During the academic year 2020/2021, I was a Next Step Bristol programme Student Advisor. This role involved providing prospective University of Bristol students information about student life and answering any questions they had.
The Next Step Bristol programme is a great opportunity for students in Year 13 from around the UK, who come from Black or Asian backgrounds to experience parts of the University and receive support online, through different virtual events. The programme offered a mixture of events this year such as academic taster sessions, student-led society events and support with UCAS and student finance applications. Other events that could run next year can be seen at Next Step Bristol | Study at Bristol | University of Bristol.
The virtual events this year were typically on a Wednesday afternoon and each event had a topic, such as accommodation, student finance, application process, UCAS, wellbeing, careers, student societies etc. All events were run after school hours and in periods of the school year that are less busy for Year 13s.
At each event, the students would first attend a session on one of the topics mentioned above, which would usually be for an hour. Following this, the students went into their smaller groups for the Student Advisor sessions. These groups were made up of students who were applying for an undergraduate course in the same faculty, and in these breakout sessions we discussed life at University.
I ran the Science Faulty session along with another University of Bristol student, who studied Physics. The students in this session were interested in studying a subject from the Faculty of Science, such as maths, physics, geography etc. There were separate advisor groups for each different Faculties, including Arts, EFM (Economics, Finance and Management), Engineering, Health, Law, Life Science, Science and SPAIS (Sociology, Politics and International Studies). During these sessions we would discuss our experiences and answer general questions about university life.
The benefit of the advisor sessions was that students felt comfortable and confident to ask us questions in the smaller groups, when it might be nerve-racking to ask questions to the people running the main sessions. It also meant that we, as Student Advisors, got know the students. It was difficult to engage at first as we all met online and it was new for us, but as time went on, the students felt more comfortable to ask questions and participate in conversations virtually.
Where the main session covered important aspects of the applying to university and the support available, in the advisor sessions we would discuss how we find student life and what living in Bristol is like. We also talked about how we managed our time as science students and how new students can ensure they have a good balance between study and socialising, whether that be with friends or at any society events they may want to attend. The advisor sessions are a safe space, where prospective students could ask how we found different aspects of the University. We found that we could talk about everything – from how to manage finances at university to the best place to eat in Bristol!
I felt like we all enjoyed the programme more as time went on. After the first sessions, the other Science advisor and I realised engaging and supporting students online can be hard. After completing more and more sessions, we got to learn new things about each other and the students which made the space feel less formal. This made the sessions fun, relaxed and therefore the students felt more comfortable asking questions.
One student said that they “definitely would recommend as the programme helped me through my application immensely, providing emotional support as well as materials that I would not usually be able to access. This programme gave me an opportunity to apply to Bristol and increased my chance of getting an offer.”
As an advisor, I felt the students became less anxious throughout the course of the programme and by the end they felt more confident to speak to myself and the other advisor and in taking their next steps to the University of Bristol.
The students built relationships with each other throughout the programme. Since the advisor sessions were the same group of 15 students, they made a group chat with each other after the first couple of sessions. This was great to see, as it meant that when they come to study at Bristol, they will know other students already studying in their Faculty. I look forward to meeting them on campus when term starts at the reunion in September.
For me – I gained skills in working virtually whilst being in the Zoom meetings. My communication skills improved, as we were required to think of different ways to engage prospective students and keep a flow of dialogue throughout our sessions. I also really enjoyed meeting the students!
Future students on the programme should expect to gain useful information about university life at Bristol and learn ways in which the University will aid students who belong to Black or Asian backgrounds. I would highly recommend the programme, as I believe it is a great way to find out what it is like to be a Bristol student from current students.
Mini Bio: My name is Arjun, and I am a fourth-year mathematics student at the University of Bristol. I was a Next Step Bristol advisor during the academic year 2020/2021.