The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a University

15 May, 2023 | Blog Articles, Get the Edge

Choosing a university isn’t easy – ask almost any university student today and they will tell you how tricky it was to decide where they went.

That said, there are several factors to bear in mind that can make this daunting task less intimidating – and we’ve put them together in this article for you!

Academic considerations

At the end of the day, your primary reason for wanting to attend a university in the first place is almost certainly to earn a degree. Academic considerations should therefore be a major consideration for you as you narrow down your options.

Here are a few academic things to think about when deciding whether a university is right for you.

Academic environment

Choosing a university is made easier if you know what type of learning best suits you. If you’ve already decided which degree you want to study, compare course programmes across different universities to see which is more appealing. Would you benefit from sitting lots of exams, or would you rather be more focused on coursework? Ask yourself these questions whilst you research!

Don’t be tempted to choose a university based on what you think might make you look studious or employable. If you don’t like a heavy workload and rigorous selection processes, then Oxbridge probably isn’t for you! Obviously, these universities have a reputation for prestige, but prestige isn’t everything, especially if you know you would find this sort of high-pressure academic environment challenging. All universities offer a quality education, but looking into the specifics can help you differentiate between your options.Teaching

One of the best pieces of advice when looking at prospective universities is find out the student:staff ratio! More staff per student usually means you will have better access to assistance from professors or lecturers, and perhaps a better holistic learning experience overall.

When choosing a university, it’s also worth considering the university’s research interests within your subject. After all, these researchers will also be your teachers! If there’s a specific field you know you want to study, find out whether staff at the university are investigating it. 

However, don’t be tempted to choose a university based on one specific researcher or fellow that you admire in the expectation that they will teach you. Staff take sabbaticals or research breaks frequently, and often more high-profile academics devote more time to their own studies rather than teaching undergrads. 

Entry requirements

It’s important to be realistic when you’re choosing which universities to include in your UCAS applications. It’s good to have a range of options, including one “insurance” choice that has a standard offer lower than the grades you’re expecting to leave school with. You might also like to include one stretch option, with higher grades than you’re predicted.

Remember, there are always options if you get rejected from your top choice in UCAS, so while it’s good to be realistic, it certainly won’t be the end of your academic career if you don’t match the grades needed by your top choice.

The course

Ultimately, the advice in this section boils down to looking closely at the differences between courses. Will you be able to study everything you want to in this subject at this university? Who will be teaching you, and how? How much work will you need to do? How will you be examined?

When choosing a university, all these questions can all be answered by looking at department websites or asking students on open days.

A summer intern taking notes

Social considerations

Of course, choosing a university shouldn’t just be based on academics – it’s also about the people you’re going to be living and working with!

Demographics

Look at admissions statistics for universities you’re considering, and weigh them up depending on what matters to you. Most universities publish admissions and diversity reports that can help you get an idea of what the student community is like.

Factors you might want to consider are:

  • The ratio of state-educated to private school students
  • Size of the LGBTQ+ community
  • Number of international students
  • Proportion of ethnic minority students

Statistics like these are only figures on a page, however. Ask relatives, friends, or students at open days how they feel about the composition of their student body to get more anecdotal advice.

Societies

Most universities have societies of all sorts, spanning from handball to orchestras to crochet! Because of this, it needn’t weigh too heavily on your mind when choosing a university, but finding out what sports or activities are on offer can help you get more of an idea of what student life is like.

If a university you really like doesn’t offer a society you want to join, you can always start one yourself once you’re there!

Accommodation 

Where will you be living in your first year? Is there a difference in cost between different freshers’ accommodations? What are the kitchens or bathrooms like? Can you be catered for, or would you rather cook for yourself? Where are the halls on campus, and how far would you have to travel to your faculty buildings?

It’s also worth considering accommodation beyond your first year. Most universities expect you to rent your own accommodation privately from second year onward, and university cities often have little enclaves of student housing. It’s worth looking around these areas on open days too, to get an idea of what life beyond first year could involve!

Oxford Scholastica Graduation

Geographic Considerations

So you’ve looked at the course, thought about the people who go there, but now comes the most exciting factor to consider in choosing a university – logistics!

Proximity to home

Amazing educational institutions can be found in every corner of the UK. Geography is therefore something to consider. Do you want to go to a university in your hometown, giving you the option to live at home and reduce your student loan? Or is your dream university at the other end of the country?

If you are considering going somewhere far away, or even overseas, you should research journey times to and from the university from your home. You will have to move there with all your belongings at the beginning of first year after all!

If you do go to a university that’s far away, some universities will offer storage options for the summer after your first year in halls. This means you don’t have to move everything out at the end of the year, if you choose not to start renting somewhere new straight away. Check university websites to see whether this is available for you and for how long. 

Campus or city?

Location is important not only in relation to your family home, but also within the university itself. Many universities are based on a campus that sits a bus ride out from the town centre. Some are centred in the cities themselves, with first year accommodation sitting metres from the high street. Others are found in the countryside.

Think about the type of environment that best fits you, and factor that into your decision when choosing a university as well.

Get personal experience!

Trawling through websites and statistics is all well and good, but ultimately one of the most important things you can do when choosing a university is get a taste of it yourself.

Go to open days and ask current students your burning questions – they will have better answers than any promotional brochure or webpage! Many universities also run workshop days for potential applicants or offer holders, allowing you to experience university learning and meet other prospective students.

If you have any older friends or relatives at universities you’re interested in, ask them what it’s like, or even if you can visit!

At the end of the day, there’s a limit to the amount of research you can do. No university is perfect, and it’ll be impossible to find one that lines up exactly with every single one of your criteria as outlined here.

Being open-minded and prioritising what matters to you will lead you to the best university options for you – and remember, you’ll put up to five options on your UCAS application, so you don’t need to narrow it down to just one. You can wait and see which of your top five offer you, and then decide your top choice from there.

Be measured in your research, try not to overthink it, and you’ll end up with the right selection at the end. Good luck!

Ready for the best summer of your life?

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