Mid-December is a time of year for questions. Will I be able to watch Home Alone one more time? Is it time to open the next tub of Mini Heroes? Have I left it too late to apply to university?
The answers, of course, are: most definitely; most probably; and no. No, you haven't left it too late to apply for uni. Sure, in an ideal world UCAS applications would be sorted well in advance of the 15 January deadline, but sometimes life gets in the way, or you simply can't make your mind up. We understand.
It’s important to stay calm and remember you still have time to get everything done (around half of all applications go in between mid-December and January). Although it’s true that you’ll need to make your decisions pretty sharpish, it’s more important that you make the right decisions for you. With that in mind here are some tips to help you decide.
Start with the course
University study can be challenging, so if you don't like the course you're on, you're going to enjoy it about as much as you'd enjoy a blister on a night out.
You can improve your chances of picking a course (and a uni) you like by digging into the detail of the degree(s) you're interested in.
Do all the individual modules sound interesting? Do they make you excited to learn more? Think about teaching style, too. Two unis will teach the same degree differently, so make sure their style is one you can get on board with.
Remember, if no course seems right, maybe the problem is the subject itself – would something else suit you more? You'll be living your decision for three or four years, so give yourself a day or two to reflect.
What about your career?
If you know for sure what career you want to follow, make sure the unis and courses you're applying to are appropriate.
“Make sure they fit with your career aspirations,” says Judith, part of the admissions team at Nottingham Trent University. “Look at course profiles on uni websites, they often detail what jobs graduates have gone on to do.” You could also look at a uni's connections with industry, how it helps students get work experience, and so on.
If you don't know what career you want to follow, don't worry: just use 'good careers advice' as one of your essentials when making your choice. That way when you do know, your uni will be able to help you.
What matters to you?
Think about the things that are important to you, personally, about university. How vital are league table rankings and student satisfaction scores, for example? That's an easy way to narrow things down. Think location, too: if the idea of a campus bubble brings you out in a rash, or if a city uni gives you the crawling horrors, you know what to avoid.
Also, don't forget to investigate life outside of lectures – things like societies and clubs, sports, or nightlife. “They're all important aspects of student life,” says Judith. “Going to university allows you to learn about yourself and meet new people - so the social aspect is sometimes as important as the course.”
If there's any way to attend an open day, do it. They'll help you get a feel for a place, and are also useful if you want to make sure that the social scene isn't limited to a bizarrely quiet locals pub.
If the open days are done for the year, don't despair. Just visiting the town / city where a uni is based will give you a good idea. But many unis offer alternatives, as Judith explains. “We have self-guided tours around the university. You can always speak to admissions teams and admissions tutors for advice and guidance.”
Talk to people
The best way to know what living and studying somewhere is like is to ask someone who's already doing it. How? Open days are one option, but you can also get digging online.
Every uni uses social media to showcase their students' experience. NTU's @nottstrentuni Instagram channel features student photography, for example. Most unis use Twitter to show “big events like open days and graduation,” whereas Facebook is a great platform for finding the different communities and groups that exist across university.” The forums and university guides on TSR are always great places to find information and unis like NTU have official reps who you can speak to if you have any questions.
Still not sure?
If you still can't make up your mind but you're sure you want to go to uni, there are other options available. Missing the 15 January UCAS deadline isn't the end of your chances – late applications are still considered, if a uni has places. UCAS Extra opens in February and is the next step of the application cycle for applicants who have no offers from their five choices or have declined any offers received. You can find out if you’re eligible for an Extra choice in UCAS Track.
Alternatively, you could wait until you have your results and apply through Clearing. It's not without its risks and stresses, but tens of thousands of students get places that way every year.
You're making big decisions here, so don't get too downhearted if you're finding it hard. Yes, the clock is ticking, but if you keep talking to your friends and family, keep getting advice from your teachers, and keep using these tips, you'll be fine.
NTU have plenty of advice and guidance on their website to make the application process as easy as possible – from registering with UCAS, right up to your exciting first day at university.