How to make sure you pick a uni you'll love

students chatting outside halls

Three current students explain how they knew they were making the right uni choice


Choosing a uni is easy. It’s choosing the right uni that’s the hard part.

Helpful tools are everywhere: from league tables to enticing prospectuses to TSR’s own university matching service. But nothing can replicate actually being there. For that, you’ll want to get to an open day for every uni you’re seriously considering.

Do the open day trip right and you’ll come home with an incomparable insight into your chosen unis. Do it wrong and it’s easy to return with little more than a hazy recollection of what the campus looked like.

We spoke to three current students - first year international development student Mev, second year history undergraduate Katie and third year English literature student Hannah - and asked them what they did on their open days to feel sure they’d made the right choice.

Students reading together

Talk to the right people

Every would-be uni student is a target for head-spinning volumes of marketing and, make no mistake, open days are a big part of that sales patter. But on an open day you get a neat chance to sidestep the hard sell by talking to student guides.

“Yes, we do still want to show the university in the best light,” says Hannah, who’s now working for her uni as a student guide. “But we can tell you what the student experience is really like, not what the university would like it to be.”

“Meeting students was one of the most memorable parts of my open day at UEA,” adds Katie. “They were honest about how they found the course and accommodation and it was interesting to hear why they chose this university.

“It’s also good to see how students and staff interact. I remember feeling like the students genuinely got on with the staff. The department felt relaxed and friendly, which was the kind of academic environment I wanted.”

Mev took the opportunity to ask a wide range of questions. “I mingled with current students and asked them about their typical week, what they loved about their course, their favourite modules and what they loved about their university and city.”

Student reading in the library

Ask the right questions

Those chats with current students will get you information from a perspective you can relate to. But on an open day you’ve also got a one-off opportunity to talk to the academic staff who could ultimately be teaching you.

“It’s such a great opportunity to ask questions face-to-face,” says Katie.

“My biggest tip here is to be brave and ask as many questions as you can. This is the best chance you’ll have to find out everything you want to know. Don’t leave without all your questions answered.”

For Hannah, her conversations with academic staff provided just as much information on where she didn’t want to study. “You probably won’t click instantly with every member of the department, but chat to them about their research area,” she says. ”Are they passionate when talking about it and, more importantly, are they passionate about teaching it to you?

“I don’t remember all the members of the faculty I spoke to on my UEA open day, but I do remember staff at other universities who were cold and aloof, and who made me feel as though they were doing me a favour by giving me the time of day.”

Mev had already visited a lot of open days when he decided to switch the course he planned to study. It was too late to book another open day, so he took another route.

“I contacted the department to get hold of a lecturer, who discussed the ins and outs of the course profile with me.

“Talking to the lecturer got me really excited about the course. At that point, I knew I had found the best degree for me.”

students laughing

Be prepared

Any open day conversations will go best if you’ve done some groundwork.

“Come along with a few questions already in mind,” says Katie. “Otherwise you might find yourself wishing you’d asked about something a few days later when it’s too late.”

“You can check your subject’s course page on the university website,” adds Hannah. “Familiarise yourself with the basics and it saves you time on the day.

“I did this and it meant I could ask specific questions about modules. It’s also worth finding out how they assess you. For example, would you prefer exams at the end of three years or continuous coursework assessment across two or three?”

Think about the other areas of your student life as well. You’re going to be living there - not just studying - so carve out some time to explore the surrounding area. Don’t underestimate how important it is to be happy where you’re living.

Accommodation tours will run during the open day - make sure you go on one and get an idea of what all the halls are like, not just the shiny ones that are shown off to prospective students.

While you’re at it, you can ask current students where people usually end up living in years two and three. Just try to absorb as much about the place as you possibly can; it’s all going to add to your overall sense of whether the uni is the right one for you.

“It sounds cheesy, but when you find the right university, you’ll just know,” says Hannah. “I walked around plenty of universities that I would have been happy at, but after visiting UEA I just sensed that it was the right place for me. You can’t second guess that magic, but you will know when it happens.”

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