People who study History have an interest in the past, in all sorts of ways; studying the past helps us to understand our present, and to see it in perspective.
Quote from the Southampton website: "Studying history will sharpen your insights into the functioning of past societies, helping you formulate a more critical awareness of the problems of the present."
The study of History is a wonderful training ground for people to learn how to evaluate evidence and bring it together to form a considered and well-argued judgement. The skills that people acquire when studying for a History degree can be used in all sorts of jobs and are much valued by employers.
It is worth doing some reading about what History is as an academic subject. It will reassure you that you've chosen the right subject and give you some 'bigger' ideas for inclusion in your Personal Statement (PS) or at interview. The study of the history of History as a subject is called Historiography. There are lots of books about it but one that is a fairly easy-to-read introduction is : "Studying History" by Black & MacRaild (Palgrave Study Skills). You can see some of its pages on the Amazon site : http://www.amazon.co.uk/Studying-History-Palgrave-Study-Skills/dp/1403987343 It is worth getting a copy of this book as it will be useful now and once you get to Uni.
Studying History at University involves vast amounts of reading. This might sound a bit obvious but lots of applicants forget this crucial bit. If you don't enjoy spending hours in the library working on understanding a complicated text or getting to grips with the fundamentals of an unfamiliar historical era then you do might need to rethink this as a possible subject. On the other hand if you enjoy the surprises that history throws up, the detective work involved in research and the thrill of discovering new ideas, then it could be the start of a fascinating three years of study.
Universities offering History
Most universities offer some kind of History course. Some courses are very specialist, others more broadly based but they are all different so read this bit carefully .......
A Very Important Point - Not all History courses are the same. Degrees do not have some sort of universal syllabus in the way that A levels do and each University will teach their degree very differently with different optional units and a different focus. Make sure you read the course description carefully and apply for the course you really want to do. There is no point in applying to a University everyone says is 'wonderful', but whose History course doesn't actually interest you. If the course at a 'lower' University is the one you want to do, do not be overly influenced by 'reputation', League Tables or other nonsense. It may sound good saying 'I'm going to Durham' but you are the one who then has to spend three years doing the course. If you'd be happier doing the course at Sussex, don't let 'University snobbery' stand in your way.
For joint honours, you will find courses offering History with a vast range of other subjects. Some Universities specilaise in joint subjects - Oxford Brookes, Keele and Essex as examples.
The best places to look for course listing are either the UCAS webite, or of you want to search on criteria like area of the country or your predicted grades, try http://www.whatuni.com/
- History is one of the most competitive courses to get into, especially at Russell Group or 1994 Group Universities. It is not unusual for applicants for V100 and some of the joint honours courses (History and Politics particularly) to find themselves with more rejections than offers, regardless of predicted grades and strength of Personal Statement. It can happen that people end up with only one offer, or even none. To avoid this happening to you, it's essential to do your research and to pitch your applications sensibly and include a couple of 'alternatives'.
- Applying to five "high risk" choices (ie all top 10 unis) is not a good idea as it is likely to result in disappointment; you do need to "target" your application carefully. At least one of your choices should be one of :
a) A 'lower' University wanting much lower grades that you would still be happy to go to.
b) Look at some other courses that are either joint subject courses ('History and .....') as these usually have lower entry requirements and/or courses 'like a general Humanities degree that allows you to specialise in History within it, or many Universities (like Bristol) are now offering a new degree called 'Liberal Arts' where you can select different units from a range of Arts subjects.
- Look carefully at what particular Unis are looking for in their requirements and tailoring your application to suit if you can. If there are specific requirements that you don't meet (eg numbers of GCSE A*s, AS/A2 subjects or grades) it is pointless to apply on the off chance that they will make you an offer after all. Unless you have extenuating circumstances backed up by your referee, all you will get (and pretty swiftly probably) is a straight rejection - very disheartening. Unis have enough of a hard time sifting through the numbers of applications from people who on paper completely meet all their criteria, so giving them an application that in some way doesn't meet them is just adding to their sense of frustration.
- Note that some universities, especially at the top end, do not use the UCAS points system to specify their offers. Those universities that do use the UCAS tariff will normally include points from additional AS levels in the total. Entry requirements should always be checked both on UCAS and the university website as changes can occur unexpectedly. Make sure that you have established whether there are specific subject requirements (including GCSE requirements too).
- Not all universities require History at AS/A2. Quite a few specifically exclude General Studies.
- It also important to remember that the entry requirements are set at a level to attract a broad range of applicants, and that the 'required grades' are the minimum required - many of the people actually getting offers will have or be predicted grades well above that.
- Contextual Offers - in an attempt to widen access to University many Universities make lower offers to candidates from low performing schools and/or those without a family history of University entrance. If you are a high achieving student from this sort of background ALWAYS contact the Dept before you submit your application and ask about Contextual Offers - it could mean the difference in you going to to Uni or not.
Choosing your Courses
- Course structure and content varies widely, and it is an essential part of your research to make sure you know what the course is about, what the compulsory modules are and how much choice you have about optional units.
- Always visit the Department website and check out the module descriptions that should be there; if they aren't, try and find the current students course handbook. If you cant find the information easily, email the Dept and ask for it - they wont mind.
- Avoid choosing a course based on one particular feature that interests you. Ask yourself how you would feel about that course if a particular module was withdrawn. It happens - especially with specialist subjects, if a lecturer leaves/goes on sabbatical/goes on maternity leave there's no-one else to teach it. You might get very little notice and your choice of alternatives will be limited. So make sure that there lots of units that interest you not just one.
