and getting involved in the culture.



What was your favourite memory?

My favourite memory of the program has to be the Fourth of July celebrations.

Due to Independence Day being a national holiday, we were given a day off to do what we wanted.

In the morning, a group of us went to Boston and watched the Independence Day parade, which was great fun and it really highlighted the difference in culture.

We also went to listen to the Boston Pops, an orchestra group, and watched the fireworks.

As the celebrations took place the day before we left, it felt like a fitting ending to our two-week journey.

I was outside at night on the Fourth of July, stood with the friends I’d made and spent lots of time with over the course of the fortnight, watching the best firework show I’d ever seen in my life.

It felt like a suitable finale to the program, and I felt so happy to be there.


Make sure to keep an eye on our social channels this month where we’ll share more highlights of Harvard from other Seren students throughout August…


Seren Celebration

Take a look at our roundup video of last week’s Seren Celebration event at Cardiff Bay.

We hosted Seren students from across our hubs all over Wales at a two-day event in Cardiff who had the chance to hear from broadcaster Guto Harri, entrepreneur expert Georgina Campbell Flatter, Oxbridge student ambassadors and Minister for Education, Kirsty William AM.

The event was a fantastic opportunity for us to announce Seren’s ongoing success with its international partners in the US, with 2019 seeing 53 Seren students take part in funded summer school events and nine Seren alumni heading to the US to study as undergraduates this autumn.



Spotlight on: International Politics and Global Development

Ffion, 19, is currently studying International Politics and Global Development at the University of Aberystwyth.

Originally from Newcastle Emlyn, where she studied A-levels in Spanish, History and the Welsh Baccalaureate at Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn, Ffion knew she wanted to study Politics as her degree subject and had her heart set on Aberystwyth.


Ffion said, “The course at Aberystwyth is internationally renowned as being one of the best for studying International Politics. The department is in the UK’s top ten for student satisfaction and is extremely well-established, currently celebrating its centenary. The course offers a wide choice of modules, from Women in Politics to Global Inequality. Unlike other courses I looked at they really delve into the issues that effect people and politics on a global scale, particularly in the global south. Most other courses focus on US, Europe or British politics but I have found it really interesting, and important, to understand more about how the less developed countries’ political systems work. I find it all fascinating.

“Another great thing about studying in Wales is that Aberystwyth University offers any fluent Welsh speakers, like me, the chance to do the whole course through the medium of Welsh. Personally, I chose to do my course in English but I think it’s great that the option is available as this appeals to so many students here who can continue to speak their first language. There are many students who have come to Wales from all over the world and that always makes for lively debate and the chance to get know other people from different backgrounds.

“The department at Aberystwyth is home to Interstate which is a politics journal that is entirely run by students, giving current undergraduates like me the chance to have their work published.

“I have learned that high profile politicians studied at Aberystwyth including Carwyn Jones AM who is a huge idol of mine. I admire him as a leader and closely followed his career. He was a key influence on my love of politics in Wales. Gareth Thomas and TV presenter Alex Jones studied here too.

“I also love Aberystwyth. It has so much to offer as a town – not only is it next to the sea, it’s surrounded by amazing countryside which offers so many outdoor activities and beautiful walks. I absolutely love being outdoors and exploring, so it’s the perfect place to be. The town also has a lovely community feel to it and there is lots going on, you just have to delve into the pulse of the town. As I’m interested in politics and issues, there is always a cause or campaign for me to get involved in!

“Before I decided on Aberystwyth, the teachers at my school did help me to explore other options but when I did, I realised that the course at Aberystwyth was the best option. I have done a lot of relevant work experience so I was pretty confident that I’d at least get considered. I’ve been a member of the Labour party since I was 15 and have been actively involved in campaigning since then. I’m really interested in current affairs and the issues that can have an impact on our everyday lives.

“Neither of my parents went to university but my older sister did, so my parents have always been really supportive when it came to me applying. They were even happier when I told them I’d found the perfect course and it was only an hour away from home.

