Should you choose a campus or city university?

Student sitting in the library in front of bookshelves

Think carefully about where you'll study; it's just as important as what you'll study


UEA

So, you’ve found five amazing courses, and you’re ready to submit your UCAS form. But before you hit 'go' on your application: wait!

Being clear about your course is one thing, but picking a place where you actually want to live... well that matters just as much.

It's easy to forget to think about the differences between a campus uni, with its convenience and strong sense of community, and a city uni, with new things happening all the time. The student experience you get from either can be very different; here's what to consider before you apply.

What do you really want?

You might already have your heart set on a campus or city uni, in which case your uni choices should reflect that. Picking a uni that doesn't feel right - even if the course is great - is a gamble that could easily backfire.

For Phil Makepeace, who studied at UCL, making his uni choices was easy. “I was simply very motivated by moving to London," he says. "Whether or not that meant spending most of my time on university property didn't really figure in my decision making as I was pretty sure I'd be happy there.”

For Catherine Momoh, a UEA graduate, location was just as important as course quality: she made sure all five of her choices were campus unis. “I wanted the whole ‘university experience’ and thought it would be an amazing way to make friends and have a good time," she says. "I chose UEA because, compared to South London, it was like a cute little village and that’s what I wanted.”

Sense of community

An important aspect of uni, especially in your first year, will be the sense of community. In a campus uni, you’ll be living exclusively with other students, whereas in a city you’ll be living with a much wider range of people.

“I was glad to live on campus in first year because it made settling into university much easier,” says Catherine. “I think it was just nice to be around people who were in the same boat as me and just as confused as I was.”

Phil initially lived within one mile of his department, but by second year everyone was forced into the suburbs owing to the expense of living in central London. “The paradox of loneliness in such a populated place hit me occasionally,” says Phil. Suddenly, everyone was spread over a massive city, and meeting friends involved a long commute.

Getting around

Whether you pick a campus or a city uni, you will probably live relatively close to your department in your first year. Most people move further afield once they move out of halls, so think about how much of a commute you’re willing to take (and how that compares with rent prices).

Catherine and her flatmates enjoyed the convenience of having everything on her doorstep when she lived on campus in first year. “Throughout the year, we all went out together to campus events and club nights in town," she says.

"We had study sessions at our kitchen table or just bought loads of snacks and went to the library all night." With everything just minutes away from her front door, Catherine could access everything she needed with no hassle or lengthy journeys.

Students looking through library books

 

As Phil progressed through his degree, he moved to Shepherd’s Bush, a 30-minute commute from uni. “I’d been so close to everything in central London that I could just walk everywhere,” he says. "Now I was a slave to public transport.”

This is an important thing to consider – will you appreciate the extra hour of daydreaming time a day, or would you prefer to get up, showered and straight into the lecture theatre?

Don’t forget, even if you live on campus in your first year, the majority of students will move off campus for the rest of their degree, so you may face a commute later on.

Facilities

Do you want all the essentials (such as the library, gym, shops and bars) on your doorstep, or can you handle the to and fro? Thinking about this could help you decide whether a campus or city uni better suits you.

Catherine said the best thing about a campus uni is that everything is close by. “I was literally five minutes from the shop, the union bar, the library, the lecture theatres. It was massively convenient,” she says. If you’re the sort of person who is looking forward to heading straight for a coffee after a stressful lecture, this could be ideal for you.

Phil’s experience in London was a little different – he had to factor in both travel time and the cost of London’s facilities into his plans, with money being particularly tricky. “There are student discounts everywhere,” Phil says, “but they basically get you back to break-even compared to normal expenditure in another city.”

Those on a tighter budget will need to carefully consider the cost of transport and spending on non-student entertainment, as prices won’t be tailored for students in the same way as they are in a campus.

New surroundings

Neither Phil nor Catherine have any regrets about their choice of uni. “I still live in London and am still very close to a number of friends I met at UCL. I got to sample campus life elsewhere by visiting friends at other universities, and I never felt like I’d made the wrong decision,” says Phil.

While Catherine really enjoyed her first year living on campus, she was just as happy to move out into Norwich in her second and third years. It meant she could explore more of the city and get more space back due to living with fewer people. “Once you’re confident about the area and know how to move around it's better to live off campus,” she says.

So, if you’re still weighing up your options, here are some important things to consider:

  • How much travelling do you mind doing to your lectures and social activities? Campus unis are good for people who like convenience, while city unis might require a bit more travelling and planning.
  • Would you rather live exclusively with other students or with a wide range of people? At a campus uni, you’ll mix almost entirely with other freshers, and at a city uni you’ll come across all kinds of people every day.
  • How much does exploring your new city matter to you? City unis force you to get out and explore, whereas campus unis mean making more of an effort to get out and see new things.
  • How does your chosen uni fit in with your budget? You may need to seek out the best student deals in a city, whereas on campus, almost everything will be tailored to a student budget.
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