The process of applying to uni is an exciting experience. When you get started, though, it’s natural to find it all a bit intimidating: there are loads of places to choose from, each promising to be the right place for you. So how do you narrow it down? We’ve put together a few questions to help.
First, let’s look at some of the resources at your disposal. The UCAS website is a good starting point that will help you search for courses and put together an initial list of places you’re interested in, but remember that not all unis operate through UCAS. Independent institutions like New College of the Humanities (NCH) as well as music and drama schools have their own systems, so take them into account if you know you have a passion for a particular area or want a different kind of degree experience.
Next up, the promotional materials. Uni websites and prospectuses are designed to be shiny and enticing, but they’re still handy sources of basic info. For more advanced nosing around, open days are essential - it’s a chance to meet staff and students and even try out lectures and seminars. It’s also worth checking out alternative uni guides like ours for a different angle.
The Big Picture
It’s a good idea to begin with the broad questions. Things like location - is a uni based somewhere you’d like to be? How easy (and cheap) is it to get there, or back home again when the laundry can no longer be ignored? Think about the type of university, and what would suit you: a giant campus or an institution with a more intimate, collegiate feel, like NCH?
Next, it’s time to consider the ‘study’ part of uni life. It’s the reason you’re there, after all, so it’s worth getting into the nitty gritty. (Open days are great for these kind of questions.) How are students taught, for example: is it an interactive experience or do you simply listen? How big are lecture and teaching groups, and how many taught hours a week will you receive? We all need a little help sometimes, so ask what support is available outside of the classroom, too.
It’s also handy to find out about the academic staff. Are they engaged with students, rather than off researching? Will you get decent one-on-one time with tutors, or will they always be that figure off in the distance with a loudhailer? If you already know you want smaller class sizes and lots of teaching time, maybe investigate institutions (like NCH) that specialise in that kind of experience.
You don’t just get a degree for turning up though (alas), so find out how you’ll receive feedback on your work from tutors and look into assessment methods. Will you face coursework, multiple exams, or regular essays, and if so, how many? What techniques does a uni prefer? (Consider not applying if the phrase ‘trial by fireswamp’ appears anywhere.)
Life on Campus
Now let’s get into the personal space. Look into the library and study facilities, of course, but remember you’ll be living there too. What are the buildings, student halls and open spaces like? Consider the little details of daily life: can you get decent coffee when you need it, for example? Again, open days are great for this (although diligent web searches can also help): think twice if the mere sight of a place makes your stomach sink.
Finally, let’s talk about you. What are your interests, and will a uni’s social / sports / entertainment facilities match up with them? Are you into music, tennis, coding, baking? Make sure you can keep up your hobbies, or take up new ones. If you love a bit of Bake Off but the campus is a cupcake-free zone, it’s not going to end well.
With all of these things, current students can be your best guides. Talk to them at open days, or use Facebook, twitter and our forums to get their unguarded, honest opinions.
There’s always a slight leap of faith involved in choosing a university - in the end, that’s part of the fun. But ask the right questions, do some enthusiastic snooping and you’ll be on course to find the right place for you. Good luck!
Please visit www.nchum.org to apply