Why you should forget about prestige when picking a uni

Are you feeling the pressure to go to a top ranking university? Worried that only Russell Group universities are going to give you a worthwhile uni experience? You’re not alone. 

TSR user Beautifulbigmacs studied at both a Russell Group (RG) and non-Russell Group university. Here she shares her experience, and how the differences between them might surprise you. 

“On TSR I see so many people panicking about whether they will get into a Russell Group university. I can relate to this, because that was me ten years ago when I was determined to get into one," she says. "I was keen to show that I had what it takes to get into a university with a good reputation for my subject. A vast number of alumni who I admire in the field had done exactly the same degree course that I was wanting to get on to.

"In all honesty, the extent to which I wanted to get onto the course was such that there wasn't a day that went by where I didn't think about it. In hindsight, I would label my A level years as uncomfortably, unreasonably and disproportionately stressful.

"After the degree I completed there, I did both of my masters degrees at two different ex polys. My reasoning for this was that I wanted to study subjects that were not available at Russell Groups, so the decision was an easy one to make. This is where the comparisons became apparent.”


Class size

“The class size at the RG uni was massive compared to both of the ex-polys. Although such difference probably exists between an undergraduate and postgraduate course, I still felt less like just a number at the ex-polys. The teaching environment felt more intimate and less corporate,” she says.


“Having had multiple lecturers for all of my degrees, in some cases I found that the Russel Group uni sometimes seemed assured of its own establishment, so it was less concerned about covering new ground and encouraging innovation.

“I felt much more like I was in an innovative think tank at both of the ex-polys where new ways of thinking and original projects were felt like they were more encouraged than restricted. Intellectually I found this more stimulating which to me, is a really important factor when it comes to studying at any level at university.”


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“When it comes to facilities, I wonder if people feel that Russell Group unis have better ones than ex-polys. This is absolutely not true. 

"My MSc in particular came with amazing access to current and industry relevant material. The access to textbooks in the library was also second to none and I had to spend absolutely nothing on text books. This made my MSc degree at an ex poly much better value for money than my undergraduate degree where facilities (even something as simple as a group study room booking) were less available and I had to spend quite a few hundred on textbooks to be certain of having access to them.”


Future prospects

“Don't write a university off on the basis that is an ex-poly, and don't assume that getting into a Russell Group is the be all and end all. Look at the content of a course and whether it fits your career and/or interest goals.

“Your mileage may vary because every course is different. Some universities may be excellent in one area and poor in others, both Russell Group and ex polys.

"All that aside though I can tell you that I was very impressed with the ex polys I went to and there were some ways in which the Russell Group was disappointing. It’s short sighted to assume that an ex poly is inferior to a Russell Group because this is far from true.

"In terms of employment, my grade and subject have been a bigger factor than the university I got them from. Location is also important because being hung up on prestige won't help you grow, but being somewhere that feels right and presents you with opportunities relevant to you will.”

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Things to think about when choosing your uni

1) Size Class size is a good thing to think about when considering your choices. Many smaller universities have a closer feel. Before you make any decisions, have a chat to current students from the university. Are they happy with their lecture sizes? Do they feel acknowledged as individuals, or lost in the crowd? 

2) Facilities: It’s important to consider facilities when picking your uni. What is the library like? Will you be able to get the books you need? Make sure that any facilities you're shown are there for undergraduates to use. 

Sometimes universities advertise facilities which in practice are used primarily for research and by postgraduate students.

3) Teaching When selecting a course, you’ll need to think about the teaching. Don't assume that just because a uni is in the Russell Group the teaching will be stellar. Do your research by asking around on TSR and speaking to current students at open days 

4) Graduate prospects: Find out what links your chosen universities have with businesses and if they have any connections with local businesses. 

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