By Michael Hart
- With over 100 universities in the UK, offering thousands of different courses, choosing the right one can at first seem like a daunting task!
Choosing a university is a big and important decision, which about half a million students in the UK make every year, so it needs to be given a lot of thought. With so many to choose from, there are sure to be some that are more-suited to you than others: everyone is different, and so is every university. This guide will outline all the main factors that you need to consider, and will offer useful tips and advice on how to go about your search.
Getting Started . . .
Firstly, it is important to think about whether going to university is the right thing for you. University is not suited to everyone, and after the increase in tuition fees, university has become more expensive. This has resulted in many people considering other options, such as studying a distance-learning course. This has become increasingly popular, with more than 200,000 students now studying with the Open University! Other post-18 options include employment, apprenticeships, or taking a gap year to travel the world or volunteer.
If you do decide that university is the right path for you, then first discuss it with your friends, family, teachers and careers advisers. They will be able to offer you great advice and point you in the right direction. Find out when the deadline is for submitting your application through UCAS, and make sure you know your predicted grades, as all universities have entry requirements.
The University . . .
Once you know your predicted grades and have your mind set on going to university, a good place to start searching would be the university league tables. You can find league tables published on the websites of The Guardian and The Times newspapers, which will provide you with a list of all the universities in the UK, ranked on many different factors including teaching standards, facilities, and student satisfaction. It is also important to look at subject league tables, as some universities which are ranked lower on the main list, may be ranked highly for a particular subject. This will give you a starting point from which you can narrow down your list of universities!
Next, it is important to do lots of online research. University websites will provide you with more detailed information, and you will also be able to order prospectuses and book open days. Going to visit the universities you are interested in is really important, as they may seem very different to how they appear online. Open days will allow you to get a feel for what it is like: you should make the most of your visit, by imagining what it would be like to study there, taking tours of the campus, and asking lots of questions to current students and lecturers.
Aside from the online research and open days, there are a few more general things you need to consider. Firstly, think about whether you would prefer a small or large university. Some have over 30,000 students (such as the University of Manchester, and Sheffield Hallam), whilst others have fewer than 5,000 (including Falmouth University and the University of Buckingham). You may prefer somewhere quieter, with fewer students and smaller class-sizes, or you may prefer somewhere busy, where there are hundreds of other people studying your course. Secondly, the type of university is also something to think about: some universities are more established and traditional, whilst others are new, and have modern facilities. Also bear in mind that some universities are based on a campus (such as Exeter and Bath), whilst others have buildings spread around the city (such as Portsmouth). With all of these factors, it is important to think about what would suit you best as an individual.
The Location . . .
It is not just choosing the university itself that is important: the location is also vital, as this is where you will be living for the next few years of your life! Think about what sort of place you want to live in, and make sure that you visit the city or town the university is in: spend a few hours walking around and exploring, and see if you can imagine yourself living there. Some people may prefer going to university far away from home, whilst others may prefer to study somewhere closer, or might even continue living at home and travel to university each day. It is also important to consider whether you would like to live in a city, town, or the countryside. Also, think about the facilities there, and make sure that it has everything you were hoping for. For example, some people may want to be based in a city where there are theatres, art galleries, sports facilities or shopping facilities, and for many, nightlife will be a very important factor!
The Course . . .
Equally important, is choosing the right course. This is a huge part of the overall university experience, so make sure you pick a course that you enjoy and are passionate about. Think about which sort of university courses are linked to your A-levels or other qualifications, as this will enable you to choose a course that you are well-suited to. However, you don’t necessarily have to study something directly related to your A-levels, as there are thousands of different courses to choose from, many of which you probably didn’t even know existed! Most importantly, make sure you research your course in detail, and ask as many questions as you can on open days.
Also, ensure that your chosen course will lead to the kind of career options that you are hoping for. Some courses (such as nursing) will have a clear and direct career path, whilst others will not. For example, more traditional academic subjects such as Maths, English, History and Geography could lead to a wide range of careers. Finally, think about what other opportunities you might want from your course. Not all courses are just based on lectures; some offer the chance to go on fieldtrips, undertake work experience placements, or a year abroad in another university. Doing detailed research will enable you to choose your perfect course, as well as just the right university.
Top tips . . .
Whilst having to choose a university from so many options may still seem like a daunting task, it will become easier the more you think about it and the more research you do. Going on open days will allow you to get a feel for each university which will really help to make your decisions. Also, remember to keep an open mind when searching; you may end up choosing a completely different university, or studying a different course to what you first thought!
Choosing the right university is often a long process which requires a lot of thought, and is unique to every individual. The three major factors to consider are the university itself, the location, and the course. So if a university ticks these three boxes, then it is probably right for you!