The UK has a lot of world class universities and there's plenty to choose from when you're weighing up your options. What you might not know, however, is that going through UCAS isn't the only path you can take – there are higher education institutions outside of UCAS that might offer just the experience you're looking for.
These alternative universities might have unique teaching styles, facilities or locations. So if you're looking for something a little different, here are some reasons to look beyond the usual suspects, with input from the team at the New College of the Humanities.
1 – Different application schedules
Because alternative unis like NCH aren't tied into the UCAS schedule you can apply at different points. That means no one immovable deadline to panic about – you can fit your application in around UCAS deadlines, study, coursework and so on.
You might find that the application process itself is different, too. For example, NCH asks for a written application but puts a lot of weight on interviews and meeting candidates. “Academic excellence is a priority,” says Jane Phelps, NCH Director of External Relations, “but we're dealing with human beings: everyone is treated as an individual.”
2 – Different teaching systems
Alternative universities might adopt different teaching models, which is helpful if you're not sure that the seminar / lecture system is right for you.
At NCH students learn via one-to-one tutorials and have more contact time with their tutors as a result. “I really like the academic focus and close relationships with tutors,” says Daniel Thomas, an English with History student. “We get one on ones with brilliant people!”
Getting personal attention also helps students develop and push themselves further than they might in a large seminar group. “We know the students really well,” says Dr Marianna Koli, Convenor & Senior Lecturer in Economics. “They get individual feedback and someone sits down with them and pays attention to their work; it's a very dynamic environment.”
3 – Different surroundings and environment
Alternative universities might not guarantee you a Hogwarts experience (the thrill of Dementors probably wears off quickly anyway) but they can certainly offer something very different in terms of location and atmosphere.
The New College of the Humanities, for example, is tucked away on a smart square in central London. Students have lectures in airy conservatories, meet their tutors in cosy garrets and relax in beautiful surroundings - how could you feel anything but comfortable in 'The Snug Room', after all?
It also makes for an informal environment where you can just meet up with tutors for a chat. “My favourite thing about NCH is sitting down with an academic and having a discussion that makes you feel really good when you come out,” says Thomas Schafranek, studying Philosophy with Politics and Economics. “You think, 'I've really learned something there.'”
4 - Different challenges
Along with the different environment and teaching styles come different challenges to stretch you. It might not suit every student, but for some the prospect of a broader learning experience like the one offered by NCH's liberal arts curriculum is just what they're after.
The programme offers the chance to dip into many areas, from Law to Art History or Logic, as well as receiving lectures from unlikely speakers – a recent guest was comedian Al Murray. “You hear people talk that you wouldn't have done before,” says Anthony Demetriades, studying Law with Philosophy. “It offers opportunities that I feel I might not have got elsewhere.”
5 – Different approaches to life after uni
As well as opening your mind in the present, alternative universities can help you prepare for your future in their own ways. They might offer networking events, help you with work experience and internships, or even (like NCH) have a dedicated professional programme where students attend workshops, meet employers and work on everything from CVs to interview techniques. “We're encouraged to think about what we want to do,” says Thomas, “and we get training that prepares us.”
It's all part of the alternative uni experience. “We care deeply about our students,” says Swatee Jasoria, Director of Professional Development. “My role is about equipping and empowering students early on so that they graduate into something that makes them happy. That's different for everyone, but whatever it might be, I want them to graduate into that.”