League tables are great at giving you a snap shot of a university's performance but they don’t tell the whole story, and if you want to make a well-rounded decision don’t use tables alone. They fluctuate year on year and might not base their results on things you really care about.
Comparing all the different results out there is also fraught with difficulty, so while there’s no harm in reading them because they can provide some really useful insights, why not consider a few more things before you make up your mind.
The University of Surrey is a top 15 university in major league table rankings and has also been named university of the year in 2016 by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide. But there is way more to a university than league table figures alone. The experts at Surrey reveal the other areas and describe qualities you should consider alongside league tables.
Too many league tables, too much choice
League tables vary over the years and each one uses different criteria to rate the universities. So, while one league table might put a uni in the top ten, in another it might not even make it into the top 30.
By all means look at a cross section of league tables and check out what different factors they rate but don’t rely on just one or two.
The power of word of mouth
League tables often include student satisfaction as one of their elements but you can’t beat hearing it from the people who really know; the students themselves. Past and present students who have lived and breathed the university will give you a really good indicator of what it is like to live and study there.
Check out online forums and ask the questions you really want to know the answer to. Head to an open day or book a campus tour and make sure you grab a student while you're there to see what they have to say.
As a rule, league tables don’t look into class sizes. Just because a university appears top of the league doesn’t mean you will get the education you would expect. Some universities are subject to huge class sizes where it is harder to stand out as an individual. Surrey is a smaller campus and therefore, class sizes are more manageable too, allowing you more quality time with the tutor.
Blogs and internet forums
League tables will give you hard facts and figures but online forums can give you a flavour of the university you won’t see at an open day or in a chart. You might stumble across some interesting topics which give you a new angle or spark another interest or make you rethink your uni choices altogether.
Extra curricular activities
Find out about a uni’s sport teams or societies or indeed the team spirit or sense of camaraderie many universities enjoy. If you’re into your sports or enjoy debating, check out the clubs you can join. There are a myriad of clubs to join from the weird and wonderful, to the eccentric and educational.
The Student Union
What are the best gigs and where is the greatest place to go for a pint? They might not be directly related to your degree but they are all part of university life. There’s a good chance you will be spending some of your leisure time at the Student Union so check out what will entertain you when you fancy a break from the books.
Academics at the cutting edge of research
Wouldn’t it be great to know that your lecturers and tutors are at the forefront of the latest technologies and innovations? League tables won’t tell you about the backgrounds of your teachers so make it your business to find out. Many of them will be involved in research for your chosen subject and you could find yourself learning about stuff that isn’t even in textbooks yet.
Surrey, for example, now has the largest centre in the UK dedicated to the development of the next generation of mobile and wireless communications. Imagine what those lecturers can teach you…
Check out the surroundings. What are the lecture halls like and is the library excellent? Is there great internet access and are there lots of public computers available? Can you learn in a first class environment? A university’s facilities will tell you a lot about the kind of education you’ll receive. Surrey has recently invested in a 5G Innovation Centre and School of Veterinary Medicine.
And finally, does it feel like home?
You need to consider how a university makes you feel and often it is those feelings that dictate your final choice. Visit your favourites, do they feel like home, do you think you will fit in, can you see yourself living there for the next few years? If the answer is yes, then that might well be the place for you regardless of what the league tables say.