“The advice and support that the Seren programme offers to help students like me is fantastic. From writing a personal statement to completing the UCAS form and mock interviews, it’s great that specialist guidance from leading universities is available for those who might need that extra boost in confidence. Applying to university can be daunting and for some, it might be hard to know where to start. I was pleased when I found the perfect course at Aberystwyth as I never really wanted to go anywhere too far from home.”


Spotlight on: Dentistry at Cardiff University

Lewis, 20, is on the pathway to achieving his dream of becoming a dentist after securing a place at Cardiff University to study Dentistry. Now in his second year, Lewis is enjoying the hands-on practical side of his course and is enjoying living as a student in the capital city.

10.06.19 mh Lewis Mainwaring SEREN 42

Lewis is originally from Neath where he studied A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths at Dwr Y Felin Comprehensive School. He was invited to join Seren at the beginning of year 12 and believed the coaching, advise and support he received from Seren, coupled with the Seren-led events held for students, were fundamental to him achieving his place on the Dentistry Course at Cardiff University.

Lewis said, “When I applied to study Dentistry at Cardiff University I knew there were going to be more than 1,000 applications for just 70 places, so it was hugely competitive. It’s the only dentist school in Wales and is one of the best in the UK with really modern, hi-tech facilities in the clinical skills laboratory which allows us to gain lots of practical, hands-on experience right from the first semester. From the second year onwards we get to treat real life patients.

“I knew that my personal statement would have to stand out if I was to be invited for an interview but wasn’t sure where to start. The application process and completing a UCAS form can be pretty daunting but the hub coordinators from Seren were brilliant helping me to break it down into manageable tasks.

“They sat down with me to have a chat about my passion, drive and ambitions and helped me understand what I needed to include in my form to ensure I really stood out. There is a real art to writing a personal statement and without the help I had I don’t think I would’ve been able to compile such a comprehensive statement. They helped make the whole process far less stressful too.

“I’ve always wanted to shape my future career around working in the healthcare sector. My grandmother was a dental nurse so she sparked my interest in dentistry as a career option. When I researched universities, I was impressed with Cardiff as it was rated one of the best in the UK for Dentistry, so that made my mind up. Plus the idea of living and studying in Cardiff as really appealed to me – there’s so much going on with plenty of places to go out and enjoy.

“I got so much out of being a Seren student. I attended the Seren Conference in Newtown and was also invited to attend some smaller group sessions in Crickhowell, also organised by Seren, where I got to hear from and speak to current undergraduate students as well as recent graduates. These sessions were really useful and as we got to ask loads of questions on applying to university, what to expect at interviews and what sorts of test we might have to do.  This not only helped us to prepare but also meant that we knew what to expect when we arrived at our interviews, exams or practical tests. This made the experience less intimidating and overwhelming.

“For Dentistry I had to complete 12 practical tests in just 50 minutes. It was a really stressful experience but exciting. Having the opportunity through Seren to speak to a couple of current Medical and Dentistry students, I felt ready and knew I was getting the experience I needed for my course.

“When I finally received my offer from Cardiff I was delighted, especially as the entry requirement was high and I was concerned about getting the grades needed to get in.  I did miss the grade for Chemistry but still managed to secure my place due to doing so well in my practical tests and in my personal statement. I certainly put that down to the support, advice and guidance I received from the people at Seren.”

10.06.19 mh Lewis Mainwaring SEREN 49

Spotlight on: University of Exeter

Katie Thorpe, 20, is a second-year history student at the University of Exeter. Originally from Cardiff, Katie tells us about her university experience so far.


I’m happy with where and what I chose to study, not least because I have the freedom to pick topics of interest to me. The diverse course has really helped broaden my knowledge and love of history, but there have been some big adjustments. I struggled initially with the minimal contact hours of my course, but this has led to me becoming more independent and self-driven which are skills that I’m sure will be useful later in life.

