When should I start to think about University and careers?


Going to university is a momentous occasion and a significant milestone in your life. It’s exciting, and it’s a little bit scary all at once. There tends to be a lot of pressure placed on young people to decide if they’re going to university, what they’ll be studying, and which university they’ll choose. 

You might have already had family members, friends, or even teachers asking about your plans. Perhaps you are feeling a little overwhelmed, or like you’re the only one who doesn’t have a concrete plan, or any plan at all, yet. 

Take a breath

First things first, relax – if you feel like everyone apart from you knows exactly what they’re going to do for university, know that this is definitely not the case. While students who have been studying more vocational or specialized courses may have a better idea, the fact is that students from all walks of life, whether they’re applying from an American public school, British private school, or Shanghai international school, are sharing the experience. Many of your peers will be in the same boat, even if they’re not particularly vocal about it. Remember, choosing your future university is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly – if you’re still figuring out exactly what you want to do next with your life, don’t feel overly pressured to make your mind up. For some people, it’s better to mull things over and come to the decision slowly, so they can be certain it is what they really want.

Also, many young people decide on university late in the game or change their plans at the last minute. In fact, it’s possible to apply to many universities soon before the start of the academic year. In the UK, this is known as ‘Clearing’ – universities with any remaining spots publish their vacancies for prospectus students to browse. Although this is an option (for some universities), it’s worth bearing in mind that if you decide to apply to university late, you may not be able to get your top choice of university or major. If you miss out on your dream choice, you might want to consider waiting a year. When you know exactly what you want, you can apply early and be well-prepared with any necessary reference letters, portfolios, and interview material.

When should I have a plan?

Most universities start accepting applications at least one year in advance of the start of that academic year. For that reason, it’s recommended to start thinking about it as early as you can. If you haven’t started yet, don’t worry – but do start thinking about it now. Because universities accept applications long before the start of classes, if you want to go to one with a high number of applicants or study in a field that’s very much in demand, you should get your application in as soon as possible. The standard deadline to apply for many universities is typically around New Year’s (December/January). But it can differ significantly, so be sure to check if you have a particular university in mind.

What if I just can’t make up my mind?

That’s ok. Some people have a clear idea about what career, and therefore university/course, they want to have from a young age. Most people, though, don’t make their minds up so easily. If the deadline for applying to university is encroaching, and you’re still nowhere near making a decision, don’t feel that you have to take a stab in the dark and just pick any university or course of study. You’ll be studying there for at least three years, and most people only go to university once. So, you’ll want to be sure that you’ve made the best choice for you. You might consider having a ‘gap year’ – a year where you don’t go to university but instead work, travel, volunteer, or study (or all of those). A gap year gives you time to truly understand what you want to do, without all the pressure that comes with deciding while still at school.

Read some tips about picking the best university.

Learn more about gap years.