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Uni applicant diaries: students reveal their application secrets

How do you narrow those Ucas choices down to just five? Year 13 student Ruby asked current uni students how they did it (and if these tactics paid off)...

So it's September, Year 13 is already no walk in the park and that Ucas deadline is looming in the background. And the worst part? Shortlisting just five choices for your Ucas application…

With so many courses to choose from, how are we meant to choose? I sought out some friends who've been through this to get some advice.


You'll want to find a course that you'll enjoy for the next three to four years of your life. If you don't like a particular component of your subject, don't choose a course that features it heavily:
I used university websites and Ucas’ breakdown of what was offered to choose my course. But now I wish I’d picked an acting and writing combo course instead – I should have emailed [the university] as it was unclear if this was offered on the website. 

  Harrison, Creative Writing With English Literature Student At Canterbury Christchurch University
It's really important to thoroughly research the course content and what's on offer – It could make or break the uni for you:
I wish I had asked a bit more about the content of my course. I was sold on the subject (Modern Languages) and the possibility for a year abroad; but I didn’t realise that I would have to take compulsory modules in interpreting, for example. Luckily this didn’t bother me, but some of my peers dropped out of the course because of this. Kathryn, Modern Foreign Languages Student At University Of Newcastle

University ranking

You'll also want to make sure you're getting the best education possible for your grades (and the £9,000+ a year in tuition fees you’ll be paying). 

League tables can be a good place to start your research; but that said, don't get too hung up on them:
Realistically, a university ranked 11th compared to one ranked 20th is not going to offer a drastically different teaching level. 
  Emily, Biochemistry Student At Bath University
The course content offered at each university could vary massively. So make sure that you like what is offered, rather than the position of the university in a league table. Also, make sure you understand what the ranking you're looking at is for exactly:
I chose open days based on the reputation of the universities, and their ranking in league tables for my particular course (rather than just the university as a whole – a very important difference).
  Kathryn, Modern Foreign Languages Student At University Of Newcastle
There's no point choosing a university that's fourth in the overall league tables, but 40th in the table for your chosen subject. 


It may seem like a great idea to get as far away as possible from your family who are driving you crazy at the minute (and we all want the freedom and independence that being away from home can offer). But being hours and hours away from home isn’t for everyone, and could dampen your enjoyment of uni life:
When I broke my foot and needed some help, I suddenly realised how far away my parents were.  Charlotte, Fine Art Student At Canterbury Christchurch University 
Also, consider whether you would prefer a campus-based or city-based uni. London seems an attractive idea to many but the cost of accommodation should also factor in your decision:
If I were applying again, I would pay more attention to the student accommodation available outside of halls. Depending on which city you’re in, the prices and quality can be quite drastic.
  Emily, Biochemistry Student At Bath University

Student satisfaction and job prospects

Look at things like student satisfaction scores to see how recent students enjoyed their time at that university as well as grades:
I mostly focused on grades rather than satisfaction or job prospects, so I wish I had looked at those a little more.
  Georgia Page, Integrated Masters In Zoology Student At University Of Southampton
Graduate employment rates are also worth a look:
I didn’t pay huge attention to league tables. However, I did pay attention to stats on the number of students getting a job in the first six months after graduating. 
  Emily, Biochemistry Student At Bath University
Remember, our university profiles and course profiles show student satisfaction and graduate employment scores.

Extra-curricular activities

While the academic side of university is fundamental, you need some downtime, too. Extra-curricular activities are a fantastic way to de-stress, socialise and make friends:
Extracurricular activities were important for me because of my musical background! As important as academic lifestyle is, it’s also important for me to enjoy a fulfilling life while I’m here.
  Josie, English Literature Student At Queen Mary University Of London

Other opportunities

For example, do you want to study a year abroad?
My year abroad started terribly but ended fantastically. I was scared to continue with it but ended up not wanting to come home. I would definitely recommend the year abroad as long as you’re going for the right reasons.
  Kathryn, Modern Foreign Languages Student At University Of Newcastle 
Or would you like a course that offers a placement year?
I really enjoyed my placement year. It was a good taster of what life will be like once I finish my course. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who can do it. I gained experience relevant to my field and the job industry in general.
  Alex, Biochemistry Student At University Of Bath
If you're looking for a way to narrow your choices down, opportunities like these could be a good way to find the 'cherry on top' which sets apart some unis from others.

Final takeaways: how students chose their course

Relax. It’s not as scary as it seems. Try to go to open days and look through university websites to get a real idea of each one and which one you think will fit you best.
  Harrison, Creative Writing With English Literature Student At Canterbury Christchurch University
Open days are what sold Bath to me. You really get a feel for the atmosphere, teaching style and lifestyle which can actually be quite different depending on where you go.

Also, it’s not all about the league tables.
  Emily, Biochemistry Student At Bath University
Don’t just choose unis that are lower than your expected grades, as on results day I got some grades that were higher than my predicted ones. Apply to a university with a slightly higher entry requirement – it might have motivated me to work that little bit extra to secure a place.

  Phoenix Page, Sport And Exercise Science Student At The University Of Portsmouth
Go with your instinct. I ended up choosing the place that I felt most at home and I’ve been so happy there.
  Charlotte, Fine Art Student At Canterbury Christchurch University

So what's the number one thing we've learned…

Be informed – you can't do enough research! 

Yes it’s hard to the find time to look up each university in-depth, what with endless amounts of homework, coursework and every other thing that school throws at us. But you'll be better off for it in the long run if you can.

Good luck with your decision!

Before you can shortlist, you need to begin your search: try our course search now

About Ruby

Ruby is a Year 13 student, studying English literature, French, early-modern history and theatre studies. Ruby is interested in becoming a journalist when she's older. In her free time, she likes to sing, dance, act and read.

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