AAAdmissions Blog

This blog is maintained by the Undergraduate Admissions Tutors in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol. Here you will find FAQ answers and news updates on our admissions process. For more information, visit the Department home page or the undergraduate admissions home page.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

What is aerospace engineering?

I was chatting to a colleague the other day - Dr Raf Theunissen, experimental aerodynamicist and provider of wind tunnel laser shows, whom some of you have met on our Wednesday afternoon admissions visits.  Raf was discussing the surprise expressed by students at the topics turning up in their final year research projects.  We always try and convey to applicants how broad an aerospace education can be, so here's a brief selection of surprises that may be in store.

Aerospace engineering is... vision.  Dr Theunissen was talking about a project to deduce airflow from video footage of shadows and clouds around aircraft. Full scale in-flight measurements of aerodynamics in action would be extremely useful in refining aircraft design.  We as humans are pretty good at spotting patterns in motion, but we need a computer to see and record that data for us on a large scale.  How?

...chemistry.  Some recent projects with Dr Lowenberg have looked at the impact of aviation on climate, and how different aircraft types and flying practices could mitigate climate impact.  This is much more complicated than just CO2 and requires the study of chemical reactions that occur at different levels in the atmosphere.

...zoology.  Besides wings, aviation to date hasn't adopted many ideas from bird flight.  That's changing though, as we develop new roles for aircraft like deliveries in cities and searching damaged buildings.  Colleague Dr Shane Windsor is running projects studying how birds fly and especially how they sense airflow.  This understanding will help us build robust small UAVs.

...geology.  Asteroid mining is a cool challenge, and don't knock it just because it sounds like sci-fi.  So was the phone I'm writing this on, once.  Dr Lucy Berthoud ran a project asking if it made any real sense, and that depends on the resources you expect to find there and what you propose to do with them. So what's in an asteroid?

...origami.  Composite materials have great potential for aerospace and our ACCIS researchers are leading many of these developments.  Your basic composite has layers of straight fibres in different directions, or perhaps woven fibres, but what about folding?  Origami teaches us how simple folds in flat sheets can create structure and interconnections.  Our staff are looking at how these ideas can be exploited in future composites.

I could go on about robotics (and I do - that's my own speciality) and countless other interests of our staff.  Of course the things you'd expect are here as well: aerodynamics, structures, controls, design.  But you're going to spend four years on this, so a little variety could go a long way.

Friday, 29 November 2013

More offers coming

I took advantage of a crisp autumn Saturday to walk over to my local icon, the Clifton suspension bridge, and took the above photo. What has this to do with Aerospace Engineering Admissions?  Not a lot, but I think I can be forgiven for sharing a bit of life in Bristol.

We have received about 440 applications altogether so far, about 55 up compared to this date last year.  Furthermore, the standard seems to be very high indeed. After a review this week, we have decided to release about 40 extra offers.  We have to do this in a managed, cautious way, as we don't know what applications are yet to come.  Effectively, the bar starts insanely high, and then we can adjust downwards a bit as the standard emerges.  Sorry for the agony this causes to those of you who are still waiting.  I know there are many well qualified applicants in this difficult situation and I hope to make offers to many more of you.  However, it is a competitive process and I only have so many offers to make.  We will be regularly reviewing the position over the coming months.

On Wednesday, I met with our student helpers to finalize plans for our Wednesday afternoon taster sessions, the first of which is in December 4th. If you already have an offer or you get one this week, please give some thought to giving us a visit before Christmas if you can. We have two dates available in December, the 4th and the 11th. After that, we take a break again until February, after the January exams. I appreciate the appeal of waiting until after then to do your visits, but they do get heavily subscribed and we can only accommodate so many people.  Those of you who patiently followed me in a huge group around the labs at the September Open Day will understand the attraction of a quieter visit day!

Our Wednesday taster sessions aim to offer you something much more in-depth than an Open Day.  We'll give you more details on the course structure plus a sample lecture, either on aerodynamics or flight controls, to give you a taste of that aspect of Aerospace life.  You'll also get much more opportunity to meet the people in the Aerospace Department, including current students and academic staff.  We want you to be able to make an informed decision about your university, so our goal for Wednesday is to give you as much experience of Bristol Aero life as we can in an afternoon.

Monday, 16 September 2013

How on earth should I choose?

