University entrance examination

Did you think your grades were enough to put university and the world at your feet?

Did you think that your future happiness was guaranteed?

Think again.

See how you fare on the Entrance exam below.

Note: candidates should attempt all ten questions.

Time allowed: until you rock up to university

  1. What will my university do for me? And what will it not do?
  2. Where should I look for wisdom at university, where should I seek for those guiding principles that instruct on the art of living virtuously and happily?
  3. What is uppermost in my mind: the usefulness of the qualification I gain for my career path, or the sort of person I aspire to become by the end of my course? If the latter, what steps should I take to enable this transformation to take place?
  4. Will I grow up at university, if by ‘growing up’ is meant, not just being able to look after no. 1, but being able to look after others? Or is my guiding aim for uni’ simply ‘having a good time’?
  5. Do I feel uncomfortable with my life-principles and my faith, in living them out without the immediate support of my family or school, and in having to explain ‘the hope that lies within me’?
  6. Am I prepared to stand out from the crowd? Does ‘daring to be different’ fill me with dread, or does the challenge inspire me with a sense of adventure?
  7. Am I over-concerned about my health and diet? Am I engrossed with the well-being of my body, but not my mind, heart and soul? With polluting my body, and not with polluting my mind and my heart?
  8. Does my altruism only extend to the recycling of plastic bags and the occasional donation to a good cause, or am I prepared to give abundantly of my time?
  9. St John Paul II’s law of the gift states that ‘man does not find himself without a sincere gift of self’. On that score, am I preparing for a lifetime of self-discovery and self-donation?
  10. Where do I want to be in ten years’ time? In twenty? In forty? With a family and children? In an interesting and well-remunerated job? Having close friends who are loyal and supportive? What steps do I need to take now so as to develop my talents and establish a habit of virtuous behaviour that will enable me to achieve these goals?

In asking such questions, a student must surely realise that he or she is not the first to ponder these matters and that there is a long tradition of those who have thought deeply about them. Even to ask these questions entails assumptions about human nature – that we are responsible for the development of our own character – and a realisation that it is by means of cultivating human virtues that ideals and ambitions are achieved.

By contrast, those who simply look forward to throwing off the ‘shackles’ of home and school and to three or four years of pleasure-seeking are squandering their opportunities for personal enrichment in that crucial period of preparation for adulthood and its accompanying responsibilities.

In the transitional state of student existence, with its intoxicating mixture of newly-gained independence and relative absence of responsibility, the ordinary undergraduate will at some point reflect on and acquire guiding principles for life, a process which might entail consciously accepting or rejecting the guiding principles of his or her earlier formative years – or even coming to a judgement on the fact that they did not receive any guiding principles.

Those leaving home with a religious faith may well feel the difficulty of living it out in an environment that is hostile to religion without the immediate support of family or school, and perplexed at having to explain to others ‘the hope that lies within them’ (Peter 3:15). The challenge of standing out from the crowd was mitigated, if not postponed, at the confessional university of the mid-nineteenth century, but Newman was well aware of the need to prepare for life in the world: ‘Today a pupil, tomorrow a member of the great world: today confined to the Lives of the Saints, tomorrow thrown upon Babel’. (Idea of a university)

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