Should you believe everything in a university’s prospectus?

Should you believe everything in a university’s prospectus?

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Official university prospectuses are being used to present an overly positive picture of higher education at some institutions, misleading prospective students. William Sandbach offers his thoughts on the issue.

Despite a fall in the total number of English and Welsh students applying for higher education in the UK during the last two years, most students would admit that applying to the top institutions in the land remains a highly competitive and stressful process. Almost every one of us is determined to pick a course at an institution which is worthwhile and rewarding, but it is almost certain that, to some degree, we are misled, or perhaps misguided, by the prospectuses of the universities which we apply to.

Photo Credit: The Guardian
Photo Credit: The Guardian

As an English student, it is easy to be won over by the admirable claims on Exeter University’s website, such as that it boasts ‘one of the leading departments of English in the UK’. This claim establishes Exeter as a pinnacle of excellence.

However, confusion arises when we are also informed that Warwick’s English department is ‘one of the best English departments in the UK’ or that Durham University is home to ‘one of the top English Departments in the country’ while Newcastle’s English Department is ‘one of the highest-ranked […] in the UK’… The list goes on and reveals that prospectuses, by their very nature, are there to tell you what you want to hear and not what you need to know.Prospectuses also follow a formula which means that they are regularly undifferentiated from the competition.

Anyone who applied to University through UCAS will have been aware of how subject-specific we are expected to make our Personal Statements. By the age of 17, we are meant to have had work experience, interests and hobbies stretching back years which reflect our ‘passion’ for a given course. This is all very well but are we, as spoon-fed, clueless teenagers, led by prospectuses into studying a certain course on being told that it offers broad (and well-paid) opportunities which simply don’t exist?

According to TargetJobs.co.uk, an English Degree can realistically lead to jobs ranging from Advertising to Public Relations and Intelligence- indicating a vast array of opportunities. The picture is similarly rosy for, say, a History Degree which might offer employment in Law, Archiving and Journalism. Even with a fairly specific degree in Medicine, TargetJobs claims that this could translate into a career as a Lecturer or Police Officer.

Whatever the case, at Exeter you are likely to come to appreciate your degree and be more fortunate in the long-run than without one. Take ‘Theology and Religion’ at Exeter as one example where, 6 months after graduation, 100% of graduates are employed or in further study. This highlights that while prospectuses prudently promote propaganda with regard to their courses, it is fair to say that a degree from a prestigious university is an advantage in the competitive world of work.

William Sandbach

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