Maybe you saw the title of this blog and felt slightly offended. What’s wrong with going to Southbank University? Or London Met? Or any of the universities where a significant proportion of young black people attend? To which I reply – absolutely nothing. Congratulations on making a decision to enter higher education and following through with it. I applaud your efforts and achievements.
Please allow me to be brutally honest: In the hierarchy of universities in the UK, Southbank, London Met, Kingston, and many of the other universities where you’re likely to find people that look like me flounder at the bottom of the league tables fairly consistently.
If we put our feelings aside for a moment and focus on the needs of our community, this is a problem. Black graduates find it more difficult to find jobs than white graduates. We know that institutional racism, classism and other factors contribute to that and in all honesty there’s little we can do about these things. One factor that maybe we aren’t talking so much about is that many young black people simply choose poorly when it comes to university. Employers look at you university as well as your degree classification and judge you based on that. That’s the harsh reality.
Choosing a university partly based on the numbers of black people that attend isn’t entirely stupid. Your emotional well being will actually affect your performance, and community is important to many of us. However, choosing a low ranking university compared to a good or brilliant one based on numbers of black people is shortchanging yourself and your community. (ETA someone pointed out not many people do this, but I’ve heard of enough people who choose London uni’s over non London ones because they feel ‘safe’ in london and part of it is connected to perceptions of diversity. I’m also aware that many people feel they don’t have the grades for better universities and that’s an important factor and another post)
So here’s a guide to choosing. I hope you find it useful.
1)Identify why you’re going to university.
This sounds simple enough. To get a degree, innit? Not so fast Damilola, not so fast. Do you have an idea about your career path and what you want it to look like? No. That’s no necessarily a problem. But do you have a vague idea about what you want your life to look like in 5 years time? What is your skill set? What are you good at? Are you entrepeneurial? Are you creative? Are you practical? Does what you want to do even require a university degree? Does it require a lot of networking?
University is currently £9000 a year without living expenses. That’s a pretty hefty financial investment. If you have rich parents and can afford to go to university for the sheer joy of learning, then great. If not, think about whether your time and money needs to be invested in this.
I personally think that for a lot of people a university degree from a good university is a sensible choice because it proves to employers you have a skill set. For some people though, it’s a waste of time and a few grand.
It’s not enough to go because you want to be able to say you have. That’s like paying for a ticket to China to see the Great Wall when you actually hate Chinese food, culture and planes. It’s pointless.
2) Choose a sensible course or courses.
Sensible doesn’t necessarily mean traditional – it means a course that aligns with your answers to question 1. If you’re a rich Nigerian who’s Dad has oil money and university is just for intellectual exploration, then Ancient Russian with Events Management joint honours might be the one for you. For the rest of us, we need to think more carefully.
Write down a list of the subject/s you’re interested in. Then write down a list of your realistic predicted A level grades in those subjects. If it’s a D and you know in your heart that you’re probably going to get a D, then slap yourself and get a tutor (if you can afford it, some of us can’t but if you can afford £20 a week on going out or eating takeaway, you can afford it you’re just not prioritising it), or rewrite your list of subjects.
3) Use a university guide and look at the ranking for your course/s.
There are websites where you can check which universities are good for certain subjects. Redbrick universities are older, more prestigious universities. Universities in the Russell group are elite universities known for their research credential. Some universities like Aston are neither of these but have good reputations. Some universities might be lower in the league table overall, but have a higher ranking for your subject and be well known for it in the field you’re interested in entering. Google around to find out what each university or course is well known for. They might be ranked highly for music, but is that because they’re known for classical and not jazz performance? If you want to do jazz performance, then maybe that’s not for you.
4) Eliminate universities that you know are unsuitable.
Contact the universities, or use their website to check for their requirements. That might be grades, work experience etc. If you know there is absolutely no chance of you attaining even close to this then cross them off your list. (But don’t be pessimistic – if you’re not 100% ideal but determined, sometimes there are ways around this).
Now look at things like, placement opportunities, chances to study abroad and location. Is it an absolute requirement that you have a placement year in France? Are you adamant that you’re not gong to be able to study in Scotland and retain your mental health? Then St Andrews is off the list. Try to keep an open mind though, and remember that new experiences aren’t always bad experiences.
5) Visit the universities.
This is crucial. You cannot choose a university without going there before you apply. I actually applied before going to a couple. In hindsight it’s a bad idea. You need to get the feel of the environment, the city/town and decide whether it’s somewhere you can see yourself. Go to open days. Or even go again on a day where it isn’t an open day. Talk to people who go to the university. If diversity is important to you, spot some black people who go there and ask their honest opinions on living in the area and attending the uni. Research cost of living and house prices.
6) Don’t get mugged off by teachers at your school.
Teachers often have low expectations for black pupils. They will mug you off and tell you that the University of Nonsense is ‘a good uni’ and that your low/mediocre grade is acceptable. Set a standard of excellence for yourself. If you’re starting out your A levels, I think it’s a good idea to get a tutor from the start if you or your parents can afford it. Don’t let teachers get away with giving you low predicted grades – negotiate! This is your future!
7) Find a mentor.
Try and find someone in your field through your social circle who is where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be the exact same career field if that’s not possible – maybe just someone who is successful and might have connections. Use your connections. If you have no one in your social circle be brave and contact someone you respect and see if they are willing to mentor you. Ask your school about alumni who might be interested.
8) Have faith.
You might not get the grades you wanted. You might not get into the university you wanted. But with hard work and determination you I believe you can still achieve great things. Say and prayer and jump – with faith and hard work you’ll land on your feet.
What do you think? Was this helpful? What advice would you add? Please share this with as many people as possible!