Five steps to making your five uni choices

uni choices concept art

How to give yourself a great chance of uni application success

Getting five university offers – including one from your top choice – is totally achievable if you take the time to carefully research and plan your application.

Let's take a look at five key things to do.

1. Decide where you want to live

This is a big deciding factor for any university applicant. Do you want to live at home or do you want to move away? If your answer is 'move away', how far do you want to go?

Once you've decided this, you can start drawing up a list of unis that fit the bill.

This focuses your choice of universities straight away. It means you've already narrowed your search which will make your research and shortlisting a lot easier.

2. Start reading university prospectuses

You can find any uni prospectus online (we've got links to lots of them over on The Uni Guide). If you like what you see, you can order a free physical copy from the university.

Once you get the prospectus, read through it and get a feel for the university.

After that, dig deeper into their website, check out their socials and visit their forum on The Student Room or check those guides on The Uni Guide. All of this will help you with the background info on what each uni is like.

Questions to ask yourself

When you're researching, check each university against a list of the things that really matter to you. Once you've got this detail written down, long-listing your initial choices will be a ton easier. Some of the questions you might consider include... 

  • Do you want a campus or city university - or perhaps something in between?
  • Do you want to live in a big city or a smaller town?
  • How affordable is the cost of living in that city or region?
  • Is there a particular place in the country you want or need to be located?
  • Are there particular facilities you want or need?
  • Some unis will make contextual offers for students from particular background or circumstances. This is where the offer requirements may be lower; this page on the Ucas website has lots of detail around contextual offers. If you think this might apply to you, be sure to check each uni's policy on this.

3. Check course descriptions and entry requirements

Read the course descriptions carefully. No two university courses are exactly the same, even for the same subject. Remember to look at other courses on offer that might appeal to you – especially anything with an unfamiliar title.

Also consider whether you're interested in a course with a year abroad or a year in industry. These can provide really valuable experience – both on a personal level and when it comes to filling out a CV after you've graduated.

While you're researching courses, make sure you check the entry requirements carefully. You'll want to make sure your predicted grades are in line with the overall requirements, but check the specifics too.

If the uni is asking for a specific subject at A-level or a specific grade at GCSE, do you have that? If you don't, it's probably best to look elsewhere. 

How to make your university long-list

At this stage, you can check through all the unis that have a chance of making your final five. Aim for a mixture of entry requirements, so you can create a flexible shortlist later on. It's a good idea to pick a mixture of the following:

  • Those with requirements just above your predicted grades
  • Those at your predicted grades
  • Those below your predicted grades

4. Visiting open days

Open days are invaluable. For any uni that's a serious contender for your top five, spend some time working out if you can get along to an open day.

Once you're there, you can get a feel for the facilities on offer, meet the staff, get a peek at the accommodation and a quick glimpse of the surrounding area. Ask yourself: can I see myself living here?

Of course, it's not cheap to travel around the country to open days, but there are ways to cut into the cost a little. A 16-25 Railcard is an up-front expense, but once you've bought one it saves you a third on all rail travel.

Booking travel in advance can also be cheaper. Or, there might be other people from your school or college going on the same day - a lift share could then be an option.

If you can't get along to an open day in person, you should be able to find a virtual open day to go to instead – you'll be able to tour key facilities and should be able to get questions answered too.

Questions you might want to at ask about a course on uni open day
  • How is the course assessed?
  • How is the course taught?
  • How much contact time will there be?
  • What optional modules will I have the opportunity to choose?
  • How much self-study is required for the course?
  • Will the course change or develop during my time at uni?
Check our guide on preparing for university open days.

5. Shortlisting and making realistic choices

Armed with all that knowledge, you're now ready to consider your shortlist. Variety is the watchword here. Keep in mind the entry requirements and try to avoid having five choices where those requirements are the same (or very close). 

If you do this, you'll end up needing similar grades for both your firm and insurance choices - which doesn't give you much room for manouevre if your exam results slip a bit. 

Make sure all the universities you choose have courses you actually want to study and are in an area where you'd actually like to live. There's no point adding a university just to fill up a choice - you don't need to make five choices if you only like four universities.

How to shortlist

It's common to go for unis with a mix of entry requirements. To make the most of five choices, a decent approach could be:
  • One 'risky' choice (just above your predicted grades)
  • Two or three choices at your predicted grades
  • One or two choices well below your predicted grades

And with that, you're all set. Your carefully planned shortlist is decided and you're ready to complete a university application that will give you every chance of receiving five offers.

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