- Charismatic academics who have been on TV are great but also - to some extent anyway! - unpredictable, and it would be just your luck to pick the year that Professor Flankingirons, the international expert who leads the module on "Mill Workers in the 1830s: Their Lives and Times" decides to go off on sabbatical or to make a TV series in Australia.
- Also look at the unique features of the courses you are checking out. If there is a compulsory foreign language element for instance and you gsave up GCSE Spanish with a big sigh of relief, then do you really want to do languages at degree level?
- If you have a particular 'big' interest - like Medieval history or History of the USA, look for the Universities that specifically offer this within their degree.
- Some Unis offer work placements within archives, museums of heritage sites - these are an invaluable addition to your CV.
- Some Unis offer a Year Abroad as part of the course. You dont have to be 'good at languages' to do one as many Unis now offer YAs to the States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The chance to live abroad. on your own, in another culture for an entire year will be invaluable both to you as a person and in terms of study.
- Finally....... Go to Open Days. It is daft applying to a University you haven't even seen. Do not use the old cookie of 'I live too far away' as an excuse or think its 'pointless'. It will give the best possible idea of whether or not its the sort of Uni where you will feel 'comfortable', if the course really is what you want - and you'll get a far better idea of what makes Uni different from school. If going to all five choices isn't realistic then choose your top one or two initially - you can always go to later Open Days if your offers eventually come from your other choices.
Your personal statement is the most important part of your application. Especially if you are applying to the top 10 universities, stellar grades are not enough to guarantee offers. So it is really really really important to spend time on this: do not leave it until the last minute!
When drafting your PS consider the following:
- make sure your opening sentence is original without being pretentious/cheesy/arrogant/too clever by half
- avoid the "I've been interested in history since I was two" or using words like "pasionate" and "fascinated".
- don't repeat information from the rest of your application; you haven't room
- there's no need to run through all your A2 subjects just for the sake of it; the Admissions Tutor isnt that interested.
- for the top universities particularly, you need to demonstrate engagement and understanding, so its worth talking (briefly!) about a topic that caught your interest and where you did work outside the basic syllabus to find out more, or any project that involved you doing research that wasn't just based on Google
- don't list books you have read - apart from being very boring, the Admissions Tutor has already read them (NB: Carr and Evans have been rather over-used!)
- your academic stuff should take up at least two thirds of your PS
Extra-curricular and Work experience
- extra-curricular activities are useful but don't just list them - explain what you get out of them in terms of skills, experience, maturity etc. The most important ones are those you do outside of school, and involve you 'stepping up' in terms of responsibility, maturity etc.
- if you need something non-school to add then think about volunteering at you local library or museum, or doing something like training for a 5km charity run. Explain what you got out of doing it - commitment, knowledge, ability to set a goal and stick to it etc.
- work experience is only worth mentioning if it is relevant (and don't panic if you haven't got any, it isn't expected in the same way as it is for some other subjects). Again, volunteer work can be useful here.
- if you have some idea of what you'd like to do after you graduate mention it by all means, but do not give the impression that you only want a history degree in order to be able to move seamlessly into investment banking and earn lots of money: it looks far too calculating and mercenary, and gives the impression you aren't that interested in History.
Joint honours applications
- If you are applying for joint honours or any combined subject course, it is usual to have a fairly equal balance between the two subjects, but it doesn't always happen. Usually there is a lead department for the joint honours course, and it could be helpful to know which it is as that might be relevant to how you structure your PS (as in, if an admissions tutor for history is likely to be reading your PS first, you might want to tailor your PS accordingly).
- Finally, if you know that particular unis are looking for specific things, make sure that these are covered. Some (Bristol is a good example) publish their application assessment criteria. It's worth looking at these.
The PS Helpers are here to help, so do post your draft in the Forum. No-one apart from the Helpers will be able to see it, so it's quite safe from potential plagiarists. Remember to allow time for the PS Helper to get to it - things get very crowded in September particularly so don't assume you'll get an instant response.
Life as a History Student
History students have to be self-starters; disciplined and organised. You will be expected to do a lot of work by yourself, as most history courses are based on contact time of only 6-10 hours a week. This includes lectures, seminars, and tutorials.
The rest of your time, pretty much, is spent either in the library or working on the stuff you got from there. To do well as a History student, it is important to keep up with the reading - there's an enormous amount of it - and become a skilled note taker.
History BA at uni has some feedback from the front!
Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects
Anything and everything, as this report suggests. While the value of a History degree in 21st century is often questioned by those who don't understand it, recent studies have shown 'History graduates are found in disproportionate numbers on the boards of the UK's top 100 companies.' This seems to suggest that the skills obtained reading history are highly valued in the 'real world'.
A History degree gives you valuable skills that employers want. They are after the 'trained brain' not the specific subject knowledge. They value things like - analytical skills, research, writing, accuracy, reasoned arguments, presentation skills etc etc
Equally important is the stuff you do outside of your studies - get involved in Clubs and Societies and any other 'opportunities' for extra-curricular at Uni. It all makes you look a more interesting person and fills up your CV.
Think about placements or internships. They can often be a deal breaker in job applications as they are 'real experience' - you dont look quite so 'new'.
University snobbery - mainstream employers don't read League Tables and they don't 'score' job applications depending on where you got your degree. Yes, Oxbridge clearly carries a bit of extra weight but beyond that it doesn't matter if you went to Bristol, Sussex or Leicester. Employers are more interested in a good class of degree (2.1 or First) and an interesting CV than which precise Uni you went to.
Remember - career prospects with a good degree in History are as broad and as good as you want to make them, but employers wont come looking for you. Start filling your CV up as soon as you get to Uni and grab any opportunities that are offered.