I chose Exeter because it was a campus university, so I knew that it would have a small, friendly community, and it has a particularly good reputation for history. It also has a good reputation and facilities for sport, and I have been a part of the netball club since I started.

Looking back at my first few days of university it is fair to say I was a little nervous and I worried whether I would get on well with my flat mates. During my first year I was in halls of residence – the same as JK Rowling was when she was at Exeter.

My flat mates were all lovely which helped me to settle in and I ended up living with four of them again in my second year. Like lots of students there were times when I was a little home sick, however having friends around helped me through those time and. I loved the independence of living in halls.

My course consists of four modules a year; two compulsory and two optional. The compulsory modules were perhaps less enjoyable, as they were more about the mechanics of studying history rather than the history itself.  My favourite modules so far have been China 1500-1800 and Science, Technology and Medicine in the Cold War. These took a more global approach to history which I had not done as much throughout school. I have a mixture of seminars and lectures for each module. There are, obviously, a lot of essays, along with source commentaries, posters, wikis and group presentations.

Exeter has to a large extent met my expectations. As well as developing as a person, I have found friends who hopefully will be friends for life.

During my second year I have been living in a house in a student part of town which has had a more homely feel than halls. I have also become more active in other societies such as the Welsh society which is particularly active in Exeter. Perhaps the highlight was our trip to Edinburgh for the six nations. I also recently celebrated finishing my second-year exams with a boat party on the River Exe where some of my friends from home came and joined me.


Seren has helped with my journey to university because it showed me that every experience is different. There is no right or wrong way to do university. It helped me make friends with peers; sharing our experiences and thoughts gave me increased confidence with the choices I was making.

My advice for anyone applying to university is to find a course and university that will make you happy. Join as many societies as possible. Go to university with the right attitude and an open mind. There will be lows as well as highs but battle through the lows and everything will fall into place. Good luck to all those applying.

Seren Jesus College Summer School: Guest blog from Matt Williams

Applications are still open for this year’s Seren Network and Jesus College Summer School, so to give students a better idea of what to expect during the week-long programme we spoke to Matt Williams, Access Fellow as Jesus College. 

Hi everyone, I’m Matt Williams, the Access Fellow at Jesus College, of the University of Oxford. It’s my great privilege to be organising the Third Annual Oxford-Seren Summer School from 19-23 August.

We’ve got 75 all-expenses-paid spaces for year-12 participants in the Seren Network to come and stay with us in Oxford for a week of academic taster sessions themed on ‘Earth’s Future’.

With the Extinction Rebellion and Mothers Rise Up campaigns there’s a lot of buzz about the Earth’s Future.

In fact, the UN has given us all a deadline of just eleven years (up to 2030) to tackle climate change. For me, it’s all pretty scary!

But, knowledge is power! I could bury my head in the sand and fret over what may be or I could arm myself with the knowledge and tools to do something.

That was my inspiration for this year’s Seren Summer School theme.


We will be offering an interdisciplinary set of lectures, seminars and tutorials given by our world-class academics. These will be academically stretching but also empowering.

It doesn’t matter whether you are leaning towards a degree in the natural sciences, social sciences, medicine, arts or humanities — there will be something for you.

Specifically, there’ll be lectures on (amongst other things) the meteorology and geology of climate change, the plausibility of space colonisation, future dynamics in global health, the development of ecological literature, and the politics of globalisation.

Besides lectures, there will be seminars that more will closely develop subject-related skills.

We will offer everyone a chance to experience Oxford’s famous tutorials, with very small group discussion of your ideas.


For this year, there will also be an essay prize celebrating the teachers that helped one of our former students get into Oxford.

That ex-student has very generously donated £625,000 to help us keep the Seren Summer School going for years to come!

As well as all the academic enrichment, we’ll also take you to some of our amazing local museums, and we’ll have a film night for you to relax and enjoy.

