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.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Aerospace in Bristol

Having hosted two Wednesday afternoon admissions sessions, it is overdue for us to introduce ourselves as the Bristol Aerospace admissions tutors taking over from Arthur.

With the Clifton suspension bridge celebrating its 150th anniversary through a beautiful firework display, now is an opportune moment to consider why you might choose to study in Bristol. The UK is fortunate to have many high calibre aerospace departments, and choosing which to attend for three or four years as a student is no easy task.

This is a question often asked on Wednesday afternoons by students and parents alike; the key point we make in answer is that you should choose somewhere you feel you will be happy studying. Four years is a long time, and throughout you will need access to a comfortable environment for learning, the support of your friends and teachers, and the opportunity to engage in activities beyond your studies. The City of Bristol, with its small city charms, easy access to outdoor pursuits and convenient location, is a fabulous place to live, and one we recommend from years of personal experience.

Academically our department boasts not only an excellent record in teaching and research, but also deep industrial links fostered at an early stage through our design and research projects, with benefits to your future employability. Our proximity to the aerospace industry in north Bristol at Filton is what makes this possible.

Most importantly of all, after your offer is received, make sure come and visit us on a Wednesday. This will give you the opportunity to hear first hand not only from us - the staff - also from our current students. They are conveniently identified by their blue t-shirts, and will be delighted to provide you with insights you might otherwise miss.

We look forward to meeting you soon, and happy Christmas!

(The festive image below is a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation of some seasonal characters. CFD is a technique used to model aerodynamic problems through computer simulation, and one of the many techniques you will be taught during your degree. The simulation here represents flow at four times the speed of sound).

Dr Tom Rendall
Dr Steve Burrow
Dr Pia Sartor

Saturday, 16 August 2014

FAQ: What sort of laptop should I buy?

It's not essential to have a laptop or PC: we provide all the software you'll need in student computer rooms.  There are large computer rooms dedicated to Engineering both in Queens Building and in the Merchant Venturers' Building.  You also have access to many other computer rooms around the University.  We do our best to keep these open as much as possible, including one with 24-hour access.

Meanwhile, many of you will want to bring your own computers, often laptops, and I'm often asked what sort of laptop would be suitable.  We do not recommend (or advise against) any particular brand of laptop, nor do we have any recommended specification.

One caveat: to support your first year course in CAD, you can get a free student-licensed version of the Autodesk Inventor software we use, and that only works on Windows.  (It can be made to work on a Mac, but it sounds like a pain: you need to run it with an emulator, and there are rumours of file compatibility issues if you bring work back to a Windows PC.  No-one's ever asked me if it'd run on Linux and I don't fancy the odds.)  Of course, you can still use the same software in our computer rooms.

The university runs a walk-in student laptop and mobile clinic that can assist with both Windows and Mac software problems.  As well as general issues, they'd be able to help you connect to University services such as campus WiFi, student filestores and remote desktop access.  They can also help with smartphones as well as laptops.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


In admissions jargon, each year of student "intake" is described as a "cycle".  Although clearly annual, a cycle is in fact about 15 months long. It starts with an Open Day in mid June, when we first interact with potential applicants, and finishes in September the following year, when some of those visitors (and others) start their courses.  Right now we're in the overlap of two cycles.  This post contains a message for each.


Well done to the 40-odd students who have already secured places, such as those who met their IB offer conditions.  For those of you awaiting results the week after next, the burning question is of course: "will I get in?"  (The same applies to IB applicants who have just missed their offer terms - sorry for the agonising wait, but we have to see the A-level outcomes before we can treat everyone fairly.)

Obviously, if you get your grades, you're in.  I've posted before on what happens if you don't: we are likely to take some "near misses" but it's impossible to say how many or how close until the results are out.  (The blog stats show that FAQ page getting a lot of traffic in the last month.)  I think it will be harder to secure a place as a "near miss" than in the last few years.  More of you have put us as your first, firm choice than last year, up by about 30%, but our number of places has stayed the same.  We sometimes take a few extra to make up for shortfalls elsewhere in Engineering, but the Faculty total is also looking healthy this year.

From the Department's point of view, it's been a healthy year.  Applications are up about 10% from both UK and overseas students.  The number of offers being accepted as first choice is up as well.  There's also been a substantial rise in the number of our offers being accepted as insurance places.  I've blogged before about my reservations about putting Bristol as insurance, but with higher requirements elsewhere, I suppose it's bound to happen.

