Some things about your time at uni will be the same as everyone else's. It's not a bad thing: working out how to live independently, meeting new people and experimenting with at least one curious fashion choice are time-honoured traditions. You'll come up with your own spin on each one, of course, but it's good to feel part of a shared experience.
However, there are other things that some unis do differently, things that make them stand out from the rest and can alter your student life for the better. With a little help from New College of the Humanities (NCH), here's a look at what's so special about being special...
An alternative approach doesn't just extend to the fixtures and fittings, though, as some universities tackle their teaching in a very different way. You might actually get to see a lot of the academic staff, for example: NCH students see their tutors face to face for an average of 13.8 hours per week according to a new survey, compared to 9.93 hours per week at a Russell Group uni.
Of that time, more than 97% is spent with an academic member of staff. It's easy to see how this might help your studies, as there are plenty of opportunities to discuss ideas and benefit from your tutors' experience – plus, you get a lot more of your feedback in person.
But contact time isn't just about seminars and study periods – there's also something to be said for meeting outside of the lecture hall to discuss an essay in private, or to voice concerns about whether that person in your tutorial group likes you, or, you know, likes you. With 91% of NCH students feeling that it's easy to schedule time with academic staff compared to 73% at other institutions, it's much easier to ask the questions that matter. (Actually, maybe not the whole 'likes me / likes me not' dilemma.)
Work's Not a Four Letter Word
It's important to note that the alternative higher education experience might not be for everyone. The workload in particular at institutions like NCH can be higher than average – taking on 13.7 assignments per term compared to 6.19 at other leading unis.
However, that might be exactly the environment you need to thrive. Some 88% of NCH students say they feel motivated to do their best work (as opposed to 64% at other unis), so it seems to work for them.
A Unique Curriculum
Naturally, what you do in your extra-curricular life will help define your student experience, but at an alternative university you might also find that the academic side incorporates other intriguing challenges beyond the confines of your course.
It might mean studying other modules as well as your core degree subjects, for example. At NCH, students follow subjects such as Art History, Classical Studies, Psychology or Logic & Critical Thinking alongside their core degrees.
They also get help with their professional development, preparing them for life after uni – and with 99% of them feeling that their tutors are supportive and helpful, compared to 76 per cent at leading UK universities, it doesn't seem like an alternative uni just flings you into deep water and expects you to cope without the odd bit of assistance.
The Right Location
Finally, universities can pop up where you might not expect them, as they don't fit the model of a vast campus or a large city centre institution with sites scattered over a wide area. Instead, they might have the boutique feel of a site like NCH, which has an unrivalled setting: intimate, quiet, but right in the centre of London.
A different kind of location has many benefits. A unique site can make your time as a student more of a one-off, for example. If it's a more compact establishment, you'll also form closer bonds and friendships within the student community – plus, a smaller student body can seem much less daunting when you arrive, as well as helping you avoid the risk of becoming another anonymous face in the crowds.
In other words, while some things about being a student will always be the same (hurrah), it's possible to have a unique but equally rewarding experience in other areas by striking out on an alternative path. With 63% of NCH students saying their study experience exceeded their expectations, compared to 28% from other leading unis, there's definitely something to be said for doing things differently.