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Taster courses to help make your mind up

Going to university needn’t be a big leap into the unknown. We talked last year about how a there’s huge range of taster courses to help with the transition to higher education.

These aren’t just for introducing you to your chosen university, though many institutions will offer that.

Taster courses could be:

  • to introduce you to a particular course or subject (or help you decide if the subject is right for you)
  • to give you a flavour of life on campus
  • to enhance study skills and/or show how learning comes differently at university.

University open days, visits with your schools, tailor-made events and HE fairs are all very worthwhile elements of a student’s decision-making about their academic future. But a taster course can add an extra dimension – not just because it looks good on a CV or application form, attractive though that may be, but because the student will have a much better understanding of what they are getting into. Whether it’s because they can talk in greater depth about their chosen subject, or be more enthusiastic, realistic and/or mature about what they expect from university, a student with an appropriate taster course under their belt can (if they make the most of the opportunity) give themselves an advantage.

In terms of format, the courses could be:

Some considerations

Many of these will be free, though some could be paid-for (notably residential courses where the cost of food and accommodation needs to be met). Residential courses will likely include an option to forego the stay in university accommodation for attendees who live locally, which may save money but which also cuts out an important part of the experience.

Some such courses will be open to all, while some may have entry requirements or guidelines. The UEA summer school linked to above, for example, is for pupils “aiming to achieve A and B grades in your A-levels”, while the Bath residential course is for those “defined by their school/college as academically gifted” and who have A and B grades at GCSE including Maths and English, are likely to achieve A and B grades at AS level (or equivalent) and are “likely to progress to a top university.”

Does the pupil have time to take on such a course, and will they see it through to the end? A one-day event is one thing, but some distance-learning courses last for many weeks and may require several hours’ work a week.

Taster courses will tend to be aimed specifically at Year 12 pupils, but some are available to younger students. There are also activities for mature students, like UCL’s taster evenings or Glasgow’s Access to Higher Education Programme – a 22-week, £480 course for those who have been out of education for two or more years and do not have qualifications, but who want to progress to a degree.

All of these potential costs and restrictions need to be checked in advance. But it’s also worth doing some homework to see what value students have got from attending such events in the past. Resources like will be of help here.

Where can I find taster courses?

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Tue, 14 Feb 2017

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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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