As UCAS news arrives and firm and insurance acceptances have to be decided on, students across the country are asking the same question: “how do I choose a university?” If you are one of the many applicants lucky enough to have received offers from more than one university, decision time is approaching fast. Some students have known from the beginning that a specific university was their first choice, but others will have applied to several without a clear idea of which they would most like to attend.
Some students will have been rejected from their first choice uni and now have to decide which of their remaining choices to put first. Every university provides shiny prospectuses and websites bursting with information, but how on earth do you choose where is the best place to spend the next three or four years of your life? Use our top tips to help you decide.
Take a Campus Tour
Many students will only have attended one or two open days, or won’t have found the time to actually visit any of the universities they have applied to. Now, as offers start to arrive, is the time to think seriously about paying a visit to some of the universities where you have been offered a place. Don’t worry if you’ve missed the open days – you can always join a campus tour throughout the year at most universities, and if not, even just going and having a wander around can really help you get a feel for the place.
Get a feel for the area
It is amazing how much of a sense you can get of whether a university will be right for you just by being there and experiencing the atmosphere. Some students prefer an enclosed, busy campus, whilst others prefer a collegiate feel or a uni that’s more integrated and spread out through a busy town. Going to visit is your best shot at seeing what it would be like to live and study there.
Ask current students
Asking current students about their experience of a university is a brilliant way to get first-hand information to help you make up your mind. If you are there on a visit, don’t be afraid to approach students and ask them your questions – they will usually be very happy to help. Or ask your school for contact details of students from previous years who have gone to the universities you are applying to – they will often be happy to answer your questions.
Many universities also have an option on their websites to chat or pose questions to current students -take advantage of this as it is a great way to get the inside scoop and find out key info that may not appear in the official prospectus. You can also ask if the university provides an ‘unofficial prospectus’ written by the students – these can be ten times more helpful than comparing official prospectuses in making your decision, as they tell it how it is and give you frank, important information that is really helpful to real students.
Check out the accommodation
Accommodation is often low on prospective students’ lists of priorities, but it really will make all the difference to how you feel and settle in during your first year. University accommodation varies wildly and it is worth logging on to the uni website to look at some pictures, or asking to be shown around a few student rooms when you visit, to get a feel for whether or not you could happily live there.
Think about questions like:
- How big would my room be?
- Would I have my own kitchen/bathroom?
- How many others would I have to share with?
- Would I be in a house or in halls?
- Will this uni provide my accommodation throughout my course or will I have to find my own house in the second or third year?
All these are important ways to weigh and compare your choices.
Although this will become even more important next year with the introduction of higher tuition fees, it is still important now to be aware that many universities have their own individual bursary and scholarship schemes to support applicants from lower income backgrounds. There will be a clear section on the university website outlining what support is available and how to work out whether or not you will be eligible. On a practical note this can be an important aspect to compare before making your final decision.
If you are not eligible for extra financial support you may still wish to consider financial aspects of the universities, such as whether they offer book grants and travel grants to students – these may make a big difference to your experience of university life. If you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge University, these vary from college to college, so look at the website of the college you have applied to for the most accurate information.
Find out about the course
Perhaps the most important way to distinguish between your offers is to look very carefully at the details of the course you would study at each university. Each has its own style and structure, its own teaching methods and content. This is one of the areas where you can really see the difference between the universities you are comparing, because even within one subject the courses tend to be really quite different from one university to the next. Good aspects to compare are:
- What academic areas does the course cover?
- Will I have a choice in what modules I take?
- How many lectures per week
- How many teaching hours per week
- How many essays per term
- Will teaching be one-to-one or in classes?
- What are the class sizes?
- Is there a coursework or assessment element to the course?
- How do the exams break down?
Some universities calculate your degree mark based on exams taken at the end of each academic year, whilst at others the only exams that count are taken at the very end of the third year. Still others complete the entire assessment through coursework, with no exams at all. These are very different methods, and will suit different students better.
The academic areas the course focuses on should be another very important topic for you to consider. You may be applying to study English and have four offers to choose from, but when you look more closely you will realise that you are actually choosing between one course that has a great number of poems and plays in its syllabus, another that examines the entire scope of English literature from medieval to the present day, another that is very contextual, and another that compares literature from all over the world.
You should be able to find all this information on the faculty website for each individual university you are applying for. Above all, this should be the main focus of your decision making.