Decisions, Decisions

Our Open Day last month was very well attended.  If you missed it, another opportunity is coming up in September.  It's interesting to note the trends in questions at these events.  Two new ones in particular arose this year: choosing between Mech and Aero, and the possibility of transfers between courses.

Choosing courses between Mechanical Engineering ("Mech") and Aerospace Engineering ("Aero") is very similar to the choice between universities, in that it seems almost impossible to make in some cases.  This year's variation on the "how should I choose?" question came from a family who caught me right at the end of Open Day.  Having spent the day with us, their daughter really liked the look of Aero... and really liked the look of Mech.

Important point: if you're struggling with this decision, you're not necessarily missing anything.  Both degrees are similar in content and possible jobs afterwards.  For a job in aerospace, an Aero graduate would have an edge over a Mech graduate, but a good Mech graduate would probably still be in with a shot.  For most other engineering jobs, both Aero and Mech graduates would be strong contenders.  So, if you're really motivated for a career in aerospace, why wouldn't you take Aero?  But if you're motivated for engineering but sensibly want to keep your options open, then both choices will suit your needs.

My recommended remedy is to go through the details of both courses and let inspiration come to you.  Look at the option choices available, or at the individual research interests of staff, or at the research or group project work that the students do on each course.  These are the fine details where differences will emerge.  They're also places where something unexpected might catch your eye.  See what sticks in your mind a few days later...


Transferring courses is very difficult at Bristol.  I try and highlight this at every Open Day.  We specialise early so we can go a little further in what we cover.  Every year, there are a handful of people who email a few days or weeks into another course, saying they've made the most awful mistake and asking to transfer.  Most often, there is nothing we can do, short of starting afresh the following year, with all the financial implications that brings.  We already account for a small percentage of students who never arrive or leave very early, so there are no empty places waiting to be filled.  I'm also very concerned about making a bad decision worse.  If, after a year of applications, open days, visit days, conversations, advice, etc, you never quite figured out what you wanted, why is a knee-jerk decision after three days of lectures going to be any better?

Please, please, don't let this happen to you.  Despite all the gloss and the pitch, university admissions are primarily about helping you make an informed choice.  Come to the Open Days; read the cryptic timetables and the dreary course structures; consult students, staff, internet forums, parents, relatives, teachers... anyone.  Never trade course satisfaction for place satisfaction: even if you love Bristol, you still have to pass your course exams to stay, and that's far harder if you're not motivated for the course itself.

Other Cycles

After four (?) years as admissions tutor, I am handing over to colleagues.  This is a good thing: our course evolves and so must the way we present it and recruit to it.  Meanwhile, I shall be devoting my time to our new Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Insurance: A Cautionary Tale

The first responses are starting to come in.  Naturally I'm pleased to see a good number of applicants firmly accepting our offers.  The rate of firm acceptance is roughly on a par with last year, but it's noticeable that a greater proportion of students are choosing Bristol as their insurance place.  I imagine this is because at least one other university is asking for two A-stars in their conditional offers.

I'm reminded of a cautionary tale from last year.  An applicant had a conditional offer from Bristol and a higher conditional offer, by one grade, from Imperial.  He went firm with Imperial and insurance with Bristol.  Come August, he unfortunately missed the conditions of Imperial's offer by two grades and hence missed Bristol's by one grade.  He was subsequently rejected by both universities and was left without a place at all, despite having pretty good grades in general.  I gather he did find a place elsewhere but only after a very stressful experience of phone calls and clearing.

If you miss your firm choice conditions, it's their discretion whether or not to take you anyway.  Lots of people still get in as "near miss" acceptances.  We aim to work this way, as it's really the only way we have to control our actual numbers.  If your firm choice doesn't take you as a near miss, but you've met the conditions of your insurance offer, then your insurance university is required to admit you.

If you put Bristol as insurance and you then miss our offer conditions, we are extremely unlikely to admit you.  This is because we always work through the "firm" near miss candidates first.  That's because we can be confident they'll accept the place.  An insurance near miss could still be taken up by their first choice.  We normally have enough firm near misses to fill our places, so insurance near misses rarely ever get a look in.

So, an insurance choice just one grade lower than your firm choice is pretty risky, or even no insurance at all.  Miss by one, and you still stand a good chance of getting into your firm choice.  Miss by two, and you could get nothing.

