Harris 6th Form Alumni Return to Speak About Learning and Life at Top Russell Group Universities

Inducted onto the programme in the Harris Upper Norwood Hall in October, our HEA Year 12s returned to the same venue on the 9th of December to hear from five Harris 6th Form alumni now studying at Cambridge, UCL, Exeter and King’s College.

Curated and delivered by Future First (who are helping us gather and mobilise the vast number of Harris 6th Formers now at top universities and employers across the UK), this event was arranged to give our new Year 12 cohort a wealth of insight and advice on how to choose, successfully apply for and, thereafter, thrive at a Russell Group university – from peers a few years ahead on the journey.

The session began with each of the assembled HEA alumni – Michelle Sebele (Medicine, King’s College London); Hannah Meah (English Literature, UCL); Sophie D’Souza (Psychology, University of Cambridge); Sarah Akinsola (Drama, Exeter University); & Fatima Hussein (Education Studies, UCL) – introducing themselves to the group and giving a brief summary of their academic journey from where their audience was sitting to where they were at university, before focussing on the first topic for discussion: ‘which factors did you base your university choices on’.

Our Year 12s heard how a wide-range of factors influenced their peers’ choices: location (whilst some wanted to escape to a totally different part of the UK; others preferred a short tube journey from a regenerative Sunday roast or cuppa); size of town (London’s night-life and 24/7 pulse trumping the sleepier rhythms of the likes of Durham and Cambridge for half the group); and societies on offer (with UCL tipping the scales for Hannah due to its film society’s eminent alumnus; Christopher Nolan, director of Dark Knight and Inception). Yet, whilst contrasting motivations informed these extra-curricular and practical factors, consensus centred on the importance of picking universities that offered strong academic reputations, courses which fired their particular curiosities and a name that caught the eyes of employers. ‘Russell Group universities, in other words’ declared our host from Future First, Amy Finch – the knowing but reserved hum which received this revelation indicating a tag our HEA Year 12s were familiar with but not that knowledgeable about, yet.

Amy, consequently, asked the group to discuss their expectations and preconceptions of Russell Group universities (including Oxbridge) in small groups, which they then posed to the alumni. A variety of questions on what sort of students they shared their courses with; how much time did they have spare to pursue extra-curricular interests; and how hard was life on a student budget were then levelled at the panel.

Sophie’s experience at Cambridge proved particularly intriguing for the audience and she was quick to affirm its meritocracy – ‘it isn’t impossible to get into or study at, you just need to love your subject and work hard’ – and more than happy to bust a few myths: whilst not as socially mixed as other city-based Russell Groups Cambridge’s student body ‘reflects a broad and growing range of social backgrounds and ethnicities’, she remarked. All on the panel seconded Sophie’s third point on the need to combine hard-work in class with a healthy range of super-curricular reading to meet the grade-requirements and broader intellectual appetite top universities wish for in their applicants – a convenient segue-way into the final topic of discussion for the day: ‘Getting In’.

The concluding slide of the presentation featured a calendar outlining the students’ key preparation targets were for the rest of Year 12: research universities and visit them in-person during Open Days; begin building up and recording super-curricular experiences in their preferred subject area; draw and reflect upon these in their personal statements over the summer holidays. All of which were underlined as crucial preparatory steps to ensure they hit the ground running in Year 13, with Oxbridge and Medicine application deadlines in mid-October and final UCAS submissions for other courses and universities at the beginning of January.

Our wonderful alumni then left the stage to a huge round of applause (and a few follow up 1-to-1 questions) before students proceeded to register their preferred subject areas with the HEA team; thus ensuring relevant super-curricular opportunities can now reach their inboxes into the new year.

As a final task for the day, the students grouped themselves by their preferred subjects and crafted a short response to a question designed to introduce them to the sort of knowledge-base and on-the-spot reasoning skills coveted by top Russell Group universities. The quality of the ensuing presentations bringing an encouraging close to an eye-opening and insight-rich afternoon for all involved.  

If you would like to keep up-to-date with all ongoing Harris Experience Advanced happenings, you can find us on twitter as well: https://twitter.com/HFexperience

Click here to read a recent article on the Harris Experience Advanced and the Harris Experience in The Times.

And click here to read The Times’ editorial about our programme.