Self-taught Russian Seren student shares her journey to Cambridge

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With exam season in full swing, we’ve spoken to one current Seren student whose story might inspire you during your study sessions.

Eve Vincent is a Seren pupil at NPTC in Neath, who has received an offer to study at Cambridge University next year.

Eve is studying for A-Levels in English Literature, History, French and the Extended Project, and she’s been offered a place at Cambridge to study French and Russian.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

“I’m the first person in my family to go to university, so the whole thing was very new to us all. I had lots of support from my family during the application process, but I still had no idea what to expect.

“I’ve always been mindful of the fact that I need to study hard if I want to do all the things I’d like to do and accomplish everything I’ve dreamt of doing, like being able to study and live abroad for example. I’ve always seen my education as a way of going beyond my small-town, working class upbringing.”

Why French and Russian?

“I’m obsessed with languages and I’ve loved French for a long time. I first developed a passion for Russian after a school history trip to Germany. We visited lots of historic monuments and many of them had Russian writing on them. I felt fascinated and intrigued by the language and was keen to be able to understand what all writing meant. I felt so inspired that decided to teach myself Russian.”

How did you teach yourself a new language?

“The internet has been so useful for me in the process of teaching myself Russian. I use lots of study apps, like ‘Memrize’, which I use to learn vocabulary. I also watch lots of Russian YouTubers, which is a fun way to learn a language.

“I use Skype and other online platforms and have made lots of Russian friends who I chat to regularly about our lives and about current affairs, to practice my language. I also like to send letters and postcards to the Russian friends I’ve made.

“Making friends is a great way to improve language skills and learn a lot about a culture. I find that I’ve been able to chat very easily to Russian people of my age because their humour is very similar to mine; Russians are very sarcastic. I’ve found that it’s been surprisingly easy to get along with them and I’ve got to know people whom I now consider my close friends.”

Why Cambridge?

“I went to lots of open days, including Oxford and Cambridge. I liked both but when I visited Cambridge in April 2017, just before my AS levels, I felt that I could really imagine myself living there. I think it’s so important to go to open days so you’re able to get a feel for a place.

“I visited lots of different Cambridge colleges, including Churchill College and Clare College, but Clare College was the one that made me feel most comfortable. It’s a relatively small college, and I think because of this, there’s a nice sense of community. I could see myself fitting in there.”

Tips for other students:

“Learning a new language can be very demoralising and demotivating to begin with; especially a language with a totally new alphabet. I had to get used to going back to basics and feeling like a child again! It’s a huge challenge and you have to be prepared to make errors, but it’s definitely worth persisting with.

“If you’re doing the extended project, or another similar extended essay, it can be a good idea to choose something you’re passionate about and something that you could talk about in potential university interviews. I chose ‘Russian Nihilism’ as my theme for my extended project. Not only did I find it fascinating but I thought it might help with my application to study Russian.

“I think reading as much as possible in the foreign languages you’re learning is one of the best ways to improve. I enjoy reading French and Russian books – I’m currently reading a French novel; Liaisons Dangereuses, by Laclos. It’s difficult, but I’m enjoying the challenge and I think it’s good preparation for university work.”

What are you excited for in the future?

“I’m hoping to go to France this summer. I want the chance to chat to locals and find out more about their way of life, so that I can gain a better understanding of French people and the French language. I’m excited to study languages at university and be with a whole cohort of modern linguistics who are just as obsessed with languages as I am! I’m also really looking forward to my third year abroad in Russia as I’ve never been before. My long-term dream is to be a polyglot – next on my list are Mandarin, Romanian and maybe Italian too!

“The Seren Network and my tutor at college have been a massive help to me on my journey through university applications. I was given mock interviews, which I found really useful. Even if you don’t know which questions or topics will be coming up, just getting used to an interview set-up and being able to talk about yourself is helpful. My tutor also gave me lots of extra books and helped me practice more advanced grammar beyond the school curriculum.”

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How to deal with exam stress

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Darllenwch yn y Gymraeg

Whether you enjoy or endure them, for most students, exams are a fact of life.

And while each set of exams will bring its own pressures, A-levels can be particularly daunting, especially if your university place depends on achieving a good set of grades.

It’s perfectly natural to experience a certain degree of stress and worry around exam times, and for many students this can actually be a motivating feeling. For others, however, it can become overwhelming.

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Here are some tips to dealing with stress during exams:

Recognise your stress

Firstly it is important to recognise when you are feeling stressed.

It might sound obvious, but it’s possible to become so focused on revision and exam preparation that you overlook the tell-tale signs of stress, which can include difficulty sleeping, feelings of anxiety or irritability and a loss of interest in other activities.

Talking about your feelings with a friend or family member can help, or speak to your teachers if you’re feeling overloaded.

Look after yourself

It’s more important than ever to look after yourself at exam time, which means eating healthily, sleeping well and exercising regularly.

Tempting though it is to break open the biscuits, try to avoid junk food and high-energy snacks and drinks such as chocolate and coffee, as these will only make you feel worse in the long run. Instead, opt for plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink lots of water.

When it comes to sleep, try to avoid too many late revision sessions if you can, as these can cause irregular sleep patterns. Instead, focus on getting a good eight hours a night.

Physical activity can also help de-stress your body and mind, so a jog or even brisk walk after school could help re-set your mind.

Don’t compare yourself to others

During exam time it’s natural to want to compare yourself to your friends or classmates by discussing your revision timetables or exam preparation tactics. This can be made worse by the culture of social media sharing.

Comparing yourself to others can make you feel worse, leaving you doubting your own efforts, performance and capability.

Don’t worry about what your friends are doing, just focus on yourself.

Don’t carry out an exam ‘post-mortem’

As with the example above, you should avoid the temptation to compare your exam performance with that of your friends or classmates, as this kind of ‘post-mortem’ could add to your stress.

You can’t change what happened in the exam room, so don’t make yourself feel worse by focusing on it.

Instead start thinking about the next exam or, if they are over, something else entirely!

More information and resources

Student Minds: http://www.studentminds.org.uk/examstress.html

Times Higher Education: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/advice/how-deal-exam-stress

Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/14-ways-to-beat-exam-stress

Cabinet Secretary tours Oxbridge to see impact of Seren

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The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, has visited both Oxford and Cambridge Universities to meet with leaders and outreach officers from colleges including Jesus College, Oxford and Magdalene College, Cambridge.

The visit enabled the Cabinet Secretary to gain new insights into the two universities’ experiences of the Seren Network, to ensure it is improving access and preparing students.

During the visits, she also met a selection of Seren Network alumni who are now studying at the universities.

Students shared their experiences of accessing Oxbridge, including the barriers they faced in getting there, what support they had, what they felt was missing, and how Wales can best support its brightest students.

The visit was also an opportunity to promote scholarships and financial support for Welsh students, including the Welsh Government’s new student finance package, and funding opportunities such as the Moritz-Heyman Scholarship.

The Cabinet Secretary also visited Jesus College, Oxford, which hosted last year’s inaugural Seren Summer School.

The College dates back to Elizabeth I, when it was originally established to train Welsh clergy. Today, it retains a strong link to Wales and will again be hosting this year’s fully-funded Seren Summer School for up to 75 pupils and 11 teachers in August.

Here are some of the highlights of the trip.

University myths busted – part two

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LSE library

There are many enduring myths and misconceptions about higher education in the UK, some based around specific institutions and others on the university experience.

Here we look at some popular myths about universities, applications and courses and assess whether they are true or false.

London School of Economics is the hardest university to get in to

FALSE Judging by posts on forums like thestudentroom.co.uk, many students think the London School of Economics (LSE) is the hardest university to get in to. However, according to The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 (paywall), Oxford is the hardest, with an offer rate of just 24.7 per cent, followed by the University of the Arts London with a 25.9 per cent offer rate. LSE does have strict admissions requirements, but on the table it is in sixth place, with an offer rate of 37.1 per cent.

University X will reject your application if they see you’ve applied to University Y

FALSE This is a commonly repeated myth that can be easily busted. University admissions teams can only view your application and personal statement, they do not have any information about your other choices.

The only exception is Cambridge and Oxford as you’re not allowed to apply to both of these universities.

University X doesn’t like applicants from Wales/state schools

FALSE Universities want the best students for their courses, and base their admissions decisions on a range of factors, including your grades, personal statement and interview performance. Where you’re from and what school you attended, however, will not count against you.

LSE graduates are paid the most

TRUE This one does seem to be true, at least according to this report from 2016, which says that both male and female LSE graduates earn more than those from any other university. It says this is because LSE focuses on high-paying subjects like economics and law.

More information and resources

UCAS has produced a list of higher education myths, while The Student Room has busted a list of UCAS myths.

 

 

Open days: Why attend and how to prepare

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Deciding which university to attend is likely to be one of the biggest decisions in your life so far.

Even if you live at home and attend a university close to you, the change in circumstances will be significant.

That’s why it is important to prepare yourself for the experience as much as possible beforehand.

Why should you attend an open day?

Open days offer the ideal chance to learn more about the institutions you might be studying at and the courses for which you’ve applied.

Although there is a lot of information available online and in prospectuses, there’s no substitute for visiting a place in person.

By attending open days, you can gain a valuable insight into what each university has to offer and speak to lecturers and existing students about the course and university life in general.

In a previous Seren blog, Dr Jonathan Padley, Widening Participation Officer at Churchill College, Cambridge, expressed his surprise at students who didn’t attend open days.

“When I taught in Swansea a few years ago, I was amazed every year that some students would finish their A-levels then head off to a uni that they’d never visited,” he wrote.

“Literally, the first time they went there was to start their course, which struck me as brave… amongst other adjectives!”

As a Welsh student, all the universities in Wales, England and Scotland will be easily accessible to you, and if you do need to stay over the night before, many will offer free accommodation.

To find a list of upcoming open days you can search on the UCAS website or WhatUni.com.

How should you prepare for an open day?

Research First you must choose which university open days to attend. Most students pick between three and five. You might want to visit different types of university to compare and contrast (e.g. large vs. small, city vs. campus).

Plan your journey Make sure you know how you will get there – check train or bus times and prices, parking options and how long the journey will take. You could also download a campus map to help you find the meeting point.

Plan your day Some open days will be tightly organised, with scheduled tours and lectures, while others will be looser affairs, allowing you to choose what you want to do. If yours is the latter, make sure you know the times of what you want to do/see and book in advance if necessary.

Make time to explore Don’t limit your trip to just a campus tour. Try to make time to explore the town, city or surrounding area. You could end up living there, so it’s the ideal opportunity to get the lie of the land.

UCAS also has a useful open day resource including tips for how to prepare.

The Russell Group: what is it and why does it matter?

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While preparing your university application you may have heard about the Russell Group.

Many people have a vague idea of it being something to do with elite universities, but what is the Russell Group and why does it matter?

Originally set up in 1994, the Russell Group is made up of 24 world-class research-intensive universities, which are widely considered to be some of the best in the country.

These are:

The group is committed to maintaining the best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector.

Together its members are responsible for more than two-thirds of the world-leading research produced in UK universities and support more than 300,000 jobs across the country.

Russell Group universities award 60% of all doctorates in the UK and enrol 38% of all postgraduate students.

The Seren Network was set up in 2015 with the goal of increasing the number of Welsh students attending the best universities, like those in the Russell Group.

Recent figures show that the number of students from Wales studying at Russell Group universities dropped by almost 10% in three years, down from 6,900 in 2012/13 to 6,260 in 2015/16.

Several Russell Group members are now working closely with the Seren Network to help Welsh sixth-form students with their applications and improve their chances of attending top universities.

So why should you consider studying at a Russell Group university?

  • You will learn from some of the world’s finest minds; expert teachers and renowned academics
  • You will have access to some of the best teaching facilities in the UK, from libraries and lecture halls to labs and online learning tools
  • You will be part of a highly-motivated, talented and diverse peer group
  • You will boost your career prospects and earning potential – graduates from Russell Group universities earn on average 10% more over their lifetime than graduates of other universities

Further resources and information

For more information about studying at a Russell Group university, visit: http://russellgroup.ac.uk/for-students/

Which? University has a quick guide to Russell Group universities.

You can also read this blog, in which former Seren student Elliott Manwaring writes about what it is like to attend Cambridge University, and this blog, in which Mohamed Eghleilib writes about his time at Oxford.

Interested in studying in the US? What you need to know about life ‘across the pond’

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The USA is one of the most popular destinations for UK students looking to study abroad, with more than 9,000 making the trip across the pond every year.

With more than 4,500 higher education institutions to choose from, including 15 ranked among the top 20 in the world according to the THE World University Rankings 2018, it’s no wonder so many UK students choose to study in the USA.

Though the higher education system shares some similarities with the UK, there are differences of which you should be aware when considering whether to study in the USA.

As well as reading our previous blogs from Welsh students Thomas Burr, Ben Roberts and Raphaelle Soffe, who each secured a place at a top American university, we’ve pulled together a list of things you need to know about studying in the USA.

Institutions

  • American universities are known as colleges, and there are two types, public and private.
  • Public colleges are large, state-funded institutions with lower tuition fees and large numbers of students, while private colleges are smaller, privately funded institution fees with higher fees and fewer students.

Degrees

  • There are two types of undergraduate degree courses offered in the USA, two-year associate degrees and four-year bachelors degrees.
  • Associate degrees are usually studied at institutions known as technical, community or junior colleges. Bachelors degrees are different to their UK equivalent because students study a range of subjects before deciding on a ‘major’ subject to focus on. They may also study another subject at the same time to gain a ‘minor’ qualification.
  • Medicine and law are not taught at undergraduate level in the USA, instead you will have to complete an undergraduate degree then apply to a graduate school.

Fees and funding

  • Studying in the USA can be expensive at first glance, with annual tuition fees costing on average £25,000 at public colleges and £33,500 at private colleges.
  • The good news is that financial support is available. Some institutions will provide funding for international students, from a variety of scholarships covering part or the whole cost of the course to needs-based support with fees and accommodation costs.
  • There are also sources of funding available in the UK, including the Sutton Trust US Programme for state school students. The Fulbright Commission has a list of external funding bodies that help international students study in the USA.

Applications

  • Applications can take longer to US institutions because of the various stages of the process. The Common Application system allows online applications to hundreds of institutions, but otherwise you will have to apply directly to your chosen institution.
  • You may need to sit an admission exam and complete essays covering the admissions criteria. You will also have to provide documents including a personal statement, transcripts of academic records and recommendation letters.

Visas

  • Full-time students will need an F-1 student visa. Application forms will be provided by the university you will be attending, which you must complete and take to the US Embassy in London in person.

For more information see the US Embassy website.

More information and resources

As well as Student Finance Wales’s guidance on studying abroad, you can also find useful information on the following sites: