Before you hit 'firm' on that uni offer, are you sure you've picked the right one?
If they’re not already in your hands, they will be soon. Offers of university places have been dropping onto doormats and into inboxes around the country and it’s nearly time to make the latest Biggest Decision Of Your Life: which uni offers to accept.
Before you do, there are lots of things to think about. Will your course get you a job? Will you enjoy the degree? What opportunities are there to study abroad or take a year out in industry?
But that's not all. Many other aspects will affect your day-to-day life at university, things which are easy to overlook.
So, we asked the TSR community what mattered most to them about their university. Based on what they told us, here are five questions to ask yourself before you decide on your firm. And, once you've decided, don't miss our follow-up feature on three steps to feeling confident you've got your firm choice right.
Where do you want to be?
Most students (about three quarters, says The Guardian) move away from home when going to university. Independent living is part of the point. Fending for yourself, taking responsibility, doing a bit of adulting are all part of the learning process. University life isn't just about studying.
Where you study matters just as much as what you study, so have a think about what's important to you. For a start: campus or city?
“Campus is where all the uni is mostly in one place, usually including accommodation as well,” says 999tigger on the forums. “Non-campus is where the uni is spread out. Some people prefer campus because they like everything in one place.”
Michelle Bieger goes to a campus uni. “It's convenient; literally everything is in one place,” she says. “We have a bank on campus, a pharmacy and medical centre, a student support service, tons of cash machines, an SU shop... I often see friends and then can just hop over to a cafe to grab a quick coffee with them.
"There's a gym on campus, so on my way home I can use that. By the time I've arrived back at night I've gone through a whole day's worth of studying and 'adulting' without ever really going beyond campus! At night we have plenty to do as well - a pub, a bar and two club spots."
Whether a campus uni works for you depends on what you want to get from university. If you're not the exploring type, you might end up living in a "confined bubble” says lilGem, pointing out that city universities can also have their own sense of community.
“[A city] university is integrated into the town so it's easier to explore and get a better sense of direction. You see the same people in lectures and the like, but you meet different people every day.”
Think about the type of unis on your shortlist. Which of them best suit your lifestyle?
Will you feel at home?
Most new students will live in halls, finding a place in either the uni's own halls or those of a private company. Which you choose - or which is available to you - can make a big difference to your lifestyle, as Blue_Cow points out on the forums.
Private halls may have “fewer events or less of a 'cohesive' atmosphere compared to university-owned halls,” they say, and there may be “fewer first-years to bond with".
But there can be advantages – private halls may have better facilities and could be a longer-term base in your second and third years if sharing a house doesn’t appeal.
Either way, it pays to get your head around all the accommodation on offer at each of your university options. Don't forget, some halls might be very popular, so you might not get a place in your number one pick.
Check the accommodation offerings of each university - bearing in mind you might not get your first choice.
What social scene do you want?
The strength of a university's student union can make a big difference to the sense of student community there. Unis with active unions will typically have lots of clubs and societies, and you can expect an active union to stand up for the issues that matter to its students. You can find out more about the union on your open day or applicant day, or you can simply take a look at its website or Facebook page.
“Before I went to uni, my friend advised me to join two societies and go to them religiously,” VickyDoodle says on the forums. “Didn't exactly listen, joined three and only actually been to one properly - but going to every single event from that soc was the best decision I made yet. I made so many friends and had a great time!”
Student union bars can be a real hub for meeting people and making new friends. At some unis, the SU might be the only game in town. “The best thing about my SU is cheap drinks,” 04MR17 says. “The only reason it's so popular is probably because there isn't really any other viable options when it comes to drinking.”
Find out about the social scene at each uni. Which feels right for you?
What do other students think?
To get a true picture of what a university is like, you need to hear from the students who are already there. Our sister site The Uni Guide is a decent place to start - it lists courses for universities across the UK, with results from the National Student Survey for each.
Plus, of course, there's plenty of help to be found on The Student Room where our university forums are busy with thousands of current university students. Ask them about anything - you'll quickly get the inside view on what each university is really like.
Talk to current students to get answers to your questions
What facilities do you need?
Universities put great emphasis on developing their facilities and you'll be hard pushed to find a uni that isn't proud to show off its latest shiny building.
Try to look past all that gleaming glass and steel to uncover the facilities that actually matter to you as a person. Do you long for somewhere with outstanding sporting facilities? Do you need any special health support? Some universities house art galleries and museums - do these feature on your 'must-have' list?
Some facilities will be top of the list for everyone. A university with a well-resourced careers service will be invaluable once it's time to go job-hunting. Well-stocked libraries and high-tech IT facilities are essential - the quality of these will vary from university to university. How much do you know about the set-up at your preferred unis?
And how about your course? Universities offer everything from live-connected financial terminals to Harrier jump-jets for their students to use as part of their course. Find out about the facilities that enhance the teaching at your uni.
Make a list of the facilities you need/want at uni - then tick them off against each of your offers.
Watch more videos about student life
Our vloggers are sharing their experiences of student life direct from the campus. In this video playlist, we've collected their vlogs about first year accommodation, to help you get an idea of what it's like when you first start.
This competition closes for entries at 23:59 on 31 May 2021.
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