1. Don't Follow Others' Expectations
Depending on the school you go to, there'll be different expectations of you. Some places will be happy with you fulfilling your individual potential - other places will really push for the university route! Going to a top grammar school, Russell Group universities were often pushed. I think we had 2 10-minute informal chats about gap years and leavers programs in total, with the rest of year 12, 13, and even lower, being dedicated to talks and presentations on university.
I initially aspired to do Chemistry at Cardiff University. I wanted to live up to others expectations, and to be a 'good student' for studying a STEM subject at a Russell Group university. However, I quickly changed tack and decided to study English Literature at Plymouth. It was the one subject I really truly enjoyed and thrive at, and was the only thing I saw a genuine future in. No doubt I disappointed a few teachers, but studying English Literature at Plymouth and following my own heart has lead me down an amazing path; one that's lead to the birth of a writing career! The moral of the story is to not worry about what others think of you. "Those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter."
I didn't have the financial opportunity to visit universities across the country, but luckily I was able to visit Plymouth University quite a lot over the years. Going to the university, exploring the city, seeing the campus and actually talking to the students is an invaluable resource that you shouldn't allow to go to waste if you have the opportunity! If you can't make the Open Days (like I often couldn't), many universities offer virtual campus tours which are always useful.
3. Prospectuses - Order Them!
I remember going to the UCAS event in Exeter with my sixth form friends and returning home with around 20 prospectuses; these books were always my favourite thing to leaf through after sixth form or in free periods. There are so many things to consider when choosing a university: cost, location, distance from home, courses, so it's handy to have a comprehensive guide to cover each and every factor! They were always my most used resource, and I truly believe they allowed me to make my best decision.
4. Don't Follow The Crowd
If you don't feel ready for university, you don't need to go! Whether you take a gap year, a gap decade, or a gap life, there's no 'one size fits all' approach to attending university. You'll most likely find yourself absolutely exhausted after Year 13, so no surprises if you're feeling a little hesitant to sign up for another 3 years of intensive education. Please know that you can take ANY direction you want to take - whether you do an apprenticeship, go travelling, get a job, or go to uni, the important thing is that it makes you happy.
5. You Get Out What You Put In
University can be a scary and daunting experience, and it's important to remember that there is a whole plethora of opportunities out there - and they can be yours, if you take them. Make sure you research extracurricular activities and opportunities that will interest you outside of your studies, because I'm a strong believer that you'll get out what you put in. Clubs and societies are really important for those wanting to continue a hobby, or even start a new one. Who knows who you could become after 3 years at university? I never dared to fathom I'd be a writer, yet here we are!
6. Talk To People You Trust
Talking to people you trust is SO vital when applying to university and making big decisions. You'll soon realise that a lot of people are biased - some teachers will want you to fit a certain image, and you may have parents who are pushing you down a certain path. Talk to people without agenda, who want the best for you. If you're honest with those around you, they'll be honest with you – and you'll get real, useful responses out of them that'll help you choose the right path.