How to make sure you've picked the right firm uni

Smiling student

Choosing the right uni for you? It's about more than just league table placings, say current students

So you've been offered a place at uni. Maybe you've got more than one - perhaps even a full house of five offers...

It's a good feeling; getting those offers is no mean feat. But now you're onto the serious business: choosing the one you like best.

Which will be your firm? Which will be your insurance? And, once you've decided, how do you feel confident you've made the right call?

Making the call

League tables, course details, uni reputations...all these things matter and will obviously have an impact on your decision. But there's more to consider before you can feel sure about your firm uni choice.

You also need to think about your life at that place. Is it somewhere where you'll be happy?

Working this stuff out doesn't have to be a headache. As Lauren McWilliams, higher education adviser at UEA, points out, getting those offers means you've already done the hard work. 

"Narrowing down those five to two is the fun part," says Lauren. "You get to explore those universities in more detail.

"You can consider the best aspects of student living, what clubs and societies you would like to join, what kind of university experience you want to have and most importantly - decide whether you can visualise yourself studying there for the next few years."

So how do you work all that out? We spoke to uni students to get their advice. Based on what they told us, here are three steps to feeling confident you've got your firm choice right.

Students on a campus tour

Don't ignore your social life

Everyone gets it; you're going to uni to study. Still, that doesn't mean you're going to spend three years chained to a library desk.

"Socialising is a major part of student life," says Jasmine, a biomedical science student at Roehampton. "I thought it would be 100% studying but making connections and meeting people is very useful in the long run."

Esther, studying biology at Durham, agrees. Her main focus at university is "balancing work and the social side of things and trying to experience as much as possible".

"Think about what's important to you," she says. "At the end of the day you want to be somewhere where you're happy."

Yup, it really is all about work/life balance, and it really does matter. You're going to find it tough to do your best uni work if your non-academic life is making you miserable.

"Three years can really fly by if you're in the right place, but trust me, it can really drag if you choose the wrong one," says Ness, studying veterinary medicine at Royal Veterinary College. 

Your university visits will have given you an idea of what each university is like, but for the inside view you can't beat talking to students there.

Check the union site for each of your universities to get a sense of their scene and whether they feel like a good match for you.

Then get yourself onto the The Student Room university forums or a university-specific platform (such as UEA’s Ask-Us platform) and talk to some current students.

Keep in touch as many times as you can

You probably did the open day merry-go-round when you were choosing where to apply. Now you've got your offers in hand, you may have already had another chance to visit - on an applicant day.

Visiting on an applicant day gives you a chance to see the university again and to take a much closer look into the facilities that would be available to you. Also, you'll be able to talk to the current students who will be showing you around.

Although the students that you speak to are employed by the university, that doesn't mean they won't give you genuine answers. Talk to as many of them as you can and be sure to ask them about anything that matters to you.

"Go with your gut - not where you feel you should go because it may look better or it's where your parents want you to go," says UEA student Clare. "Really grill the student you chat to about life outside of academia and see which best suits what you want."

After so much of our lives became virtual during the coronavirus pandemic, universities are now much more geared up for online tours. UEA’s virtual open day, for example, gives you the chance to view some of that university's facilities without leaving your home.

Students chatting

Take your time

Lots and lots of people commit to their firm and insurance decision in January, February and March, but there's no reason to be so hasty.

"Consider all the possibilities." says Alice, studying primary education at UWTSD. "Make sure that where you decide to go is for you and you only. 

"Try to make the best decision for the person you are cheesy as that sounds. Choose the uni that suits you best, consider the location, the accommodation, everything. Don't choose somewhere based on the nightlife if you don't enjoy going out but might in the future."

"Take all aspects of the university into account and make a list of all pros and cons of each," says Anna, studying geosciences at Keele. "Then compare them to decide on the one which best matches your needs."

Finally, don't forget that making your firm choice is a commitment. It's not easy to change your mind about your firm once that decision is made.

"Remember that once you firm you are bound to that choice so make sure you choose it because it’s where you want to go to most out of all your offers," says medical student Erin.

"My advice would be: don’t choose a university just because it’s ranked number one or two. Choose it because you love the place and your course and you can see yourself living there for the next few years of your life."

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