12 Things to consider when choosing a university

Apr 29, 2020

As I’m sure you already know, choosing a university is one of the toughest decisions of your academic life. 

I remember going through exactly the same process myself. Did it have a good reputation for the course I wanted to do? Can I make the grades?

What’s the city like? 

All these questions just made the decision more overwhelming and, initially, it was hard to narrow it down to one definitive place.

So if you’re like me, don’t worry! Let’s dive in and I’ll show you the 12 things to consider when choosing a university. 

#1: University Website

This might seem like an obvious starting point but checking out the university website can give you great insights into what the university is like. There are often Q and A’s with academics and students. There are student blogs giving you a realistic view of what life is like there. 

I’d also recommend ordering a prospectus from every university you’re considering applying for, as this will go into more depth than what you will find on a website. 

#2: League Tables

This gives a clear indication of how well universities are performing well at the moment. They use many metrics, such as graduate prospects, student satisfaction and entry requirements so you can dig deeper into what makes each university successful. 

I’d recommend using “The Complete University Guide” which is broken down into a comprehensive ranking for each subject. You can see how they rank depending on which metric is important to you.

However, it is important to only use league tables for guidelines. Every league table will look different as it will use different weightings and categories.

Rankings fluctuate every year and employers are unlikely to know precise rankings. They often judge a university on reputation, such as whether it is a Russell-Group university. Certain employers will also have a history of only employing from certain universities.

#3: Choosing the right course

A recent study by a major job board found out that 44% of students regret their subject choice. Therefore, this is probably the biggest decision to consider when choosing a university. 

Make sure the university you want to go to has a strong reputation in your specific subject. You can find this out on open days or by using student forums such as “The Student Room”. 

You can also research universities by departments and find out what kind of facilities they have. 

If you’re keen to go into the likes of banking, accountancy or insurance, doing a numerate degree such as maths or economics would be advisable.

 If you know what you want to do after university but want to find out what course would help to get you there, why not visit Undergraduate courses | Undergraduate Guides

All you need to do is enter a job or industry you’re interested in and it will give you immediate matches to corresponding university courses.

#4: Think about choosing a course with a placement year

If you know what you want to do after university, why not pick a course that offers a placement year in your third year? 

This will give you invaluable experience into what life is like outside university in your chosen profession. It will place you significantly further ahead of most graduates in your position once you’re applying after university. 

One of my good friends decided to take a placement year in a trading firm in Leeds before returning for the final year.

When it came to applying after university, he was the only graduate in his university to get a place at the prestigious investment bank, Goldman Sachs. He said many times that if it wasn’t for his placement year, he wouldn’t have had a sniff of even getting an interview at Goldman Sachs (let alone a job!) 

➡️Read: How to get a job offer before graduation

 #5: Course content

This leads us to the next point, course content. This is essential to look into as courses can vary dramatically from university to university. For example, the Economics course I studied at Bristol was a lot more maths based than equivalent courses at other universities. This suited me as I was never a big fan of writing long essays!

You can find out the course content on university websites. If it’s still not clear, feel free to get in contact with them and they’ll be more than willing to offer some guidance.

There’s a great site called whatuni.com that can help you compare courses at any university in the UK. They also have a university rating section with thousands of honest reviews from current and former university students. 

#6: Entry requirements

It goes without saying that you should pick a university course that has entry requirements that are in line with your predicted grades. However, far too many students pick an “insurance” choice that, well, isn’t really enough of an “insurance” choice. 

Make sure your “back-up” university choice requires you needing less than your predicted grades. The last thing you want is to be left without a university at all and having to do resits. 

➡️Read: What is clearing? 

#7: Find out about student accommodation

Looking into student accommodation is key. Some universities are campus-based, like the University of Nottingham, whereas some are based in different areas around the city, like the University of Bristol. You may also want to be in a catered hall rather than a self-catered one. 

This link here provides you with a full guide of all you need to know about student accommodation:

➡️Read: What you need to know about student accommodation

What you’d prefer varies from person to person. A campus-based university feels more like a community and makes it easier to navigate your way around. A non-campus university gives you more freedom.  Once you’ve had a look round you’ll get a feel as to what feels like “home”.