Aerospace admissions tutor Arthur Richards follows up on a question from a visitor at Saturday's Open Day.

Thanks to everyone who made the effort to come and visit us at an Open Day over the summer, either on the Saturday just gone or back in June. We hope you found it enjoyable, informative, and not too exhausting.

I want to follow up on a simple but difficult question asked by the father of a prospective applicant on Saturday: "We've been to the universities of X, Y, Z and now Bristol. They all look amazing, so how on earth is my son supposed to decide between them?" I'm redacting the names of the others to avoid any potential misrepresentation, but they're all research-intensive universities offering four year MEng Aerospace/nautical degrees and asking for the same grades as Bristol or one higher. I'm sure you can guess the ones I mean.

I'm sympathetic: it's been a long time since I made this choice myself, but I'm currently looking at buying a house, and there are similarities. (Sorry, parents, if this analogy only compounds your stress.) It's easy to rule some in or out, but choosing from the shortlist is difficult. There are a bewildering array of factors to consider and enormous pressure to get it right.

The dirty little secret of admissions is that you'll probably be very happy at any of them. All of X,Y,Z and many more besides are great universities and we work with many of them in our research as well - like us, they're smart people running very good programmes. An Aero degree from any one of them will make you a highly skilled and employable individual across a wide range of job sectors. Besides which, much of your university experience will be made by you yourself.  All this means it's perfectly OK to make this decision on instinct - or as the father asking the question concluded "go with your gut".

That said, it is important that your gut is well informed. If you've been to an Open Day, you've made a good start. I know they're only brief but impressions matter. Below are a few other things you can easily look up that might help your instincts:

1. Look at the course structure (ours is here) and figure out if you'll specialize in aerospace from the beginning or have a common first year or first two years.  If it doesn't say explicitly, you'll probably be able to tell by looking for "aero" courses in the first two years.  Bristol specializes immediately, because we think it makes it easier to engage with aerospace from the start and you learn more aerospace material through examples and context.  If you want to hedge your bets and have the flexibility to switch disciplines, maybe a common start would suit you better: your choice.

2. Look at the options.  The core content probably includes the same stuff in most places, but the options may be more diverse, reflecting specialities of staff and departments.  Ours aren't openly online at the moment (you need a student login) but the lists include: Computational Aerodynamics; Experimental Aerodynamics; Advanced Materials & Structures; Aeroelasticity; Heat Transfer; Vibrations; Optimisation Theory and Applications; Non-linear Dynamics and Chaos; Applied Aerodynamics; Structures & Materials 4; Aircraft Dynamics& Control; Advanced Techniques in Multi-Disciplinary Design; Composites Design& Manufacturing; Dynamics of Rotors; Advanced Composites Analysis; Advanced Space Systems; Engineering Design for Wind and Marine Power.  Got all that?

3. Look at the research.  The research specialities differ between institutions and do feed into the taught programme: research in a particular area can enhance the facilities and topics available for student projects, among other things.  Aero research at Bristol is summarized here and, if you're really keen, you can click on the name of each staff member here and their research tab will tell you a bit about what they do.  Find something that catches your imagination?

Of course there are many general things to consider as well: the location, other facilities, clubs and societies, etc.  The above is just intended to help choose between Aero courses.  Also, if you do apply to Bristol and get an offer, we'll invite you to visit again one Wednesday afternoon where you can meet current students and chase up on some of the above.

We're getting slightly ahead of ourselves.  For now, you only need to narrow it down to your five UCAS choices.  That still might need some tough choices for the last slot, but not quite so intense as choosing the final one.  If Bristol makes it on to your list, we look forward to receiving your application in the coming weeks.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


...and the living's not really easy, but pleasantly different at least. It's balloon fiesta week here in Bristol including twice daily mass ascents of hot air balloons over the city. The University is quiet without the students but there is still much to be done: planning staff and demonstrations for our forthcoming Open Day in September, timetabling and teaching preparation for next year, on-going research activities and administration. I'm finishing off a research paper on flight trajectory optimization, then off to a conference in Boston, and by time I'm back it'll be time to gear up for the new term.

A big week next week with the release of A-level grades. Good luck, especially to those waiting with our conditional offers. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about but if you do find yourself dwelling on "what if I miss?", it's been asked many times before and some information on our process can be found in this post. You might also spare a thought for those students taking other qualifications who already know they have narrowly missed their offers: they're having to wait until next week to find out if they're close enough to get in.

