Words by Russ Thorne

Ever noticed how the falling Autumn leaves start off looking vibrant and different, but gradually seem to form a single, giant heap, with each leaf looking just like the next? Deciding on your uni at this time of year can feel similar: after a while it can be tricky to tell one uni from another.

Don't worry though, if you know roughly what course you want to study there are a few areas to focus on that will help you single out the right place for you. Got your leaf kicking boots on?

1 - Reputation

Before you start digging into prospectuses and uni websites, it's good to get an idea of how well-regarded a place is. Have a look on Unistats and see which places score highly, or which uni has been voted Top University for Student Satisfaction (The Times 2016) or Modern University of the year (The Times 2016), for example.

To get info from the inside, check our forums to see what current students are saying and ask them about their experiences. Of course, reputation is just one area and offering a great student life might not make a uni the best one for the degree you want to get; but it gives you a starting point.

2 - Campus

Next, start digging a bit deeper. Course content can be remarkably similar between institutions, so use things like the campus and the facilities on offer to start distinguishing one from another. What gear do students have access to? Is the WiFi and the coffee in the library up to scratch? (This will become very important once coursework and revision kick in.)

The lighter side of life should play a part, too. Is the union to your liking? Are there good entertainment facilities and places to eat, drink and be merry around campus? These things matter.

3 - Location

So too does the actual location of your uni. The nicest campus in the world won't count for anything if it's on an island, in a lava stream, surrounded by wasps. There are two main areas to consider here: the type of uni location, and where it actually is.

Some unis are spread out across a city centre, some are in a compact city campus, and others are in their own little rural campus world. They all have their benefits, so consider which you might prefer.

Then think about where they are in the country. Nearer to home might make things more affordable, if you can stay with your family. Or a central location might offer great transport links to home and the rest of the country.

4 - Sport and social

Your student experience is an opportunity to try new things, develop new skills for your future life and career, and build some lifelong friendships. All of this is tricky if you stay in your room, but if you venture out and join sports teams or societies, you'll open all kinds of interesting doors.

There's usually a huge amount of choice (Coventry uni has everything from boxing clubs to crazy cake societies, for example). Check out uni websites to see what's on offer, then bear it in mind when you're making your final shortlist.

5 - Student support

Anyone can have a problem while they're a student. Whether it's financial, emotional or academic, knowing that there's a reliable safety net will give you more confidence.

It's also worth looking ahead to when you're looking for a graduate job. How will a uni help you prepare? Investigate the careers advice available: you're looking for a little more than a webpage that reads 'we advise you to get a job, lol'.

6 - Trust your instincts

Finally, nothing beats going on an open day to pick up the general feel of a place, and to get a sense of whether or not it's for you. There will always be things you'll have to get used to – uni is a big change, after all – but if you have a gut feeling about a uni, listen to it. Loving the atmosphere, mix of nationalities and the social media personality of a place? You're probably on the right track. Bothered by all those wasps? Maybe look elsewhere.

Choosing a uni isn't an exact science. But take all of these things into account, ask questions, go on open days and follow your instincts, and you're in with the best possible chance of picking out just the right leaf from the pile. Have fun!