#8: Go to as many open days as possible!

This is the single most important thing to do to get an idea of whether you’d enjoy studying there. You can read up as much as you like about a university but the only way you get a feel for what it is like is to go to an open day. 

It’s always going to be an action-packed day with lots of things for students to do, so make sure you plan ahead.

You will be able to go to talks about the subjects you’re interested in. This will give you insights into what it’s like to study there and what the contents of the course will be. 

Try and make sure to ask for some pointers from the admissions tutor. Find out how to make your application stand out and the key things to include in your application. 

It will also give you a chance to have a look around campus to take in what the university would really be like and whether you could see yourself there. You can check out all the facilities as well as the extracurricular activities that are available.

Don’t forget to take some time to look around the city, as this will be a huge part of your overall university experience. You could even go up after on a non-open day to get a real experience of what the university is like.

➡️ Find out more about university open days on UCAS (The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). 

Photo from Pexels

#9: Student Experience

It’s hard to define “student experience”. But I always think of it in terms of what the lifestyle is like for the average student and what makes it different from other universities. 

Do you want to live in a small university-based town or a big city? Do you want a university that is spread out across the city, or one that is more traditional and collegiate based, such as Durham? These are important things to consider when choosing a university given you’ll be spending at least 3 years there and are often overlooked by students.

I studied at Bristol University, and, personally, I preferred the middle ground Bristol had to offer. It was a buzzing city with a lot going on for young people, but it was small enough that you could walk everywhere to give it that homely feel. 

➡️Read How to Enjoy University Life – 7 Top Tips to show you how to make the most of your student experience.

 #10: Check out sports and societies

Do some research into what facilities your university has. Certain universities are known for having phenomenal sports facilities, such as Loughborough and Bath. Baths University’s football team have even famously appeared in the FA Cup first round. 

Take a look at this link to see what some of the best sports facilities at a university can look like:

➡️Read: Loughborough Sports Facilities

Also, be sure to check out the societies available while at an open day (see section 8). If you can’t find the society you’re looking for, don’t worry you can always start it once you’re there!

things to consider when choosing a university - guys playing rugby.
Photo from Pexels

 #11: Distance

Weighing up how far away your university is can be significant. Given how high tuition fees are today, some of you may want to save money and live at home. 

Even if you do want to get as far away from your parents as humanly possible, it may be advisable to not go somewhere too far away as, after all, your poor parents are probably the ones having to help you cart up all your stuff every year!

As fun as university is, you’ll be amazed how much you’ll appreciate the odd, refreshing weekend back at home to recharge the batteries.

Speaking as someone who came from London, I felt it was very important to get out for a few years and study elsewhere. I knew I was likely to head straight back to London afterwards in search of a job, so why not try out somewhere else?

#12: Cost

The final thing to consider when choosing a university is cost. The cost of living can vary dramatically from place to place in the UK. It goes without saying that London is by far the most expensive city to live in. Anything in the South-East will generally be more expensive.

For example, the average pint in London costs £5.18 whilst in Liverpool it’s a more reasonable £3.27. Wherever you go though, there will always be the student union where prices are made to be affordable for students. 

However, do not let the cost of living somewhere put you off too much. Your education should always be your number 1 priority and will be what helps you get a great job afterwards.

You will have your NUS card which can give you discounts on everything from clothing to meals out or even a free burger at Mcdonalds! This was a lifesaver for me during university!

➡️ Read: 7 Money saving tips for university students

Summary: things to consider when choosing a university

So, we’ve gone through quite a lot here so let’s cap things off to finish!

In chronological order, I think that the 3 most important things to consider when choosing a university are: course quality and content, a strong reputation and overall student experience.

Once you can, I’d recommend booking in as many open days as possible.

Now you’ve finished reading this, why not go and order yourself a few prospectuses from University Prospectuses to get the ball rolling? 

Written by Oliver Jenne

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