It’s a summer school for anybody in Seren who’s considering applying to universities like Oxford.

You do not need to be planning an application to Oxbridge, but, if you are, it will be a very valuable experience.

Last year we were able to substantially sharpen up the applications of those who attended, with our sessions on writing competitive applications and performing well at interview.

If you’d like more information, feel free to contact me:

And, if you’re ready to make an application, please do so online here:

The deadline is 7th June.

I look forward to working with you! 

Spotlight on: Oxford – my journey so far

Catrin Williams, a first year Human Sciences student at Magdalen College, tells us all about how she’s enjoying Oxford so far:

“After getting my offer, I was initially terrified of the amount of work at Oxford and thought it would be too much for me to handle.

“Three essays a fortnight the same length as my GCSE history course work (which took me weeks!) seemed completely overwhelming.

“However, whilst I do spend more time working than my friends at other universities, it’s (currently) completely manageable.

“In fact, I think coming from a state school has given me a big advantage when it comes to adjusting to the workload; I’m far more used to managing my own time, and I’m more used to working things out for myself.

“My first week of lectures was quite overwhelming: lectures are much faster paced than school lessons, and it feels like you’re completely left behind, until the person next to you asks if you have any idea what’s going on!

“However, I’ve found that the reading I have to do for essays really helps me understand the subject, and so far, where my essays have overlapped with lectures, I’ve found that lectures make so much more sense afterwards.

“Since the first few weeks I’ve really settled in, and even find myself getting excited when I’m set an interesting essay to research!

Oxford part two

“Oxford is quite unique (other than Cambridge!) as it has a tutorial system, where you meet your tutors in groups of about two to discuss topics in more detail.

“You are set work before hand, submit it so they can mark it in advance, and then discuss it in the tutorial.

“I really enjoy tutorials, as you can just enjoy knowing all of the things you’ve spent hours trying to know, by discussing it with your tutor, and trialling out wacky theories you thought about but weren’t brave enough to put on paper.

“It helps that all my tutors are lovely; my genetics tutor is Australian, wears Star Wars t-shirts with shorts, even when it’s freezing, and is a huge fan of casual swearing (although in our first tutorial he said if we had an issue with it just to tell him and he’d stop).

“Oxford is also has many traditions, such as matriculation, which involves you dressing up like an idiot (some say we look like penguins, and I can see the resemblance), trekking over to the Sheldonian Theatre in the rain whilst getting soaked because of the ‘no umbrella’ rule, and having your picture taken by random tourists, only to arrive and discover other colleges all have umbrellas and therefore it’s only you with your hair plastered across your face.

“I find it easier just to go with it all, accept that it’s ridiculous, but you’re part of all the ridiculousness now and that’s pretty cool (of course there’s always some who take it all very seriously and think that the fact that everything is conducted in Latin is glorious rather than a little bit pretentious).

Oxford part two (2)

“I’ve joined the college orchestra (despite not playing in over a year) and the college mixed lacrosse team (despite never playing before), and they’re all so relaxed and low-key.

“No one on the lacrosse team has ever played before, so it’s more like hockey with the amount of time the ball spends on the floor, but it just makes it hilarious.

“For anyone who can actually do things, there are university level teams, which come with pretty cool perks, like kit and VIP club tickets.

“I don’t enjoy drinking, or going out clubbing, and was really worried I’d struggle to socialise, but I’ve made an amazing group of friends.

“We drink tea and eat biscuits in the evenings, whilst watching university challenge and the Great British Bake Off, and then, those who want to, go out to the club, and I just go to bed, and absolutely no one cares which you do – there’s no pressure at all either way.

“You have nothing to lose by applying, and so much to gain if you’re successful.”

If you’re interested in a taster of life at Oxford yourself, including staying in an Oxford college and being taught by Oxford professors, why not apply to our annual Jesus College Summer School?

Applications for the Seren Jesus College Summer School are now open and found here: