Self-taught Russian Seren student shares her journey to Cambridge


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.”






How to deal with exam stress


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.


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:

Times Higher Education:


Cabinet Secretary tours Oxbridge to see impact of Seren


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


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, 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


Library pic

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

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?


glasgow university

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:

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’


american flag

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.


  • 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.


  • 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 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.


  • 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:

“I can’t thank the Seren Network enough for providing such opportunities to me” Former Seren student who is now studying at Cambridge


Elliott Manwaring

As the Seren Network enters its third year, we’ve been able to catch up with some of the Network’s talented former students to help answer some of your own burning questions about studying at university.

This week, we speak to former Seren student Elliott Manwaring, a medicine student at Cambridge.

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m 18 and originally from Pembrokeshire. I went to Ysgol-y-Preseli and was part of the Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire Seren hub.

What are you doing at university?

I’m now in my second term at University of Cambridge, in Peterhouse College, where I’m studying medicine.

I applied to study medicine at Cambridge because of the scientific emphasis placed on the course. I felt that it would set me up to make a much better doctor if I had a strong grounding in the basic medical sciences.

Applying to Cambridge was the best choice I’ve ever made. The campus is such an amazing environment to be in, and the tutors really help encourage me to learn more about my subject.

I would definitely recommend applying to a university where you enjoy the atmosphere and environment.

Having other people around you who are just as keen to learn is really inspiring.

How did Seren help you in your journey to university?

Seren hosted a university access day in Carmarthen where I was able to speak to several universities about applying to study medicine, asking them what the course entailed. It was really helpful in terms of understanding the application process and the structure of each course.

I spoke to an admissions tutor from Cambridge University who motivated me to look further into their course. He urged me to apply after seeing I was passionate about studying on a traditional medical course and explained that it was something that was genuinely achievable, as long as I worked hard enough for it.

That was the day that I really set my heart on studying at Cambridge.

I can’t thank the Seren Network enough for providing such opportunities to me, without it, I doubt I would have applied and I would never be where I am today.

What’s your advice for current students applying for university?

A-levels are a lot of work and everyone finds them tough. Doing small, manageable study sessions is the best way to get things done.

My other main piece of advice would be to make sure that you’re really passionate about the subject you’re applying for.

To get into a top university, admissions tutors want to see that you genuinely love your subject. Allow some time every week to have a read around your subject, to get a feel for what is outside of your A-level syllabus.

Once you’ve found the subject you love, use it as motivation to work hard to get to where you want to go.

I’d never have believed I’d be where I am today, but because of my motivation to get to that end goal. I’m here, and you could be too!

What are your goals for the future?

In the short term, I’m hoping to complete my pre-clinical training in medical school and take an intercalated degree in physiology in my third year. I hope to take part in some medical research projects over the summer and get involved with some medical aid work in third world countries.

In the long term, I hope to finish my training in medical school and work towards becoming a consultant surgeon, while having a role as a fellow at a university to help teach medical students in the future.

Lowri Morgan: Applying to university


So, you’re beginning your big year of decision making. And so many decisions to make!

I was in your position three years ago; I lived with my extended family in a village in the South Wales valleys and was studying Sociology, English Literature, Drama Studies and the Welsh Baccalaureate at A Level; all through the medium of Welsh. Today I am in my final year of studying for a BSc. Degree in Sociology at the University of Bath.

The last three years have gone so quickly but I remember how stressful it was at the time when deciding what to study and where. For me, I found it useful as a starting point to follow the advice and guidance out there. I knew I wanted to study a subject which I enjoyed even though I wasn’t sure what type of work I wanted to do. I was also unsure of studying in English because my whole education had been through the medium of Welsh.

Draw up a shortlist

Having decided on Sociology, I drew up a (very long!) shortlist based on the usual factors such as rankings, student satisfaction, living costs etc. It wasn’t practical to visit each place on my shortlist so I started visiting the university websites. The two things which helped most were reading the departmental pages and the student feedback about the course and university life. Both these things helped narrow down my choices. Attending the open days was then key to making my final decision. Meeting lecturers and speaking to students on the same course gave me a real feel for the University, it’s hard to explain but I genuinely felt like I would be happy living there! Being happy living at Bath has definitely helped me make the most of my time here.

Remember to showcase your extra-curricular!

Having made my decision I then knew what was needed to achieve my goal, which helped me focus on my studies and helped with writing my personal statement. I was keen to use the personal statement to show that I had gained transferable skills from my activities outside of school which would help with my attitude and approach to university study. I now realise that those extra -curricular skills have played a big part in helping me adapt to life at university. Honestly, when my results came through and Bath offered me a place – I panicked! How would I manage living and studying in England!? What was I thinking?

My panic, however, was short-lived in the whirlwind of preparation for the move and as it turns out, unfounded! Yes, I was nervous, but so was everyone else! I would highly recommend engaging with the university from day one – they do so much to prepare you and ensure that you have the necessary information and support to make the transition go smoothly. Make the most of Freshers week, join any clubs/societies which interest you and enjoy!

Top tip for degree prep: If like me, you plan on applying to an English university, and have chosen to carry on studying a subject you’ve previously studied through the medium of Welsh, start to read around the subject in English too – there is nothing more frustrating than knowing you understand a topic, but having to explain it using terminology in a different language!

Make the most of all the opportunities and support that are out there for you. Enjoy, and best of luck!

Lowri Morgan

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 13.33.24 (002)


Open days: top tips from Seren student, Miles Hermann


Miles Hermann

This week, Miles Hermann from the Ceredigion hub, shares his experiences of open days.

In the process of looking to study at university, it’s essential that applicants visit a range of universities, to get a feel for the course and its surroundings.

After some research, I decided to look into studying geography or law, two current subjects especially with politics, environment and places changing rapidly.

Firstly, I received advice from the Seren Network to look at Russell group universities which would benefit me in terms of career prospects. I then created a list of Russell group universities with reference to statistics that showed that the course was successful.

I narrowed it down to three universities ;Cardiff University, University of Liverpool and the University of Bristol. Over the course of year 12 and the beginning of year 13, I planned trips to the universities.

At Cardiff, I looked around the university campus and grounds before sitting in lectures about the course. I enjoyed listening about the different possible modules in the human geography course. Although, I felt that law wasn’t for me, while I found the geography course more current and interesting and the modules appealed to me. I then took time to explore the city and get a feel for the place, which is essential as this may be your home for at least 3 years.

At Bristol, I arrived and instantly was taken by the archaic architecture. However, the courses didn’t appeal to me for law and geography as the modules were mainly physical and not human-based so it is important to look at modules online before sitting in on a lecture in the course.

At Liverpool, I looked at just geography as, at this time, I was sure that this was the course for me. I enjoyed the modules and the fact you could study both physical and human. I also sat in on lectures about finance and went around to see possible accommodation. In hindsight, I should have looked at accommodation at all university open days.

Here are my top tips for anyone attending an open day in the near future:

  • If possible look at more than three universities, so that you have an idea of which one offers the best course for you.
  • Pre-plan the day, make a list of possible courses you want to see, more than one if possible.
  • Whilst at the course introduction make a list of modules you may be studying.
  • If possible, spend time asking university staff about the course or your own personal career options.
  • Look at the universities facilities, what does the whole university have to offer?
  • Look at university accommodation and its proximity to the city/town centre or amenities.
  • Visit the town/city as this will be the place you may be living in for three or more years so you’ll need to like where you’ll be staying.

Good luck!