While some hanker after bright lights and city living, others are lured by the appeal of studying in the countryside. Imagine finishing your morning lectures and then heading off into the mountains to go climbing or hiking, or to the beach with a surfboard under your arm. There are other advantages too – living costs are often less in the countryside, with accommodation, food and nights out significantly cheaper than in the big cities. Then there is the campus experience. Hundreds of students packed into a relatively small area can certainly achieve a tight-knit community.
Student Hannah Limberger is in her final year at Bangor University, situated on the quiet northern coast of Wales. With water on one side and mountains on the other, you’d be forgiven for assuming this small city would feel a little cut-off – but is it?
“It was the location that attracted me to Bangor University,” says Hannah, 23, who is studying Environmental Conservation. “I love being outside and being active. At the weekend we were out in the mountains thigh deep in snow and playing around. There are great surfing beaches close by, and loads of places for hiking and day trips. It’s also really beautiful here.”
Clubs and societies are a great way to make the most of a rural setting. Most universities have broad choice on offer, from surfing and kayaking, to mountain walking or windsurfing.
“I’m a member of the scuba diving club,” adds Hannah. “The mountain walking society are out for walks most weekends and the people I know in the surfing society are always heading off to Rhosneigr beach, or one of the many others along the coast.”
If you are thinking about a rural university then check out the public transport routes, because however much you love it, you’ll want to escape sometimes. Bangor is two hours from Liverpool and Manchester and direct trains run regularly to and from London, with a journey time of about three hours.
“Dublin is actually one of the easiest place to get to,” adds Hannah.
“The port is so close to us, my friends got onto the walk-on passenger ferry the other day and went over for a day out. You’re definitely not cut off from anywhere.”
Of course, there are some things that make life in the countryside more accessible – a car for example. Everything feels closer on four wheels. And while that may feel like an expensive luxury for many students, it can perhaps be offset by the relatively affordable living costs that come with a rural location.
Standard student rental costs in Bangor are about £100 a week, inclusive of all bills. Rates are often much higher in big cities. First-years are guaranteed a room in the university’s halls of residence, provided they apply before the deadline. After that, students tend to move into shared houses in the city centre. In a compact town or city this tends to be all in the same area, with entire streets taken up by student housing, creating a tight-knit community.
“General living costs are relatively inexpensive here too,” adds Hannah. “A supermarket shop is cheap, and nights out don’t cost much at all. Entry into the university’s student nightclub went up this year - to £2. A night out costs me about £10, at the most £15. You definitely don’t get that in a big city.”
She adds, “being a small university means that you are always seeing people you know on a night out and it’s a really sociable place. All the pubs and clubs have their different nights – there’s pound a pint night at The Harp, you can watch live sport at Bar Uno with a burger, and on Wednesday night it’s the athletics union meetup at the university nightclub Academi. You go with your friends and bump into other friends while you’re out - there’s a great campus feel here, which I think comes with the fact that Bangor is small.”
Of course, rural universities often have some fairly specialised courses amongst the more traditional ones on offer. Head to the coast and you will find a range of marine biology or ocean studies courses. Opt for a university near the mountains and forestry, conservation and geology are among those on offer. Hannah’s fieldtrips have taken her throughout the region’s nature reserves, exploring the glacial valleys and forests of the Snowdonia National Park and the rural villages and mountains that surround them.
“Bangor is renowned for its environmental courses. We study alongside the foresters, environmental scientists and ecologists,” adds Hannah.
“We’ve done modules on sustainability and learnt about the geology of the area. There are lots of field work opportunities and having it all so close is really inspiring.”