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History degrees - what does it take?(21 Posts)
DS2 in Y12 is set on doing History at Manchester or Bristol university but frankly his GCSE results were not that stellar. He's bright, interested, but a typical teenage boy with a short attention span. He's chosen Manchester & Bristol because they are 'cool'
How can I find out if his GCSE grades are good enough? I can't guarantee he'll pull himself together for the Y12 exams either.
And any suggestions for work experience or other activities to enhance his personal statement? I don't want to distract him with essay competitions etc given he needs to pull his grades up.
Thanks for any advice.
Will he get good enough grades for Manchester/Bristol? I haven’t checked but they’re generally AAA kinds of places. Or would he be happy with Manchester Met/UWE? I would encourage him to be more broad with his university choices.
What were his GCSE grades?
So far as extra curricular it probably is writing/research based talks that would help his application. There is so so much reading and writing in a history degree, the last year in particular has very little contact time and a lot of independent study.
EPQ could be a good idea if it’s offered. It’ll show that kind of independence.
To be honest the predicted grades are the thing they look at more than anything else so it's really important that he pulls his socks up now.
With lower predictions he might still get an offer, but they won't give him a "special" offer that deviates from their admissions policy.
The Manchester history dept clearly sets out their admissions policy - they want AAA (with a grade reduced for an A in an EPQ and another grade reduction if he qualifies for a contextual offer for coming from a place of disadvantage - see www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2021/00255/ba-history/entry-requirements/#course-profile ).
Bristol also want AAA (with a reduction for contextual students, but still need an A in history).
Both are popular universities who won't struggle to fill courses so I don't suppose there'll be much wiggle room if the final grades don't match up (but I stand to be corrected on that).
There are a lot of other good universities - he's picked two which happen to be near the top of the premier league.
16 years ago (eep) my extracurriculars were all music based so my personal statement was mostly based on what I'd been reading outside of the A level course and what I was interested in, and I got an offer from Manchester. History degrees are very dependent on doing your own reading and being able to churn out a lot of essays so anything that shows you've got a bit of work ethic as well as an interest in the subject is good.
A LOT of essays so he had better like writing! I've not done a history degree but I have done a history module in the current degree I am doing. I found it dull and tedious and I like writing essays!
This may be a complete sideways leap but has he considered anthropology? I only ask as my DD did it at Bristol and my nephew did it at Manchester. They both loved the subject and their respective uni cities. Sometimes when you are at school it is hard to know what other subjects there are apart from the standard ones.
If he's set on those specific courses, presumably he's looked at the info on their websites? The info on entry requirements should all be there, and any kid bright enough to go to uni should be able to find it and figure out if it's realistic for them or not.
Broadly, apart from a few courses (medicine, oxbridge) most don't really look at GCSEs beyond requirements to have passed english, maths for some - the course websites will give details.
Personal statements - generally not that important. If the A levels aren't at the required grade, then the best PS in the world is unlikely to make any difference for a popular course. But what goes into it should nearly all be related to the subject, demonstrating engagement with the subject. For history, I suppose a lot of it would be reading.
I second the EPQ - it is so exactly like the work he'd do as an undergrad.
Beyond that perhaps look at some MOOCs in areas he is interested in.
I did some work experience in museums etc from age 16 up which I was asked about at interview.
DS has received an offer from Bristol for 2021. They are very clear in the departmental info how they decide on offers - 30% GCSE grade profile and 70% predicted A level grades. The standard (non contextual) offer is AAA, so a set of good GCSE grades that could support a minimum of AAA achievement together with school predicted grades of at least AAA would be needed to secure an offer.
I did a history degree (Oxbridge) and it generally needs a lot of motivation and self study. There is lots of reading and writing essays and you need to love the subject. It's not one for the person who is half hearted about history. And no point looking at those unis unless he will get an A in history and high grades/As in other subjects.
Extra curricular things that help with history are stuff like the debating society, book clubs, language clubs etc.
My dd is doing history and another subject in joint honours at university of Manchester. She had to get aab with an a in history. She did work experience in our local history centre which she put in her application. As pp said it’s all essay based & lots of reading. Dd says the History dept is very good.
I never understand why posters still say universities don’t look at GCSEs. For competitive courses like History at Bristol they do! As pp above says, 30% GCSEs and 70% A levels. So they absolutely do matter. History at Bristol has always been very competitive. Manchester a bit less so. But read what each university wants then apply for 1 or 2 which are a stretch, 2 or 3 that are spot on with his A levels and 1 that’s his insurance. There are universities that don’t look at GCSEs but the profiles of students studying History at, say Durham, UCL, Bristol and Exeter are high grade GCSEs. There are other perfectly good universities though.
DS has applied for history and politics and the grade requirements were way beyond what I needed to do a law degree 30 years ago!
Most "good" unis seem to want AAB - you may get ABB for ancient history, although there are places like Kent, Reading and Stirling who want BBB this year.
The A level requirements have totally changed in the last 30 years. You can never ever go with what you did. My friend did medicine on BCD back in the day! Husband did Engineering at a top 3 university on the same. This is more like 45 years ago, but they were perfectly good enough for their courses and are successful in their careers.
Oh also just thought when we looked at the Unis on the open days the courses all varied. My dd was set on going to Kent but when we visited Manchester the course was what she wanted. Southampton History dept was ver good she ended up with that as her insurance choice.
I'm doing another degree in history at the moment. It's writing lots of essays and reading! I love it. I originally had joint honours with anthropology, similar in that it is reading then essays and also similar type of structure in the essays. My current degree is English and history. For the English but I would say the essays and reading are less directed and are less structured. I was at Manchester back in the day. It is cool!!
Big thanks for all the really helpful comments.
DS's GCSE grades were 8 & 7s in the subjects he has gone on to do at A Level (inc History) and 6s for the rest.
I think AAA is within his grasp as he is more motivated now, but my question is whether with those good-but-not-amazing GCSEs will he be considered by Bristol & Manchester, or would it be a waste applying?
Should he do an EPQ or concentrate on getting amazing predicted grades instead?
He has 3 choices so why not? I think Bristol is more competitive than Manchester. So Bristol could be his stretch? You know Bristol might look at GCSEs but what do the others say? If they don’t, you have nothing to lose.
Can I ask what his predicted grades are? If they are AAA together with those GCSE’s, I would definitely put Bristol down as an inspirational!
Maybe have a look at York too? York has a great History dept, but also, still guarantees first year Uni accommodation if you put it as an insurance.
The gcse grades are two 8s and one 7 at best. The rest are 6s. So Bs in old money. Truthfully that’s not a great profile for History at Bristol which is traditionally a competitive course. But it’s worth a punt. It’s only one choice. I don’t know how York compares with Bristol regarding how difficult it is to get in but if it’s very competitive then there needs to be not too many ultra competitive courses amongst his choices. Don’t add Durham!