(Original post by orca92)
Firstly, are you applying with SAT, ACT and GPA scores, or have you taken A Levels/Scottish Highers? If as i expect you've taken American qualifications, then i'll explain A levels to you. Basically, /most/ people in the UK study 4 AS Levels, then they top 3 of them up to A Levels. You choose the subjects in a way that will let you get onto the university course that you want to get onto; so if you want to study biology, you have to study biology and another science at A level in order to meet the requirements. Each A level then gets graded based on your performance in the coursework and exams with A*, A, B, C, D, E, U; A* being the best, and U being the worst. You also get UCAS points based on your grade; an A* gets you 140 points, an A gets you 120 points, and so on; so a higher number of points is better.
Universities then have mininmum requirements based on the grades and subjects of the applicants applying to that university for that course. So my course at UCL is "A levels: AAA-AAB to include two from Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics." So to get onto the course with A levels as your qualification, you need to have at least AAB with two of biology, chemistry, physics and maths. In general, universities making higher offers, are better; so Cambridge tend to make all A*AA offers (as we'd expect, they're the best university so would be expect them to make the highest offers); whereas universities like Northumbria for example make UCAS points offers. Northumbria might make you a 280 points offer from 3 A levels; so this coverts to BBC at A level, which is obviously not as good as the A*AA from Cambridge. So in general, universities making high grade offers are the better ones, the ones that have more applicants etc; universities that make UCAS points offers are not as good.
When you got accepted to each of the universities to which you applied they likely made you conditional offers based on you meeting academic criteria. Do you have conditional offers, or did the universities make unconditional offers? If you got conditional offers then you can choose a firm and an insurance; the firm is your first choice university, and the insurance is your second choice university. If you meet the grades of your firm, then you go there next year. If you fail to meet the conditions of your firm, but meet those of your insurance, then you go to your insurance choice. So, you may choose to firm Plymouth, and insure Portsmouth. If you meet the conditions of Plymouth then you can go there; if you fail the offer conditions, but still meet those of Portsmouth, then you can go there.
Ok, in terms of universities, not all of them are of the same quality. If you compare, say Cambridge with Northumbria for example. Cambridge for a start has a reputation for producing very intelligent graduates; graduates that employers want to employ. If they see Cambridge on a CV versus Northumbria, then they're going to know that the Cambridge graduate is very intelligent, whereas they won't get this with the Northumbria graduate. So reputation of the university is a factor dictating whether it's a good or bad university, which then dictates employers opinions of you as a graduate of said university. Better universities, like Cambridge, can attract the leading researcher/lecturers in those fields. Two of my lecturers at UCL for example, are Steve Jones, and Nick Lane. Steve Jones has published lots of books in the area of genetics and has a worldwide high reputation for his research into the area of genetics. Nick Lane lectures in the zoology side of biology; he's the professor with the leading theory on how life first began. Just being lectured by these people top of their fields makes the quality of the lectures, and the information learnt in them better than at other universities like Northumbria, which in a way, gets the 'second pick' of lecturers. So better universities can attract the better lecturers which will then give their students of said university a better education, than by the worse lecturers at the worse universities. These better universities get more applicants that are of a higher quality and hence they can set the grades higher and continue to take the best students. I don't know if this makes sense; but the basic point is that there is a difference in the quality of the degree depending on where it's from. It takes more work to get a first from Cambridge than it does to get a first from Northumbria for example.
Anyway yeah, your universities. When i researched marine biology i talked to several employers; and the consensus was that the top ones were St Andrews, Southampton, Plymouth, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Glasgow. This is expected; it's pretty much all the 1994 group and russell group universities, plus Plymouth, which just generally is very good for marine biology. Anyway, i personally applied to Plymouth, Southampton, and St Andrews for marine biology, and i visited Glasgow from those top ones, plus i've been to Newcastle University, but not to the marine biology department. These universities basically offer the highest grades, so take the best students, and give them a good education, so they get the better employment prospects, so the university remains as one of the best ones for the subject. If i was to rank your universities, then i'd definitely say Plymouth was the best; Swansea's also very good, i thought about applying there. Portsmouth, Hull and Anglia Ruskin aren't so highly thought of to be honest. Hull has a bad reputation due to the roughness of the city as well as the fact that it's not the best university. It's not really a nice city to live in; my Mums from there so I've been there a fair amount, and it's kind of ok in the centre with some regeneration; but compare it to Plymouth, and the cities awful. Plymouths a very nice and clean city, and on the sea; they have a nice pedestrianized area really central. They also have a decent student area, and the Hoe where there's grass to chill on right on the coast overlooking the bay. I've never been to Swansea, but i have a friend from there and she seems to rate the city highly. Anglia Ruskin is in Cambridge; it's a small city, but it's quite nice if you want somewhere smaller. I've never been to Portsmouth either; i think the city there is ok; it's about the same size as Plymouth. I mean, i don't really know what else to add; personally i'd go to Plymouth, but then that's my choice, and not yours; it'd help if you could like visit the universities obviously, but i doubt (being from abroad probably) you'd be able to. I can tell you that Plymouth and Swansea are the better two of those universities though.