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Nine things to look for when comparing university courses

So you’ve decided on a subject to study at university, but there are so many courses to choose from – how do you pick just five for your Ucas form?

Don't worry if you're struggling to narrow down your university choices – there are plenty of things you can consider to make choosing a breeze. 

What to look for when comparing courses:

1. Entry requirements

Match the course entry requirements to your predicted grades to ensure you’re making realistic choices, based on what you’re likely to achieve – plus a back-up option in case you don’t quite get the grades you’re predicted.

You can search for courses based on your predicted grades or Ucas points here on The Uni Guide, to narrow down your search quickly. 

Why it’s useful: there wouldn't be much point in wasting all your choices on courses that you don't think you'll be able to meet the entry requirements for – whether that means you don't think you'll achieve the right grades or you haven't taken the specific qualifications it asks for. Making realistic choices gives you a much better chance of being offered a place. 

2. Type of university

Universities are clustered into groups, such as the Russell Group. These groups tell you something about the overarching ambitions of the university, but there are also much more obvious cultural differences between institutions that may sway your decision.

Some universities may have a particularly active political scene or reputation for sport, for instance, while others may have a really strong student union offering lots of societies and nightlife options. When you’re looking at universities on The Uni Guide, you’ll see that we’ve tagged them with specific characteristics, based on the location and what students said in our 2019 student survey.

Why it’s useful: you could be spending three or four years at this university. It’s about finding the best fit for you, based on your interests and values.

3. Location

Universities and colleges offering degrees differ hugely – from self-contained campuses where you can study, rest and play to urban settings where you’re slap bang in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city and have to travel in to lectures.

You should also think about your location right now. Do you plan to live at home and commute or have you set your search radius 50, 100 or 200+ miles away? What will the travelling be like and how much will it cost? 

This article on our sister site The Student Room goes into more detail about the differences between campus and city universities

Why it’s useful: if you’re looking for buzzing nightlife and end up on a sleepy self-contained campus (or vice versa), you may not get the experience you’re looking for. Go to an open day to get a feel for where you could be located.

4. Student satisfaction scores

All final-year students are asked to rate their course and university experience in the annual National Student Survey. The findings are often quoted as an overall satisfaction score but you can also find specific ratings such as teaching, feedback from staff and facilities. 

Why it’s useful: it can give you a glimpse into what students on the ground think about the course. Look for student scores on The Uni Guide course pages – we’ve analysed the levels of overall student satisfaction against other universities offering the same subject to be able to say whether the figure is high, typical or low.

5. How you’ll spend your time

Will you have a very structured timetable with lectures, seminars or practical work – or will you be expected to work independently in the library? What about placement year opportunities?

Teaching hours will also vary depending on the subject you’re applying for. For example there will probably be fewer timetabled hours on a history course than an engineering one, but you’ll be expected to study ‘self-guided’ the rest of the time.

Why it’s useful: comparing teaching hours and style of learning between similar courses at different universities should help you to find the best fit for you. 

6. Course content

Don’t skim read this! Look through the course information offered by the university and ask yourself if you can happily spend the next few years of your life committed to this course. Similar-sounding courses can actually end up covering very different areas, so reading the course content for each is a good point of comparison.

There will be core subjects that you have to do and optional subjects that you have a choice over – how flexible are these? Can you find lots of modules that sound appealing?

Why it’s useful: if you don’t like the course content, you will not like the course. And if you do not like the course you face a high chance of dropping out – so it's well worth doing your research.

7. How you’ll be assessed

Your degree could be assessed in lots of different ways – coursework, exams, practicals, presentations and group work. When comparing courses, take a look in detail at this to try and find the course that best plays to your academic strengths.

Why it’s useful: if your courses up until now have had a specific leaning towards one method of assessment – Btec qualifications often have a high coursework element to them, for instance – you may face a steep learning curve if you choose a course that heavily leans another way.

8. Graduate prospects

Find out what students are up to after they graduate from studying a subject at a particular university – including the percentage who are now in work or further study, the types of professions they’re working in and how much they’re earning.

On The Uni Guide course pages we’ve analysed these figures so you can see at a glance whether salaries and employment rates are high, typical or low compared to graduates of the same subject from other universities.

We also show average salary information over a longer period (one, three and five years after graduating). 

Why it’s useful: some fields require you to get some experience under your belt before you see a bump up in salary (so don’t be put off if the initial graduate salary for a subject is low). A good example is performing arts, where spots are competitive and you need to work your way up before you see a difference in your pay.

9. Professional accreditation

For certain subjects, such as acting or psychology, choosing a course that’s been accredited by a relevant body will ensure you’re work-ready or able to progress straight into the appropriate postgraduate course – this will give you a headstart when it comes to getting into a specific profession.

Why it’s useful: you don’t want to end up on a course which could make it more difficult to achieve your ultimate career goals. 

  • Read more: still can't decide? Weigh up these academic factors when deciding on a uni course

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