Where are you going to go? Here's how to get your head around the big decision
Choosing the wrong university is easy.
Pick the one your mates think is good. Pick the one your dad wishes he’d gone to. Or pick one based on some vague feeling that it’s got a good reputation.
Just don’t, whatever you do, spend any time doing some decent research.
Choosing the right university is a bit more demanding. It’s not something you do in a spare five minutes. It’s going to take time and you’re going to need the motivation to do some proper research. You might have to make some tough decisions – ruling out universities that you once thought were perfect for you.
But it’s worth the effort. You’ll be spending at least three years at the place you choose. It’s going to be your home, not just the place where you study. By putting in the legwork now, you can feel confident that you’ve made the right choice.
Feeling motivated? Here are eight key questions to ask yourself when you’re choosing a uni.
Campus or city?
Deciding between a campus or city uni is one of the most important questions to think about when considering your choices, says Roshan Walkerley, higher education advice manager at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
“Campuses will generally have all the key things you need within a short walk; student union, halls of residence, sports and all your academic facilities," he says. "This often creates a strong student community and can be an ideal and supportive environment for the first move away from home.
“A city uni generally has the same facilities but spread over a wider distance in among the shops, offices and restaurants of the city centre. You may have longer to commute to your classes but are often right in the heart of things happening in town.
"I’d recommend visiting at least one of each type to get a feel and see what’s right for you.”
Have you been there yet?
Getting along to a university open day isn’t always easy – especially if it’s miles away. But it’s hugely important. You might arrive and fall in love with the place, or you might instantly realise it’s the wrong choice. And if you have made a mistake, do you really want that to happen on your first day as a fresher, or on an open day when you can still easily choose a different uni?
“Nothing can beat visiting a university and seeing for yourself what it’s like,” says Francesca Uragallo, recruitment events manager at UEA. “Only by being there, asking questions and exploring will you be able to get a feel as to whether it is the right institution for you.
"Make sure you make the most of your visit by seeing as much as possible and attending at least two talks.”
Are there funding opportunities?
Nobody has much money at uni; it’s one of the facts of student life. But, says Roshan, most universities will have additional bursaries and scholarships for their students offered on top of the main student loans. “These are non-repayable – bursaries are usually based upon household income while scholarships will reward your academic performance or perhaps musical or sporting excellence.
“At UEA we have up to £3,000 available in each area. For example, our bright spark scholarship is offered to students who do well in school or college and take a pre-university research project such as the EPQ. You may need to apply to receive these scholarships so make sure you check with the universities you’re applying to and check what’s needed.”
Where will you live?
Most people spend their first year in university halls – and there will be several to choose from. You're sure to have a favourite, but bear in mind there's no guarantee you'll get placed in your preferred rooms. “While universities will aim to give everyone their top choice, this is not always possible,” says Paul Bailey, UEA’s accommodation manager. Spend some time making yourself familiar with the entire choice of halls, so you can be sure you’ll like your back-up choices if you end up living there.
Have you spoken to current students?
When you’re on an open day, you’ve got a great opportunity to talk to people who are already studying at that uni. Make sure you take the time to pop into the student union, says Mary Leishman, undergraduate education officer at UEA. “If you want to learn what it’s really like on campus, then you really should speak to the student union. Student unions are run by students, for students and play a big part in improving the student experience on and off campus.”
Of course, you’ll also find loads of current students on TSR. Make sure you visit the universities area of the forums – you’ll find hundreds of forums dedicated to specific universities across the UK. Pop in and ask a question for a quick reply from someone studying there.
What’s the uni’s TEF rating?
Don't yawn! The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) might sound dry, but it gives you a quick and easy way to check out the quality of the teaching at your chosen unis. Each university has been given an award of either gold, silver or bronze – the level should give you an indication of the kind of teaching you can expect. Don’t base your entire decision on a uni’s TEF rating, but do consider it alongside other ranking factors such as league tables.
What support are students offered?
Universities aren’t just there to help you get a degree, they’ll also provide support through the whole of your time studying there. The point of a good student support service is to ensure you get the best from your time at uni, says Jane Amos, UEA’s head of student services.
“We found that nearly three quarters of undergraduates accessed our student support service at some point during their degree,” she says. Look into the student support available at the unis you’re considering – and ask current students on TSR about their own experiences.
How strong is the uni on your course?
Everyone loves a league table, but try not to get too hung up on the headline-grabbing overall lists. Some unis might be in the lower half of the league table, but in the top 10 for certain subjects. They might be specialists in those areas, have great links to industry and some of the best lecturers and facilities. Take the time to have check how well your chosen unis do in the subjects you care about.
There’s plenty more to think about, as well. What are the facilities like? What kind of societies are on offer? What’s the nightlife like in town? When you’re choosing a uni, take time to focus on the things that will really matter to you – and make sure your final picks are strong on those.
|Our partnership with the University of East Anglia
The Student Room is proud to work with UEA, a UK top-15 university (The Times/Sunday Times 2018 and Complete University Guide 2018), as the official partner of our student life section. Not only is UEA highly rated in the league tables, it has also received a TEF gold award for excellence in teaching, learning and outcomes. UEA’s experts are here to help with any questions you have about going to university (not just going to UEA!). Give them a try at Ask UEA.
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