Interview with Matthew – an Engineering student at the University of Warwick
Matthew is a British student who studies Mechanical Engineering at the University of Warwick in central England. After completing his A Levels in the South of England with very high grades (A*A*A), he was admitted to Warwick, a stunning campus in central England that he was pleased to discover on an open day. Read on to find out about his university experience at Warwick!
‘A’ LEVELS: Maths (A*), Further Maths (A), Physics (A*) in England
COOL FACT: I was captain of Warwick University 1st XV Rugby 2017/18
Why did you decide to study in the UK?
Why did you choose to apply to Engineering?
Throughout the course of my A-Level studies, I knew Engineering was likely to be what I wanted to do at university, but the specific streams of engineering (i.e. Civil, Mechanical, Electrical) remained a bit of a mystery, since you don’t get a very good idea of their content before actually getting started. As a result, I was very keen to do a course that began as a ‘general’ Engineering degree and allowed for more specialisation down the line once I got a better feel for what I did and didn’t like.
In hindsight, I am glad that I made this decision, as it gave me more time and information to eventually make the choice of Mechanical Engineering as my stream of specialisation, whilst the general course in itself gave me a basic understanding of the other streams, which was useful in cross-stream group projects.
What other universities did you apply to (in the UK and abroad) and why did you ultimately decide to go to Warwick?
I considered doing my degree in the USA as it was something a bit different and there was the possibility of getting a rugby-based scholarship, but I later decided against it largely due to the significant financial commitment needed to join their college system.
I applied to Liverpool, Cardiff, Warwick, Durham and Exeter, receiving offers from all.
I visited Exeter but decided it was a little too close to where I am originally from (40 mins away) since I wanted to experience somewhere new. I also visited Durham but was not a massive fan of their Engineering department and collegiate system that they use, which is much like Oxbridge. Then, finally I visited Warwick. It felt new, fresh and modern. Having spent the day there, I could really imagine myself being and working in that environment. I enjoyed the feel of the Engineering department and the university campus itself, as well as the surrounding area. It’s a very green campus and to me, it felt more vibrant in comparison to the ancient buildings in places at Durham.
What was the application process like?
Did you receive any coaching/help (e.g. from your school)?
Yes, my school had a careers department so gave me help with the personal statement by reading through it and making suggestions for improvement. There was no interview needed for any of my courses, however, so I did not require any more aid than this.
How did you find writing the UCAS Personal Statement?
It was a difficult thing to write, as it effectively seemed to me like ‘humble bragging’. You’re trying to sell yourself as much as possible without seeming like you’re blatantly lying, as universities do not have the time to check the validity of claims (i.e. I’ve read X, Y and Z books) so many people end up exaggerating what they have done. I think it is important, however, to be honest and try to show that you do have a vested interest in the courses you are applying to by providing some evidence, as opposed to just listing a load of things they want to hear. I’d made sure prior to writing my statement to find genuine opportunities to explore the engineering field by visiting museums and doing work experience, so I was able to provide some good accounts of these experiences, alongside talking about my hobbies, interests and personality.
Are there any readings/resources that you found interesting and that you would recommend to a student who is applying to your course?
I’d be lying if I said that there was a book about the finer details of engineering that enthralled me at age 17/18, not to say that such books don’t exist. A book that does stick in my mind however, is the autobiography of James Dyson (the owner and creator of Dyson Hoover systems). It talks about his unlikely journey into the world of design engineering, a text which I found both interesting and inspirational.
Did you have an interview and if so how did you prepare?
No I did not – as far as I am aware, they do not interview for Engineering at any of the universities I applied to.
Why did you choose Warwick in particular?
Did the rankings have an effect on where you chose to apply? Do you think people should look at rankings?
For me they did not, but I sort of knew I would be applying to top-tier universities, as I was capable of achieving the grades. I did not want to go to Oxbridge as I did not like the elements of elitism that are sometimes present there, and also I did not like the sound of the collegiate system. There are so many universities nowadays that provide such a first-rate education, so I don’t feel that the rankings are particularly important. You should want to go somewhere because you want to go there, not because someone else had a good/bad experience. I am a firm believer that, provided they enjoy their course and are willing to try new things, a person can enjoy whichever university they go to.
Did the course details have any effect on your choice of uni?
I applied to the same course for each university, with the details being largely the same for each one. So no, not really.
What do you think of the campus and the city?
The Warwick campus is quite big, very green and with a large number of new and impressive buildings (!), chief of which is the (massive) new sports centre which is nothing shy of a masterpiece. There has been constant renovation since I arrived four years ago, the university is clearly trying to overhaul the slightly shoddy areas of 1970s design and turn it into a modern-looking campus. Compared to other universities of friends that I have been to visit, I think it’s beautiful – but I am partial to newer buildings and not castles so am slightly biased.
