Which university is right for you?
Know which subject you want to take, but haven't got a clue which university to study your degree at? Here are some key things to factor into your research, with advice from Charlie Ball, head of higher education intelligence for graduate careers experts Prospects at Jisc.
1. The courseUse the course or subject area you want to study as a sensible 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. And will you have the right predicted grades to meet the university's entry requirements?
Charlie Ball, head of higher education intelligence for graduate careers experts Prospects at Jisc, says it's worth bearing in mind that "there's no national syllabus for university courses. 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 eight UK universities offering it, narrowing your options straight away. On the other hand, if you want to study something like business, there are over 170 universities to pick from, not to mention different types of business degree.
The entry requirements. There's no point applying to a course if you're not likely to meet the requirements they've set out as absolutely essential. These are usually minimum Ucas points or grades in particular subjects, but there can be more than meets the eye.
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.
If you're not sure what to study yet, see our article on choosing your ideal degree course.
2. The locationAnother way of narrowing down your options is by deciding whereabouts you want to live.
Graduate careers expert Charlie from Prospects at Jisc, advises that "students tend to remain in the area that they studied in after graduating," 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?
3. The open day experienceA really good way to suss out whether it’s the right kind of university for you is to head to an open day.
Even if in-person open days aren't running at the moment because of coronavirus, you'll still be able to get plenty out of virtual open days. The content of a virtual open day will differ depending on the university, but will probably include things like campus video tours, online Q&As and talks.
If you are able to attend any Q&A sessions, 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.?
- How has the university coped with coronavirus-related closures and social distancing guidlines? Are students satisfied with any online teaching, and how have extracurriculars such as clubs and societies managed to keep running?
Try to speak to both staff and students for a rounded picture of university life there.
Charlie highlights that you should "consider what the accommodation options are like as 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," Charlie comments.
You could also look at The Student Room forum for your chosen university to ask questions and get honest opinions from current students.
4. University reputationLeague tables, parents, teachers, careers advisers - all may offer suggestions about which universities are the most prestigious and which ones will guarantee you a bright future, but ultimately the definition of a ‘good’ university varies from person to person and employer to employer and will differ according to your subject area.
While it can be useful to refer to league tables and check out graduate employment rates, ultimately the best university for you is one that offers a course you enjoy and gets you thinking, with lecturers who inspire you, in an area you like living in, and people you like living with.
5. The environmentSearch for a university based on the type of location and environment you’re interested in, and explore things to do, living costs and university options in the most popular student cities to find your perfect home for the next few years.
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.
6. The cost of livingTuition 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 – and some places are far pricier than others. Here are some questions to ask yourself relating to money matters:
- 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.
Watch now: In this video YouTuber Ali Obeid gives tips on picking the right university for you.