What I learned studying history at the University of Bristol

As university application season gets into full swing, graduates and undergraduates from within the CamVision team share their university stories, giving an insight into different paths, subjects and universities. Here, one team member talks about how she came to study history at the University of Bristol, and what she learned.

Why I chose to study history

For me, studying history at the University of Bristol was an evolutionary process. I did a Foundation Art Degree at the University of Arts (Chelsea College of Art and Design) first. It was a one year course designed to help you decide which arts degree you would like to go onto. I learned a lot, but ultimately decided not to take it further. 

In the end, choosing history was an easy decision. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after university, but my skills were heavily weighted in one direction – writing, research and the arts. Having spent a year at art college, I found that I missed the process of academic study, and in particular I missed history. 

History (specifically modern history), was a subject I was passionate about at school and I was good at it. It was something I could see myself enjoying for three years, and it would support a career that played to my skill sets, but it didn’t specifically rule anything long-term in or out, which gave me freedom to keep exploring as well.

Why I chose the University of Bristol

I chose the University of Bristol for a combination of reasons. On a practical note, it was a two-hour drive from home, and I knew I wanted to be able to get home without difficulty, but to be far enough away to experience something different to what I knew in London. 

It also wasn’t a campus university, so I wasn’t worried about it feeling claustrophobic after two years, but the university buildings and halls had a nice community atmosphere and were within walking distance of one another. Bristol’s history course was focused on modern history and had a variety of areas of focus within that to choose from. I also really liked the city, which helped.

On an aspirational note, the university had an excellent reputation, and there were a number of professors whose books I was familiar with and who I admired. In lots of ways I was fortunate because I didn’t have my heart set on one specific area of history that I wanted to learn about, I was generally interested and open to opportunities.

Applying to university

As a result of my year at art college, I already had my A-Level results, which meant that it was clear to me which universities I had a realistic chance of getting into, purely based on grades. The rest was about my personal statement. 

This was where my situation was a little unusual. I had already submitted a personal statement for Fine Art, which I had prepped and submitted early. When I ultimately changed my mind, I could apply to Bristol but they would automatically receive a statement explaining why art was my chosen subject.

I contacted the admissions office and explained what I had learned and why I had changed my mind. At that time they allowed me to submit a new personal statement explaining why I wanted to change direction.

That was both a humbling and important lesson for me. I realised how fortunate I was to have that opportunity, and while it might not work out for everyone, it was good to be shown that sometimes changing your mind and being able to explain why is as much a part of education and growth as anything else.

What I learned at the University of Bristol

Obviously academically I learned a lot at Bristol. I graduated with a 2:1, having studied a combination of areas ranging from Kennedy’s Assassination to the Industrial Revolution.  

I think something that I probably learned too late however was to try to really enjoy the total luxury of learning. School had taught me to learn for exams but I hadn’t quite got away from that mentality and in hindsight if I could have worried less about grades and deadlines and more about enjoying the process, I would have benefitted more. So if you’re planning on university now, that would be my recommendation – really enjoy the learning!

That said, I learned an enormous amount about self-sufficiency, listening to my peers (because their insights are as fascinating as anyone’s, and you know you will see their names on the spines of leather bound books one day). The process of learning at university is very different to school and I think that sets you up very well for whatever you go on to do next. History is also a wonderful subject for learning how to research, assemble your thoughts and construct a convincing argument.

Not everyone who studies history goes on to be a historian or a lecturer (I haven’t), and I definitely got a lot of transferrable skills from learning a research based subject. I’m pleased it’s what I chose in the end, and would recommend it to anyone with a passion for the subject.

If you would like support choosing a university and going through the application process, contact CamVision any time.