Most students, once they move beyond first year, tend to live in Leamington Spa, a nearby town which again is very pretty. It has some run-down areas, but packs a real punch for its size with plenty to do, lots of bars, shops, clubs, restaurants, and most importantly, cheap drinks. Rent in the area is also quite reasonable – a fraction what people pay in London or even Bristol.
What are the 3 things you like the most and 3 things that you wish were better at Warwick?
3 Likes : The nightlife in Leamington Spa; the sports facilities; the housing opportunities
3 Dislikes : The public transport (slow and expensive); parking and traffic; the campus’ nightlife (partly because it caters primarily to 1st years)
Do you have any international (French, other) friends at your university?
Are there a lot of international students at your university (esp. French speakers)? How easy do you think it is for them to socialize with others?
Yes, there is a large international presence at Warwick, especially French and Chinese students studying at Warwick Business School. I know that the French society is a large and vibrant one, with many members forming large friendship groups but equally as many getting involved with others. First year accomodation mixes and matches people, so I knew some Europeans when I lived on campus and got on with them very well. The rugby club I take part in also tends to have 5-10 French members who have no issues being at an English university.
What is your student accommodation like? Do you like it? Are you accommodated on campus?
How was your student accommodation in 1st year (in terms of cleanliness, social aspects…)?
Good, I lived in the accommodation located furthest from central campus so it was quiet, clean, spacious and had a nice atmosphere about it. More centrally-located accommodations are certainly smaller (unless you go to the really expensive Bluebell rooms) and a bit dirtier but tend to be a bit wilder, with plenty of house parties by comparison to the halls further away.
How close to campus are student accommodations at your university? Where do students live in 2nd and 3rd year?
As I mentioned before, most students tend to live in Leamington Spa after their first year (some live in Coventry or on campus again). It’s about a 20-30 minute drive from campus, but can be up to an hour during rush hour. I’ve really enjoyed living there despite the commute, housing prices are very reasonable.
How is the food in student halls? Are all student halls catered/uncatered?
All halls are self catering, so the food is as good as you are at cooking haha.
How did you apply to student accommodation at Warwick? Which student halls would you recommend to international students?
You notify that you are looking for on-campus accommodation when accepting the university offer. You then list your hall preference, the top five from most desired to least. They then allocate you a room. It’s a bit of a lottery but other than price there is no real difference. I can’t see the building you’re in having a particularly detrimental effect to the university experience.
For off-campus accommodation (i.e. 2nd/3rd year) you need to find a house more independently, by going to an estate agents or using their websites. This is pretty easy to do in a group of 3-4 (up to 8) and just requires a little looking around and knocking on doors.
Could you describe your experience at (your uni)?
How many hours of classes do you have per week?
Compulsory (Laboratories) : about 4 hours
Optional (Lectures) : about 12 hours
When I say ‘optional’, it is obviously wise to go to all of your lectures, but the Engineering department does not punish lack of attendance to these. The numbers do vary enormously depending on the time of year.
What is the workload like?
It gets heavier the older you get. In first year, I found it very easy,:simple modules that don’t require much attention to do well in. By third year, it’s much more significant, and coursework assignments can take up to a week per piece. Exams also become much harder to revise for. Getting into the right work habits is important.
Do you have exams once or twice per year?
I have only ever had one set of exams each year, in the summer, but I know that has recently changed to include January exams for 1st and 2nd years in an attempt to reduce the summer workload.
Are you involved in any student societies at Warwick?
Yes, I am heavily involved in the rugby club. Which consumes a lot of my spare time. I love it, have had a fantastic time and made friends for life. I can confirm that the horror stories you hear about university rugby clubs are exaggerated beyond belief by non-members or student journalists trying to generate clickbait for their blog posts. There is certainly a wild social life but nothing horrendous, I’d recommend it to anyone considering playing rugby, both seriously and casually, at university.
Are there some things that you don’t like as much about the UK education system or that could be improved?
There is certainly a case to be made about the value for money of non-scientific degrees, considering that they cost the same amount as scientific ones yet only have a fraction of the contact hours, resources and experiences. But given that I do Engineering I do not feel I have been robbed and overall think the value and job prospects are good.
Any final comments? Or any tips for students who are applying to Warwick or another UK university?
I’m often asked what advice I have for prospective uni students and I always say the same thing: join a club or society!
I’ve made many close friends and had countless amazing experiences by being a member of the rugby club and I know plenty of friends at different universities who have had similar experiences through different sports and societies. I also have friends who didn’t join clubs or societies, and instead passed most of their time with their randomly allocated flatmates in first year or just ‘going to the gym’. The difference is that many of the latter can’t wait to finish university.
You meet so many like-minded people doing sports or activities you enjoy and there are so many social opportunities that simply don’t come about otherwise. I’ve loved every minute of my time at Warwick and I attribute so much of that to my sports club and the people in it. Don’t be afraid to get involved and try something new because at the end of the day, everyone else who joins with you is in an equally foreign environment so you won’t be out of place in the slightest.
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