Polina, A-Level graduate

Having spent two years in Scotland, taking her GCSEs, before moving to Russia, and then immigrating to Germany, Polina’s globetrotting is not over yet. Last year, Polina completed her A-levels in Biology, Geography and English Literature in an online format, and is now studying Liberal Arts and Sciences: Global Challenges at Leiden University, the Netherlands.

Last year was very stressful. Even though the teachers were always very helpful, and I was studying subjects I liked, I didn’t know what I wanted to study at university. I think that slowed me down. It was so difficult to choose my specialization, because I wanted to choose the right subject. I initially wanted to apply to Germany, but I couldn’t find any courses or universities I liked. I found out about the Netherlands, and the staff at Algorithm showed me where to look for degrees taught in English. Before that, I didn’t know that many of those courses existed, for example the Liberal Arts and Sciences Global Challenges degree. There were so many options, which were also suitable in terms of costs.

Initially, I thought I wanted to study International Relations or Journalism. Looking at so many programmes helped me to realise that I care more about sustainability, global warming and global governance. The three Dutch universities that I applied to offered Liberal Arts and Sciences, which gives you the opportunity to find the connections between different subject areas. For example with Utrecht, you can major in Natural Sciences, or in Social Sciences, like I want to, but you still have the opportunity to study subjects and interconnect them. This appealed to me, as the connections between my A-levels helped me see how interconnected everything is, and even helped me to prepare for my exams.

Unlike British universities, the application to Dutch universities was much more personalized and required more research and time.

For me, it was very difficult, but now I know it was worth it. I really tried to make my motivation letter perfect; to express myself as much as possible. I wanted it to be relevant, but also personal. It was the most stressful, and also the longest part of the application, taking around three months to perfect. I think that applying to European universities is more difficult than to the UK, as there is no one unified application system, like UCAS. You have to apply to different countries and universities individually. To some, you apply through an application form, others require that you send everything by email. All of them arequired different documents, and some required an application fee. As well as the Dutch universities, I also applied to universities in Scotland, where I had previously studied. However, I really wanted to try living in a new country.

Polina hopes that Leiden University will not only live up to all of her academic expectations, but will teach her more about herself and becoming an adult.

I want it to prepare me not only for my future career, but also for adult life. I spent my conscious years in boarding school, and then I moved to Russia and Germany. Now, I enjoy the fact that I am surrounded by lots of different people. I want to learn more about life and about myself, while living in a residential college. I love that I can study what I require for my future, but also get to live with people my age. I want to prepare for my job by studying , researching and doing work experience. I want these years to be as fun and as productive as possible.

Due to her change in address, Polina also changed her form of study half way through her A-levels, opting for online lessons to complete her education.

I like how flexible Algorithm is. I liked that the teachers and administration always listened to me. When I had exam clashes, or had to change to online study, everyone was very quick to help and to resolve any issues. Although A-levels are very interesting, it’s a very difficult and time consuming programme, so it’s important that teachers always help. Even from another country, I could continue with my studies and contact my teachers at any time.

Polina has always been an activist, putting her academic interests into action, working in journalism, and volunteering for environmental projects. 

I’ve previously done work experience for a local newspaper in Scotland and I did community radio work experience for two weeks. I was also in the Combined Cadet Force for two years, and was the NCO [non-commissioned officer] commander in my second year. I’m really interested in voluntary work, and have recently become involved in Greenpeace in Germany. As part of the organization, I am involved in a project to raise awareness of greenhouse gas emissions – an issue I am very concerned about.

Polina’s main advice to those facing their A-levels and university applications is to believe in yourself.

That’s the one thing I didn’t do and it really brought me down. People might have doubts, especially if they’re applying to European universities, as they have high requirements. At the beginning of this year, I didn’t even want to try to apply to university because I hadn’t completed all of my AS levels and I thought it would be too expensive. Now, I’ve been accepted by a university that required me to have AS Mathematics, which I do not have, and I got all my AS levels up to B and A grades. I realised that there are other things, which can make you interesting. In my case, the fact that I studied on two programmes, and was studying long-distance, were good things, and not drawbacks, as I had originally thought. You just have to trust the people who are helping you, and make sure you choose a degree you’re interested in!

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