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Why Iím delighted that I chose to study in a small(er) university

For my master's I took a big risk by choosing a course and university that no one in my family had ever heard of before. And it paid off. Here is why.
BY Skendha Singh |   30-11-2020

Dr. Stewart
Dr. Stewart (in black) attends a poetry reading by the students in 2013. Picture credit: Skendha Singh

When you’re trying to figure out the right fit in terms of university, the first stop in your research might be either rankings or reputation. You consider the top 10 or 20 universities in your country/course of choice, find out the entry requirements, and weigh every quantifiable measure, just so that you can make the best possible decision for your future. You want your decision to work with the accuracy of a mathematical equation.

In 2012, I was no different.

The dream of studying creative writing abroad had become a passion. I was spending hours scanning Times Higher Education, the QS World University Rankings, and even Wikipedia. My search was made easier because I had decided on a country (UK) and course (creative writing not English literature or journalism or mass communications) already.

Although I had narrowed the playing field, there remained a great many lists to scan. However, few names would come up frequently: Universities of East Anglia, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Warwick. Each had famous graduates, a sterling arts and humanities department, and highly competitive entry requirements. Then, in one of my searches, another name popped up - the University of Dundee.

This was a small(er) university. And even though I had never before heard of it, I felt drawn to it for several reasons. Instinctively, it felt right to me. I applied and was accepted. Today, even seven years after graduation, I am glad to have made that decision. Here are the reasons why.

One, Dundee had a small department and that meant robust personal connections. Right from the time I was submitting my portfolio to when I was packing my cartons, a member of the faculty or staff always made time for me. The professors knew each student by name, they remembered our interests and our submissions. They were always accessible in class, during the tutorials, and at times even during lunches. A few of my favourite memories are walking with the late Dr. Jim Stewart to DCA for a bowl of soup. We would talk about everything from the Loch Ness monster to vegetarian burgers to poetry. If you are a novice in any field, you will recognise how special it is to be connected in this way to a mentor.

Two, constructive criticism. Since our professors knew our work intimately even before we submitted our first papers – they were able to give us detailed feedback, personalised reading lists, and talk to us about how our work might improve. They genuinely cared about how we were responding to material, whether we were showing up for the literary salons they went to great lengths to organize, and how we were growing. There was nothing too small for their attention when it came to our portfolios and submissions. For instance, I have never since used ‘gotten’ anywhere but in a WhatsApp chat. That's thanks to Prof. Kirsty Gunn who once talked about the absurdity of the word during a writing seminar. This was the attention to detail that my coursemates and I tried to imbibe. And it's what elevated our work subsequently.

Outside university, it helped to live in Dundee. For a wide-eyed and inexperienced traveller like me, it was helpful to walk to class, then to lunch, and back to my room or the next class without having to figure out the public transport system. It also slowed my way of life to a pace that I enjoyed. Dundee is a lovely city – sunny, as the brochures will always point out, with gorgeous views of the silvery Tay, and the Law Hill.

Four, even though the GBP had risen dramatically against the rupee in 2012, as it has again in 2020, living in Scotland was more affordable for an international student. And Dundee was obviously more economical than an Edinburgh or even an Aberdeen might have been. I saved on rent, groceries, and obviously commute, even while paying those stupendous international student fees.

Finally, I’m grateful for the relationships. I’m still in touch with many of my friends from Dundee, and a couple of my professors as well. Our friendships are founded on common interests and philosophies that transcend many boundaries.

Looking back, the Dundee experience was what I most needed then. A large, impersonal classroom with seminars might have overwhelmed me. Or if I lived in a city where the commute was a big ask. The intimate space which Dundee provided, in the city, the university, and the classroom made it possible for me to nurture both my creativity and confidence. So, if you're starting to think about this important decision, don't just buy any metric. The deciding factor should be what you need from the next one, two, or more years of your life.

I hope you find your Dundee. Good luck!
 

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