Flicking through the pages of every stacked prospectus you’ve managed to claim is an exciting and eye-opening experience. It sets your sights for the amazing journey that is yet to come. Gorgeous, grand buildings; unique opportunities to get involved in, and the glimmering hopes of the big future ahead of you.
The world lies ahead before you. However, with around 130 universities in the UK, many of which will likely be offering courses in the discipline you wish to study, how do you pick the right one for you?
Yes, you’ve got various grade requirements to separate some of them for you. But there are plenty of other aspects to consider before selecting your perfect new home. Here, I’ve selected some of the most important factors, and also some factors to overlook.
Sure, most universities will advertise the same course name, but that does not mean that they are anything alike. Or that you will even enjoy them all. Here are some questions to consider when exploring each course in more detail:
How rigid or versatile is the course?
Is the course strict to set modules, or does it give you the freedom to tailor your degree to what interests you the most? Most universities will give you a typical outline of what the course looks like and the various modules on offer, so have a look and think about whether you’ll be happy studying all (or most of) these disciplines.
When I was at university, I was able to choose all of my modules for my second and third years from a huge list of options. I found that the further I got into my studies, my interest in some areas had excelled and in other areas had flattened. This, therefore, allowed me to bypass the disciplines I found tedious and really enjoy and delve deep into the ones I had fallen more in love with. It had a massive impact on how much I enjoyed my time at university and most likely ensured I did my best in assessments too.
What about assessment procedures?
Out of coursework and exam, is there one assessment method that suits you better? I can assure you when you’re stressed and sleep-deprived from the workload, later on, you will be thanking yourself for considering this.
Assessment methods don’t always vary massively depending on what subject you’re studying. For example, with Maths and Science, you probably won’t be able to escape exams all that much. But for other areas, like Arts and Humanities, it can. I managed to bypass exams completely and opted for a course with 100% coursework (other courses in the same subject took a 60/40 split). For someone who blanks and panics when put on the spot, this was absolutely the right structure for me.
It isn’t just the university and campus to decide on. At some point, you’re going to venture further outside and it’s got to be an atmosphere that you feel safe and comfortable in.
What kind of vibe does it boast?
If partying and nightlife is right up your street, maybe Newcastle or Manchester is the best spot for you. More of a chilled person? Perhaps the likes of Norwich, Bath or Keele. You’ll be surprised by how much the location will add to your experience. Have a close look into what each city offers and its own unique quirks.
What about the cost of living there?
Can you afford to splash out in Oxford and York? An occasional expensive night out might not be too lethal to your bank account, but your second and third year will likely be spent living off-campus – would you be able to afford the average rent prices? Money worries are one of the worst things to be faced with during university, so it’s best to nip any unnecessary obstacles in the bud before you’ve even set foot there.
University Facilities and Union
It’s important to assess the university and campus in terms of the places that will actually matter. For example, you’ll be spending a great deal of your time studying in the library, so make it one you actually like the atmosphere of and thrive in.
Whether it be gyms, pubs, coffee shops or nature that relaxes and de-stresses you, have a look into what each university has to offer and which will make you feel the most at home.
What about the student body, values, and societies?
Do they offer societies you feel excited about getting involved with? What about their general values? Whether it be climate change, diversity, animal welfare or social politics, you’re going to want to make your new home a place where you can actually feel like you belong, alongside meeting like-minded friends for life.
… And What’s Not So Important?
Going where your other friends are going.
It’s completely understandable. You’re moving to a strange place, away from home and all your childhood comforts – you’re going to want at least one familiar face around. But trust me, everyone else will be in the same position as you. Everyone is so open and eager to make friends from the second they move there, you’ll soon create your own familiarity. A lot sooner than you think.
Where the university ranks on league tables.
It’s certainly flattering to tell people you’re going to ‘a top 20 university’, but it’s more of a pride thing than anything else. League tables aren’t something to take at complete face value. Objectively, yes, there may be some truth and logic behind where each university fares. Subjectively, it may not mean that the higher-ranked universities are the best ones for you. I’m a firm believer that university is what you make of it – the opportunities, new hobbies, people you meet.
How pretty it looks.
I’ll admit, some stunning architecture certainly encouraged me to pick up that university’s prospectus first. It’ll also make some impressive Instagram posts. But when you find yourself pulling your hair out over an exam for a subject you really don’t like, the beauty of the building won’t really matter to you then.
We hope that we’ve managed to provide some helpful insight into picking the perfect university for you. Have an open mind, make some visits and really take the time to consider what most matters to you!