With over 50,000 courses available at more than 395 institutions in the UK alone, it can be difficult to narrow down your options and decide which one is best for you. There are different factors to consider so here are some of the key things you may want to think about.
1. What is important to you?
Before making your decision, you should look inward and really examine what is important to you in a university experience. Get a notebook and write down answers to crucial questions, such as:
- How academic am I?
- What do I want to do in life?
- Where do I want to live?
- What am I most curious about?
- What do I enjoy doing?
Reflecting on these will help you define your goals and the path you want to follow. You can then start to discount universities and courses which don’t meet your criteria.
Many students focus on which university sits highest in the rankings or is most well-recognised. However, another important consideration is the actual course. If you have a good idea of which discipline you wish to pursue, check the rankings and opinions about the specific department. Within a particular university there will be differences between individual departments. A university with lower overall rankings can have an exemplary department for the subject you are passionate about. An example of this would be the University of Warwick, which ranks ninth in the overall league tables, however, is number one for Media and Film Studies. Additionally, courses with the same name might differ greatly between institutions, so make sure that the course incorporates the topics you want to study.
3. Student Experience
A university’s ranking can give you an idea of its reputation and therefore how a future employer might regard you. But they won’t help you understand what it would be like for you to study there.
Get a feel for the university by talking to student ambassadors during fairs or by reaching out to alumni on social media or online forums. They will be able to give you a better idea of campus culture and whether you’d be a good fit. When you’re talking to alumni, try to work out whether they share your values to ensure that the experience they describe is likely to be similar to yours should you go there.
There are several things to consider when thinking about location. Firstly, would you enjoy a city- or campus-based university more? Campus universities have all the necessary facilities and students based on one site. Examples include the University of York and the University of Warwick. On the other hand, city universities such as UCL or University of Leeds have facilities and students which are spread out across the city. The type of campus you choose can have a big impact on your student life.
If you do opt for a city experience, think too about the size of the city and the amenities which are important to you. These could be things like museums, cinemas and theatres. It’s also worth considering how easy your journey home would be. Are you moving to a different country and would like to be located near a major airport? Or are you choosing a local university and would like to be able to travel home on the weekends?
The financial cost is one of the most important considerations as it can greatly help you in narrowing down your search. There are a few different factors to consider.
Firstly, the university tuition fees. In the UK fees vary depending on whether you’re a local or international student. However, there are government schemes covering some fees, so it’s important you research the support you’re eligible for. US universities tend to be more expensive, however there are many scholarships available. Canada tends to be cheaper than either the UK or the US. Do your research and visit government websites to understand the help available to you.
The costs of living is another important factor. Often students will move onto campus or near the university to shorten their commute. Most UK universities guarantee student accommodation for first year students, however, it is vital that you apply early and compare the costs between different halls. If you are studying at a city-based university it’s likely that you will be able to rent private accommodation, but bear in mind that different cities can vary greatly in their property rental prices.
Finally, don’t forget to account for additional costs, such as food, books, transportation and entertainment. You can research part–time jobs in the area if you feel like additional income would be beneficial.
6. Entry requirements
Although being ambitious with your goals is important, you also have to be well-informed to make the right decision on which universities to apply for. In the UK students are limited to applying for five universities, therefore your list should include not only your dream unis, but also some safety choices. Looking at entry requirements and honestly assessing how your predicted grades stack up is crucial to making an informed decision. Decide on a couple of ambitious choices which are within reach if you do your best during exams. Then choose a couple of universities which have lower entry requirements, so that if your results are lower than anticipated you still have viable options.
If you’re looking for additional support to make the right decision for your future, our Applying for University course can help.
Already made your choices? We have a range of courses to support you through the rest of the university application process – take a look at our full range of courses.