Bristol could be the right insurance choice for you.  Maybe you somehow know you won't miss your firm by more than one grade.  Or maybe you're committed to withdrawing and resitting If you don't get Bristol's grades or higher.  Those seem unlikely, but they are consistent with how insurance works.

BUT if Bristol is your second choice, then that doesn't make it a good insurance choice.  Or perhaps you can't decide between the last two but you let the grades do it for you (as there's no point accepting a harder offer as insurance than firm).  Your insurance choice ought to be the lowest offer you would be prepared to accept, and that's not necessarily the same as your second choice.

This post isn't intended to just pile extra pressure on making your firm choice.  I'm aware this might sound a bit like "firm us or nothing" and there's a lot of that around.  But please just think it through - I don't want more people to end up like my cautionary tale simply because they didn't know the risks.

Friday, 7 March 2014

A Day in the Life

Admissions tutor Arthur Richards captures the activities of various Aerospace Engineering students over a 24-hour period in March.

I spent Thursday afternoon and Friday morning on the prowl around Queen's Building, looking for Aerospace Engineering undergraduates going about their business.  The results are rather less polished than you'll find in our prospectus, but here's a collection of genuine "aeros" just caught in the act.

Down in the wind tunnel labs, a group of first years are performing a fluids lab.  They're using a manometer to measure pressure distributions on an aerofoil, including the effect of changing the angle of attack.

Over in the student workshops, second years are working on their wings, as part of the design-build-test project.  These aluminium wings are designed and built by student groups.  Later, they'll be tested both in the wind tunnels, for aerodynamic behaviour, and in the structures labs, where they'll be loaded to destruction to test deflections and strength.

Down on the dynamics lab mezzanine, third years are working on their control coursework.  They're designing control laws for the helicopter-like model on the blue arm.  Reversing the sign of the feedback led to some interesting moments (not shown) but the end result is stably hovering and responding to commands.

Back down in the wind tunnel lab, another third year student is performing some experiments in the low turbulence tunnel for his individual project.  He's using the Laser Doppler Velocimeter (LDV) to measure the flow around a perforated disc.

Upstairs in the avionics corridor, two fourth years are working on their individual research projects.  Lucy is working on feature detection for aerodynamic shapes, to predict where vortices could form.  Alex is working on task allocation and route planning for unmanned aircraft teams.  I think they were rather embarrassed to be photographed - that or they're finding their projects for too enjoyable.

In the composites lab clean room, fourth years Phil and Karim are making composite coupons for their research projects.

And, of course, there are lots of lectures going on all around the building.  Here are my third years (or at least a rather thin selection of them) fresh from the delights of control compensator design using frequency methods.

Thanks to all of the students for agreeing to be photographed.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


Thanks to everyone who has made the effort to attend one of our Wednesday visit sessions for offer holders today and last week. I know it's often been difficult due to travel and weather problems. I hope everyone has a safe trip home and a useful visit. To prove that the sun does sometimes shine in Bristol, here's a photo of Queen's Building I took last week, under both sun and moon.

For those who are yet to visit, or as a reminder for those who have been, here's an outline of what happens. Our goal for Wednesday is to give you an in-depth look at Bristol's Aerospace Department, particularly its facilities and people. You'll get tours of our wind tunnels and our composite manufacture and testing labs, guided by the academics who teach and research in them. Time permitting, you'll also get a look at our activities in dynamics and control, including our work in aerial robotics.  Every visiting offer holder gets an informal one-on-one appointment with a member of academic staff ("academic speed-dating", which is nowhere near as awful as it sounds).  Most importantly, lots of our current undergraduates will be around, and you'll be left in their company for a candid discussion about life as a Bristol Aero student.

Unfortunately we are unable to fit in a visit to any student accommodation.  Bristol's student residences are all some distance away from the precinct where the Aero department is located - well who wants to live right next door to their lab/office/lectures anyway?  While they're no more than a brief walk or bus ride away, it would take a chunk out of our afternoon to include them.  However, there is plenty of information on the Accommodation Office website, including video tours and details of each residence.  Also, it may be possible to arrange an individual visit when you're in town, e.g. on a Wednesday morning.  Please contact the residences directly to pursue this opportunity.  I don't know how easy it is to arrange and of course it depends on someone being available to host you.  Note you can also visit accommodation on any of our Open Days.

I'm pleased to see a good handful of people have already accepted our offers.  If you're still thinking about it, we have another five Wednesday sessions to come and find out more.  Please book early to avoid disappointment!