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.

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.