With more than 100 universities in the UK and thousands of courses to choose from, it's no wonder that even when you've compiled a shortlist, narrowing down your options of which universities to apply to is challenging.
Picking a university isn’t just about looking at what courses are available; you’ll also want to know what the lecturers are like, where you’ll be living, how much travel will cost, and much more. Since you’ll be spending at least three years of your life at university, choosing the right one is pretty important.
Here are some things to consider when thinking about which university is right for you:
Speak to current students
Try to visit the universities you're considering. As well as finding out about different courses and the uni itself, you’ll have the opportunity to ask current students and staff questions. This will give you a real feel for the place. Their tone and enthusiasm can be even more useful than the content of their answer in giving you a sense of the atmosphere at the university.
If you can't travel to visit a university, you could think about contacting their admissions departments or members of staff. Communicating with an academic and asking about course content or reading recommendations is a good way to find out how well the course suits your interests.
You can discover more about the culture and life outside the classroom by having a look at the students’ union and support services. This will give you a good indication of how well students' interests are represented, the general values of the university, and how well you’ll fit in.
Research your course
Outlines of the modules available on different courses and whether there is a fixed or flexible approach to what you’ll study will be available online. Compare courses at different universities and find out which appeal to you most, in terms of content and choice. The outlines may also indicate the style of assessment, the balance between exams and coursework, and whether there will be more individual or group work. If you’re able to work in the way that best suits you, this will reduce stress, keep you motivated, and help you to achieve better marks.
You could also research whether there are extra-curricular activities linked to your subject. If your subject has a society associated with it, this shows that students are engaged and enthusiastic enough about the department to independently organise further activities.
Location: campus vs. city
Whether a university is city or campus based is an important consideration, and one that is down to personal preference. A campus can offer convenience, a community feel, and a safe starting point if it's your first time living away from home. Everything is in one place and within easy reach. But some people prefer to live and study in the hustle-bustle of a big city university. The choice is down to you.
University money matters
Finance is also a key factor when choosing a university. Will travel home be easy and affordable, and will you be able to afford the cost of living in your chosen location? Don't forget that you’ll receive a higher maintenance loan if you study in London to help cover the inflated cost of rent, food, and other essentials.
Reputation and future employment
League tables can be useful indicators, but looking beyond the face value of the data can also be helpful, especially if you search for universities that are rapidly improving their league table position. Don't forget that league tables can also be misleading - data for newer courses might not be a good representation of a department, and low departmental spending this year might be because of high investment in previous years. Try looking at student satisfaction as well – the National Student Survey and the THE Student Experience Survey are good starting points.
Most importantly, it’s got to feel right
A good reputation and high league table position might not translate into great grades and employability if you’re not happy. Choosing the university that 'feels right' for you, even if it has a lower reputation, is more likely to motivate you to get involved in university life, work hard, gain experience and skills, and ultimately make yourself more employable.