Your five university application choices: how to make your mind up

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Feeling stuck on which five to pick? Try these tips to find your way to Ucas application nirvana…

So the application deadline is on the horizon, but you’re still figuring out where you want to go to university. That’s not surprising: narrowing down a list of thousands of possible courses to just five choices on your Ucas application is a hard task. 

But there’s no need for panic stations. You still have plenty of time to work out your ideal options - and to help you do just that we’ve spoken to the University of Leicester for some advice. 

“Choosing where and what you’re going to study is a decision that you absolutely shouldn’t rush,” says Elliot Newstead, head of UK student recruitment and outreach at the University of Leicester. 

“Give yourself enough time throughout the whole process to make the most informed decision you possibly can.”

Ready to get started then? Let’s get into it…

Work out a longlist of universities

You might have already put together a longlist of potential universities that you now need to whittle down to five. If not, don’t worry because you can start working out that list as your first step now. 

Everyone will have different priorities when it comes to choosing a course and a university; now’s the time to think about yours. “Draw up a longlisting table containing universities and criteria that are important to you,” says Elliot. “You can rank how unis perform on those criteria.”

You’ll be able to find relevant information about the universities and courses from their websites, brochures and prospectuses. And if you’ve gone on open day visits, you could look back over any notes you made or photos you took at the time to help get a feel for the place. 

Most universities these days also offer fairly sophisticated virtual open days and online events on their websites. So, even if you haven’t been able to make it to a particular uni, you can still get a decent idea of what it would be like to go there.

Think about where you want to live

With your longlist sorted, you can quickly narrow things down by deciding where you want to live. If you’re planning to study in a different place from your current home, how far away do you want to move? Once you’re clear on this, you can remove the universities that don’t fit the bill. 

“Thinking of moving away from home? Consider how far is too far or how close is too close and put that on a map,” advises Elliot. 

You could also think about things like whether you’d rather be in a city or on a campus, and consider any other geographical factors on your wishlist. Would you love to live by the sea, for example, or do you fancy having miles of rolling countryside on your doorstep?

Once you have a clear idea of your geographical needs, you should be able to strike a few more  universities off your longlist.

Closely review all the course detail

Now you’ve got a smaller list to work with, you can start to dig into the details of the course that you’ll potentially be studying. 

“The subject should always come first,” says Elliot. “But remember, not all degrees are the same even if they have the same title, so look closely at the detail.”

Things to consider include how the course is taught, how the course is assessed, how many contact hours you’ll have and the content of the compulsory and optional modules. You should be able to find all of this information on the university's website.

When you’re looking at all this, be careful to think beyond just your first few terms. “Read through module choices in second and third years,” says Elliot. “Don’t just focus on the first year.” That way, you can feel confident about enjoying the modules you’ll study throughout the course.

Keep entry requirements in mind as well. All of the unis still on your list could be in your final five - it’s a good plan to have a mixture of entry requirements so that you build in some flexibility. 

As you look into those requirements, try to focus on those that are close to your predicted grades - not just exact matches. Including some that are slightly above and some that are slightly below will give you wiggle room.

Selecting your final five

Nearly there now. Whatever shortlist you’re looking at, it’s time to get it down to just five. 

This is where that consideration about entry requirements comes in. You’re going to want a mix of requirements – some higher and some lower – so that you’ve got options depending on how your exam results eventually pan out. You might try something like this:

  • One 'risky' choice (above your predicted grades)
  • Two or three choices at your predicted grades
  • One or two choices well below your predicted grades

Finally, bear in mind that you can pick fewer than five universities if you want. There’s no point adding choices just for the sake of it if you know they’re in places you don’t want to live or they’re courses you don’t really want to take.

Next steps: once the offers come in

Following the steps above should mean you keep your options open throughout your university application.

Once you get to the stage of considering offers, you’ll have courses with different entry requirements to pick from. Again, this is an opportunity to give yourself flexibility.

“Your insurance choice really should have lower entry requirements than your firm choice – it’s there as a back-up after all,” says Elliot. 

Knowing that you’ve got an insurance choice university that has lower entry requirements than your firm choice will help ease any results day stress if your exams don’t go quite as well as you hoped.

Finally, don’t let yourself be swayed by what other people are saying or doing. Picking a certain university just because you have friends going there can be very tempting, but it may not be the best choice for you. 

“Ultimately, your choice should be somewhere you can be yourself,” says Elliot. “You’ll know better than anyone where that is.”

Studying at Leicester

The University of Leicester is located in the heart of the Midlands. All of our first year undergraduate students are guaranteed a place in our university-managed accommodation.  

Whether you want to tackle climate change, develop new business techniques, or delve into the secrets of science or history, there’s an undergraduate course for you at Leicester. 

Leave your mark on the world and start studying for an undergraduate degree at a university that educates, equips and encourages you to forge a better future. Apply now.

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