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Preparing for University: The Road after A-Levels

Many students across the United Kingdom are currently in the middle of their A-Level exams, a trying time which tests both their academic capabilities whilst deciding their future University careers.

If you’re reading this piece, chances are that you are one of these students. Now, I understand that university may still seem far away and your mind will still be focused on your examinations. However, it is still incredibly important to make sure that you start thinking about your preparations so that you may plan effectively.

But before I give you preparations, it is only right that I write an account of my own preparations as well as my uni experience so far. I do this for two reasons, first, you may be choosing to do a very different course than I do (Economics), and, at a different university. Second, my demographic background may be different from yours. As such, what I spent my time on during the summer may not provide the same level of utility to you.

The final A-Level examinations take place on the 27th of June, meaning that if you sit a paper on this date, you will have 3 months of free time as most unis begin in early October. If you are lucky enough to finish earlier than this, then you will have even more time at your disposal. To put the value of this time into perspective I will reveal what I did during this 3 month period. Throughout my summer, I had worked approximately 50 hours each week at my local ASDA whilst spending any free time (during which I still had the energy) to plan, prepare and execute business ventures for the Backseat Economist.

If we do not count the monetary value of the skills that I have learned from working on the Backseat Economist and purely focus on my earnings from ASDA, due to my wage being at around £10/hour, my earnings throughout the 3-month break total to around £6,000. Such a sum is enough to cover rent for most university residences, allowing oneself to allocate more of their maintenance loan towards savings, or, in my personal preference, spending and investment.

Am I telling you to do backbreaking 50 hour work weeks at the age of 18 right after your A-levels? Of course not. In fact, after pushing myself to the limits by working so much, I have learned the proper value of being able to appreciate my free time and I make the following conclusion. Get a job but do not provide too many hours to your employer. Instead, if you

do choose to overwork yourself, allocate this extra time towards creating a business, learning new skills, or doing pre-emptive study for your degree.

How much you choose to work for an employer may also depend on your family background. If you are reading this and are quite well off to the point where your parents will or could subsidize some of your rent at university, make sure to ask. You want to know exactly how your finances will work at university and any money, whether gained through income, investment, or donated from parents, will go a long way if used correctly. Most importantly, the more money at your disposal, the more time you can allocate to higher order activities such as learning skills and building businesses.

That being said, it is always a good idea to work for an employer before university. Doing so allows you to already have some form of work experience on your CV before the first year. Some employers do offer work placements relevant to your degree even for first year undergraduates and so having some work experience (even if it is McDonalds) is a good way of setting yourself apart from the crowd.

Even better is if you can provide evidence of learning skills such as coding (if relevant) by creating your own projects on websites such as Github. In my case, I have started my own business, the Backseat Economist which so far has allowed me to secure a 3 month summer placement with the Institute of Economic Affairs. Point is, make sure to spend some of your free time learning a skill which is relevant towards your labour market. If you do it now, it will open many doors to proper and professional work placements.

Finally, I also recommend that you sit down and look at your university options again. The reason for this is because most students when choosing their degrees and university will look at place, degree, entry requirements, campus and accommodation. What I recommend you study is the exact content of the degree itself i.e. the modules. Each university can teach its own version of a certain degree with one big variation being how much you can customize your credit allocation.

The key area which universities differ in is how much choice you have. For instance, my place of study (Leeds) will allow me to pick 40 credits of optional and discovery modules meaning that 30% of my degree during my first year is customisable. In my final year, this increases to 60 credits with 40 credits being my dissertation. This means that in my final year of study, I can pretty much choose 80% of my degree, allowing me to pick areas of study which I am even more passionate about. So, I recommend that all of you look into your choices carefully and begin planning what modules you pick whilst also finding out how much freedom you get. During this phase of planning, if you find any modules which look difficult and have extensive reading lists, I recommend getting through some of this content. Doing so will reduce your workload during your studies which will give you the time you need to fill out applications for summer placement programmes. If you do some preparatory work and find that your first year is quite easy, well, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and will be able to reward yourself with nights out (which are a lot more enjoyable once you are at uni).

I hope that this guide to preparations has been quite a useful read. If you follow the outlined steps you will be more attractive towards employers whilst also having a less stressful university experience. If you choose to not follow it, well, chances are that you will have to do all of the aforementioned suggestions sometime in your future where balancing other aspects of your life will be more difficult. So, enjoy your summer, but try to stay academically active.


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