These days we don't so much as buy a towel without knowing what other people think about it, courtesy of online reviews and surveys. Fluffiness? Drying power? Shaped like a Batman cape? These things are important.
So if we look up what other people think when we're picking something relatively minor (if a Batman cape towel could ever be considered 'minor'), it's even more important to do it for the big things – like universities.
What is student satisfaction?
Every year, surveys like the National Student Survey poll final year undergraduates about their student experience to see how they rated their time at uni. It's a great way of finding out what people who have spent a few years at a place really thought about it. To give you more insight into why these surveys matter and what they tell you, here are five of the areas they look at...
1 - Teaching and assessment
You're heading to uni to get a degree, so it's useful to know what the study experience will be like. How much time will you spend with tutors, and will they be stimulating, clear and enthusiastic? Similarly, how will you be assessed and will you get useful feedback that will help you improve?
High levels of student satisfaction let you know that you'll be challenged and interested by your course, but also that you'll learn and leave with a useful degree. Better that than needing to take a travel pillow into lectures.
2 - Academic support
At its best, university education is a two-way conversation between student and tutor. You should never feel like a faceless unit simply being pushed through a machine, particularly when it comes to help with your studies. That might mean choosing the right modules, help getting started with academic writing or advice when you're struggling with coursework.
Universities with good levels of student satisfaction should have equally good academic support systems in place – which is reassuring in the dark hours when you're battling with your studies.
3 - Learning resources
Chances are, if a uni's definition of wireless internet is that the power cord to the router is missing, you won't find studying there all that easy. On the other hand, unis like Edge Hill - which was voted uni of the year 2014 and top in the North West for student satisfaction will have been assessed by students on how good their facilities are. It's a handy indicator that the library will be impressive, that you'll have access to good IT services, and that the equipment you need for your course will be available, power cable and all.
4 - Life and leisure
Unsurprisingly, a big part of student satisfaction depends on the social side of uni life. Things like the Union, sports and leisure facilities and bars (coffee and otherwise) all contribute to how enjoyable your time away from your studies is, so it's important that former students give a good report of them. Accommodation is perhaps most important of all.
Don't forget, surveys are just one tool available to you: open days, social media and our forums are other effective ways of finding out what real students really think of a place.
5 - Good vibrations
Finally, there's the slightly more vague area of 'overall satisfaction'. It relates to everything above, but also to the general idea of 'how it feels' to live and study in a place: if there's a beautiful campus (like the rather leafy Edge Hill site, good location and appealing buildings, for example; or if the uni takes an innovative approach to teaching and works with the local community. It all adds up to a sense of being at a good university that offered a good degree – so if students' overall satisfaction is high, it's a positive sign.
Of course, student satisfaction is just one area to take into account. You'll want to check rankings, courses available, clubs and societies, graduate prospects and so on. But if you follow the principle or finding out whether those who have gone before you were satisfied or not, you'll be able to make a much more informed choice. And you'll be able to pick a really nice towel to take with you.