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Which university is right for you?

Not sure which university to choose? Be sure to factor these things into your research...

Choosing where to go to university is a really important decision – it's going to be your home for the next three years, after all. Here are some key things to factor into your research, along with advice from graduate careers experts Prospects.

See which universities offer degrees in your subject area with our course search.

1. The course

Use the course or subject area you want to study as a starting point in your university search. Things to consider:

The course content. Which areas of your subject are you really keen to study? Courses can vary widely between universities, so it’s a good idea to dig into the detail and ask yourself which courses cater best to your interests.

"There's no national syllabus for university courses," says Charlie Ball, head of higher education intelligence at graduate careers experts Prospects. "This means it’s important to check that the modules you are interested in are covered."

Do all universities offer the course you’re interested in? If you want to study veterinary science, for instance, there are only a handful of UK universities offering it, narrowing your options straight away. On the other hand, if you want to study something like business, there are over 120 universities to pick from, not to mention different types of business degree.

The entry requirements. You'll want to focus your application on courses where you've got a good chance of meeting the essential entry requirements, such as minimum Ucas points or grades in particular subjects. What other possibilities are available? Find out about what the university has to offer when it comes to:
  • Opportunities to study abroad for a year.
  • Strong connections with your future industry.
  • Sandwich or placement options that'll look great on your CV.
  • Modern facilities (labs, studios, specialist equipment) that will help enhance your course experience and learning.
"Look for courses that include work experience," says Charlie. "You'll really appreciate that when you graduate.

"Also look at whether you can do the extracurricular activities that interest you as this is a hugely important part of your personal development."

2. The location

Another way of narrowing down your options is by deciding where you want to live.

"Students tend to remain in the area that they studied in after graduating," says Charlie. So it's worth checking that you like the town or city where you might live and work in the future.  

Do you want to stay at home (or close to home), or fancy heading to the other end of the country? Always had your sights set on a big city with buzzing nightlife like London or Manchester, or would you rather be walking distance from the beach or countryside? Our university search page can be helpful for narrowing things down.

3. The open day experience

A really good way to suss out whether it’s the right kind of university for you is to head to an open day. When you're there, ask questions to build up a sense of what the university is like, such as:
  • Where will my lectures be based?
  • What are the accommodation options and how close are they?
  • What are the transport links like? How long does it take to get on campus from halls?
  • What’s the local nightlife and culture like in a regular year? Where are the 'studenty' areas?
  • What are the university social activities like?
  • What are the general facilities like – the library, the cafeteria, the students’ union etc? 
Try to speak to both staff and students for a rounded picture of university life there.

"Consider what the accommodation options are like," says Charlie. "You are going to be spending a lot of money on it, and it matters."

In addition, it's worth looking "at how good the student support services are as you never know when you might need them, and if you need them, you might really need them," says Charlie.

Take a look at our sister site The Student Room's forum for your chosen university to see what current students are saying about what it's really like to study there. 

4. The environment

University environments vary hugely, from self-contained campuses or ‘student villages’ with everything you need for living and studying in one place, to lecture theatres and student facilities scattered across a large city.

Campus universities may have more of a community feel, while you might feel more independent at a university with its lectures and housing more spread out.

Even if you pick a university based in a city, it doesn’t necessarily mean lectures will be slap bang in the middle of the action – look into where you'll actually be spending most of your time.

5. The cost of living

Tuition fees of up to £9,250 a year may sound like a lot of money, but when you’re actually at university it will be your day-to-day living and accommodation costs where you’ll notice the drain on your bank account. Some places are far pricier than others: here are some questions to consider.
  • How much will your accommodation cost each term? That’s private housing costs as well as halls, as this is where you’re likely to be spending your post-fresher years.
  • How much will you need for travel? If you’re going to rely on peak-time trains or buses to get to lectures, you’ll need to check out ticket prices. Don’t forget your student discount.
  • What extras will you be expected to pay as part of the course? Materials and field trip costs aren't (usually) included as part of your tuition fee and will differ from uni to uni.
What sort of flexible part-time job opportunities are there for students in the area or at the university? The university’s student services team should be able to give you an idea.​​​​

6. University reputation

When it comes to universities, everybody's got an opinion. Parents, teachers, careers advisers: they'll all be happy to share their take on the prestige (or otherwise) of your preferred unis. Getting advice from other people can be helpful, but you might sometimes want to take it with a pinch of salt.

It's a similar story with league tables. These can be handy when you're checking details such as subject rankings and graduate employment rates, but take care with how you interpret this data. Ultimately, if the university is ticking all the right boxes for you on the other points listed above, that's a pretty good sign it should go on your application form.

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