It's worth a few words on what our students are up to at the moment, although I don't have a complete picture of course. I know some of mine are doing internships, including one doing a summer placement at Lockheed and another finishing a year at NATS. Others are doing summer research placements around our various labs, including a few doing composite materials work and flying robotics. I've set my summer student the contradictory task of finding a big, light, slow model aircraft for our indoor flight lab and tracking it with cameras. Some students also have some studying to do as well for resits in September (yes, Universities do have them).

In Admissions we talk in 'cycles', from August to August and each leading up to a new intake of students in the immediately following September. If you're in the 2013 cycle, resolution draws near and we look forward to welcoming many of you on to our course in a few weeks time. If you're going to be in the 2014 cycle, we look forward to receiving your application and perhaps meeting you at an Open Day, if we haven't already.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Why Bristol?

Sorry for the long silence.  Various things have kept me busy over the last couple of months, including writing a machine learning code for our autonomous quadrotor and finalizing our paper on trajectory planning for the forthcoming joint EU-US Air Traffic seminar in Chicago.  Teaching continues of course, and I'm pleased to have just finished marking the third year helicopter control lab reports.  Meanwhile my final year research students wrapped up their eclectic mix of projects on catapult launchers, cooperative helicopters, robot aerobatics, London weather and- I kid you not- whiskers for quadrotors.  Welcome to the hectic whirl of Bristol life.

Our side of the admissions process is just about finished: we've made all our offers and have only a handful of late applications left in the system.  Our regrets to those of you who didn't get offers: we've had another year of strong application numbers so competition has again been tough to get the offers.  Thanks to those offer holders who came to one of our Wednesday afternoon taster sessions.  We hope you found it interesting.  (My flight simulator is now enjoying its annual maintenance period.)

All that's left now is for our offer holders to respond.  I'm pleased to see a healthy number of you accepting our offer already, up from this time last year, on top of a spike in the number of people making us their insurance choice.  For the remainder, it falls to me to try and help you with one of the handful of questions you must be juggling right now: why Bristol?

Hopefully, between web sites, open days and visit days, our much celebrated six things you should know about Aerospace at Bristol are familiar to all of you, and they cover the key points about our course and Department.  If not, refresh your memory via the link.

Bristol is also simply a great place to live, mixing all the amenities you'd want from a city with easy ways out for unwinding.  I can tell this by how often I bump into former students who are still living nearby, and it helps further that we have most of Europe's aerospace industry on our doorstep.

Of course, I realise that there's only so much help I can be with your decision making, biased or otherwise.  Much of your university experience will be shaped by what you and those around you make of it anyway.  I hope we've managed to give you a feeling of what Bristol life could be like and, of course, I hope you liked what you found.  If your instincts bring you here, we look forward to welcoming you.

Friday, 18 January 2013



A slightly late "happy new year" to all our applicants.  Today's snow disruption has given me some time for a blog update and an excuse to post a photo.  I snapped the above on my walk home from the University earlier today.

Our Wednesday taster sessions for offer holders are filling up. We don't run these for most of January to avoid clashes with exams and weather disruption - see above.  Our first three of 2013 are January 30th and February 6th and 13th, which are all full.  Please check your VIP page if you were on the "reserve list" for 30 Jan or 6 Feb, as we have made some extra places available.  February 27th is nearly full and March 6th and 20th still had space when I checked earlier in the week.  Book now to avoid disappointment!

The passage of the UCAS deadline last week gives us a moment to reflect on the state of play in terms of statistics.  As of 15th January we had received 525 applications, compared to 527 on the same date last year.  I'd say that's consistent enough.  With the deadline passed, we will be making some more offers.  Late applications can be accepted but we don't have to treat them the same as all others, so we no longer have to hold back some offers in case of a later surge.

The statistics surrounding offers and places are misleading: between changes in fees, exam marking, prediction patterns and variations in other courses within the Faculty of Engineering, it's been a long time since we had two years the same.  Beware trying to draw conclusions from one year for the next.  We are looking for roughly 120 students and we will make roughly twice that many offers, but there are variations of about +/- 20% on those numbers depending on the factors mentioned.  This means I am frustratingly unable to give a simple answer to the question "What do I need to get into Bristol?"  There is no strategy - just work hard and show your interests.

Good luck in your exams if you have them.