University life is an experience like no other. Your interests become more defined, you meet lifelong friends who share similar values and ideas, and you learn how to make the perfect Spaghetti Bolognese in your own independent flat/room. So, here are ten of the most important things to consider when deciding which university to choose.
1. When do you actually want to go to university?
The first thing to think about is actually when to go, not where. Taking a year out (call it a gap year if you must), is a popular option these days. Some people need the time to be better prepared for university, usually gaining life experiences across the other side of the world, or saving up to help pay for university. Others prefer to have no interruption to their studies right after Alevels and want to jump into the education trajectory. Both options are great – It really depends on the person, and neither way is definitively better than the other.
2. Choose the subject carefully BEFORE thinking about universities
It might seem boring and stressful, but it really helps to do your research. There are loads of different sites to help you search the huge variety of university courses available in the UK. Some great sites include: WhatUni, Complete University Guide, UCAS. Once you’ve narrowed down your subject choice, you can then go into the course webpages for the universities and compare them. You will even be able to see what modules you can do and their syllabus and the kinds of lecturers who will teach you. You will know which courses and teachers resonate when you read about them. This is really invaluable research that will make a lifetime difference. For example, History students with a specific interest in the Romans can find out which degrees at which universities will offer this topic as a module. It soon becomes much simpler to cross places off the list.
3. Big city or campus based?
Having decided on a course, the next thing to think about is what sort of university suits you best. The more self-contained landscapes of campus universities such as Warwick and Loughborough universities are a very different experience to the hustle and bustle of somewhere like London, Leeds or Manchester city centre universities. For a compromise, places like Nottingham represent a campus university close to the city centre. Deciding where you think you’ll be happiest is a key part of the decision process – A lot depends on your personality and self-awareness. Becoming self-aware of who you are and what you want and see for your life is one of the most important takeaways from this research and phase of life.
4. What is the social scene at university like?
This leads to the next important consideration in choosing a UK university. How important are nights out to you? The social scene varies from place to place. Whilst there is always a Student Union bar on site, the club scene differs dramatically. Universities like Warwick and St Andrews are located further from a city centre, making nights out more focussed around the campus or smaller local towns and their people. All big cities in the UK will have a busy social scene, but it’s important to ask older friends and family about what the vibe is for each place. Manchester has a thriving underground music scene, whilst cities like Newcastle appeal to broader tastes through more stereotypical club nights. All unis have a good mix of students but some have reputations for being more popular with young people from private schools, others might be really sporty or very creative arts focussed. Think about what is right for you. Looking on chatrooms such as StudentRoom can give you a good idea about what different university towns can be like and what’s right for your personality. Again, one of the most important skills you gain in doing your research is knowing who you are and why – this can shape our confidence.
5. How much do you care about universities’ reputation?
Universities pride themselves on their ‘reputation’. Oxford and Cambridge especially are world-renowned institutions that come with huge prestige and history of top researchers, experts and teaching. They are part of a group of 24 universities known as the Russell Group. There’s no doubting these 24 universities are very well respected and offer fantastic degree courses but they are not always the best option for every student. In fact, less traditional subjects such as Graphic Design, Fashion and Textiles, or Business Studies are often taught much better at the less traditional non-Russell Group universities. Remember that the Russell Group isn’t everything. If doubtful, look to the league tables for proof.
6. What are your outside interests?
Some people prioritise playing sports when picking a university, so places like Loughborough or Exeter universities are good choices for sports. If you’re more into performing arts though, universities such as Bristol or Edinburgh might be popular options. Whatever your co-curricular interest, it will be pretty easy to pursue your hobby at just about any university in the UK, but some are better suited than others. Think about what university provides the best balance for your academic options and personal interests.
7. How far from home do you want to be?
This is hugely important. Some people like to live at home so they save money on accommodation, whilst others are desperate to move as far away from their family as possible! If you’re likely to be homesick, (everyone is at least a bit), go somewhere where you can easily visit home. Leaving home can feel extremely daunting for some understandably If you’re feeling isolated at all at university, there is always help on campus from councilors and other services – worry not!. If you need emotional support, your university will always be there to help you.
8. Do you want to go to university with friends?
It might feel tempting to follow your best friends into their university choices. Knowing you will have at least one good friend with you takes some of the pressure and stress away. Whilst this is true, it’s possible to become a bit reliant on your old friends. Meeting new people is an essential aspect of the university, and sometimes it’s best to take on the challenge alone. There are groups of friends from school who travel together to university. They never have to make the effort to socialise with new people, and struggle to forge new friendships which may be essential for life. The wider our network in life the more contacts, knowledge and an open-minded worldview we can forge.
9. What about ‘Study Abroad’?
Before Brexit, the Erasmus Scheme offered UK students the opportunity to Study Abroad as part of their degrees. Now we have the new Turing Scheme that starts this year. It is hoped it will run in a similar way to Erasmus and that universities will also continue to have their own links with overseas universities. Definitely look into this programme if the idea of studying abroad seems appealing. Looking at each university website will give you an idea of the sorts of places you could go to for your Study Abroad year or term.
10. Can you cook?
Learning how to cook is a rite of passage that every university student eventually goes through. Having picked a university, the next step is often to select an accommodation to live in. For complete culinary novices, catered halls are the best option, whilst those who want to challenge themselves a bit more can slowly learn to cook – there are so many short simple videos on how to cook a variety of cuisines these days that all of us can learn to cook at least a few simple but exciting meals to keep us fulfilled during the week. For catered meals at university, it’s probably useful to find out the reputation of the food at the canteen before choosing. This is something that varies dramatically, so choose wisely!
A note to finish ….
Going to university is very costly. So it’s useful to take some time to think about why it is you want to go. Then find out which university is most suitable to achieve these goals. You don’t want to waste your £9250 per-year education and feel indebted, without much return. Choosing a university can be a long process, but understanding where you might be happiest and thriving academically, socially and personally is always the most important thing. This phase of life and its research is all about teaching you who you are and will be in…. Do your best to live up to your amazing potential!
At Uber Tutors, we are the pioneers of university level tutoring, mentoring and coaching in all subjects and degrees. If you need personalised help with deciding which university to go to, get in touch with us for education consultancy & guidance on choosing the perfect university for you.
Written by Dan Greene (Uber Tutors, Private Tutor/ Mentor)