That's where these tactics will come in handy. By asking the right questions and using the right resources, you'll build up a much more informed opinion of a place before you commit the next few years of your life to it.
1 - Find out what other students think
If they're marching around outside the gates with 'Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here' signs the message is pretty clear, but if not, how can you find out what current students make of a uni?
The outcomes of the National Student Survey can help. It's an official survey that most final-year undergrads complete, based on their opinion of the academic quality, teaching and facilities at a uni, so it should give you a really good idea of what their student experience was like.
The results for each course at a uni are displayed under 'student satisfaction' on Unistats, the government resource that lets you find out more about specific unis and undergraduate programmes. You can also check our uni guides for another angle.
2 - Investigate graduate prospects
Your time as a student will enrich your life in many ways: there's socialising, sports and the small matter of discovering more about who you are, for example. And of course your university or college should prepare you for your career, so it's important to find out what their graduates actually go on to do.
You can find some of this info on the course website, but also on independent sites like Unistats, which includes data from the 'Destination of Leavers from Higher Education' survey. Want a sneak peek at the road ahead? Use it to find out average salary, employment prospects and more, and choose the right course for your ambitions.
3 - See how a course or uni matches up against others
A good way of compiling your final shortlist (perhaps of places you'd like to visit on open days) is to see how unis stack up against each other. Unistats can be really helpful here as the site lets you get hold of official data and make side-by-side comparisons between different universities and colleges to see where their relative strengths and weaknesses are. Find out how it works here.
Don't forget that you can also use our forums for this – and Twitter can also be handy for some social media snooping.
4 - Looking into teaching and assessment
We all have preferred ways of studying, learning and assessment. As part of your research, find out what you'll face once you get to uni (hint: anything suggesting 'trial by Hunger Games' should be avoided). If one course has teaching and assessment methods that appeal to you more, it's worth taking into account. You can compile this info from uni websites, or use Unistats to build a shortlist and compare places.
5 - Be aware of money matters
There's no getting around the fact that uni costs a lot, so make sure you know what the course fees are going to be. You might also find that there's financial support available: it's always worth checking to see what scholarships and bursaries are on offer. Also, sites like Unistats – which has data from 36,000 UK higher education courses – can give you an indication of accommodation costs at different universities and colleges, and provide links to info on financial support.
6 - Open your mind
Online research is an absolutely essential part of the process of finding the right uni, but if you can, round things off with some open day visits (get some advice on those here) to the places on your shortlist.
A uni might come out on top when you compare it on Unistats or look at people's comments in our forums, but some things you can't tell until you're there – like the feel of a campus, or the reaction you have to its location. So head to Unistats to take advantage of all that official data, sign up for open days, and get the real picture. Enjoy!