You’ve taken the big step and decided that you want to study at university – the next question is, which university do you want to apply to? There are around 130 universities in the UK, which doesn’t even take the number of universities around the globe into account. With this much choice, it can be a daunting task trying to work out which university is the right choice for you.
During the academic year of 2020/2021, there were 2.66 million students who attended a UK university or higher education institute. Whilst most students have their heart set on attending a particular university before they even begin the application process, many other students are unsure about which institute they want to study at.
Luckily, there are a number of factors that you can review to help you decide which universities you want to apply to. It’s a good idea to create a list of pros and cons for various institutes so that you can easily compare the universities and decide on where you want to apply.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the different things that can impact your decision of where you want to study and spend the next few years of your life.
How to decide which universities to apply for
There are many different factors to consider when trying to decide which university to attend. We’ve compiled a list of things that can impact which universities you apply to, based on factors such as the educational content and social life of the local area.
Decide on a subject to study
The first thing you need to do when deciding on a university is to think of what course you would like to study. Many universities specialise in certain subject areas, which can help you narrow down which universities you would like to apply to. For example, the world-famous University of Oxford specialises in the arts and humanities, whilst Durham University is well-known for its archaeology courses.
There are many ways that the course you take can impact where you study. You may be more inclined to choose a university that is close to the sea if you are taking a marine biology course, or find a university that is based in a city that has multiple automobile factories if you want to study engineering.
Compare course content
Some people prefer to take exams whilst others find that they perform better when they are working on coursework. Whatever you prefer, you can base part of your university choice on the type of modules that the course features, as well as the examination practices and method of teaching.
It’s a good idea to think about the subject areas that you excelled at during A-Levels or college to help you decide the modules that you would like to study at university. Different university courses may pay particular attention to specific topics and learning practices. For example, you may find that one university offers more practical classes whilst others focus on sit down lectures.
Attend a summer school
A good way to get a feel for a university is often to get a first-hand experience of what it is like to attend the institute. One way to do this is to attend a summer school that is hosted at the university you are considering. This can potentially give you an edge and help you to stand out amongst other applications too.
For example, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are highly competitive, which is why attending a summer school at one of the institutions can show initiative and ambition. It will show that you have planned ahead and have based your application on prior experience and research.
Compare university rankings
UK universities are ranked on an annual basis, using factors such as the university’s entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. You can also consult table rankings for specific subject areas if you want to find a university that specialises in your chosen course.
Universities that rank well on the university league tables tend to be looked upon more favourably by future employers and further education institutes. This is because many of these institutes are more competitive to get into than others and therefore require students to have high grades and extracurricular activities before they are accepted.
Talk to current students
It’s always a good idea to ask current students about their experiences at the university so that you can get an accurate perspective of what it’s like to study at the university. They can tell you the ins and outs of life at a university that only a student would know, such as the best accommodation blocks and societies that are worth joining.
Most university open days feature student ambassadors that are on hand to answer any questions that you may have in terms of the course structure, university life and the local area.
You can find out more information about the university courses on offer, including the entry requirements and career prospects for the various subjects.
Attend open days
All universities offer open days as a chance for potential applicants to look around the campus and local area to see if they would like to attend there. This is a good opportunity for students to meet the university staff, including lecturers and find out more about the teaching style at the institute. Open days are often available virtually if applicants are unable to make it in person.
Open days also allow you to look around the university buildings and accommodation blocks. It’s a good idea to look at the lecture halls, classrooms and libraries as this is where you will be spending a large portion of your time at university. Certain courses are also more practical based than others, which is why you should make sure to look around any studios or workshops that you are likely to use. This is also an opportunity to take a look at the equipment that you will be able to use.
Some institutes are campus universities, whereas others are based in the inner-city. You can narrow down your search to solely focus on the layout of the university as some students prefer to be in the midst of a bustling city and others prefer to be in a student-only environment.
Look at student accommodation
Student accommodation is a major part of university life. Whilst it’s not a good idea to only base your decision on where you will be staying, it can help to influence your decision. The quality of a university’s student accommodation can speak volumes about the care and overall experience that you can expect from the institute. For example, a well-maintained flat shows that students are treated better than one that is full of mould and cracked paintwork.
Aside from the appearance of the accommodation, you should also consider the cost of staying there. Whilst most students (barring international students) are given a maintenance loan to help them cover the cost of their accommodation, the loan may not cover the entirety of the rent. You may want to base part of your university decision on the cost of the local area.
Look around the local area
There are many universities in different cities around the UK. Some students set a radius of universities that they want to consider, based on how close they are to home or the area that the institute is based in. There are cities around the UK that have certain industries that excel better than others, whether it be the arts scene, motor industry or sciences.
The distance between your home and university is a big factor when it comes to applying to universities. You will likely have to transport your belongings to and from the campus over the course of the terms and different academic years, which can cost money in train or bus fares. You may also want to visit home on a regular basis, which is why it makes more sense to choose a university that is fairly close.
The city size and layout can also have a major impact on your decision-making. Some students prefer quieter cities that are relatively small whilst others relish living in a fast-paced, large city. People in the local area can also change your university experience. Some UK universities are set in diverse, friendly cities but not all cities are as welcoming or friendly.
This is an even more important step if you are looking to study abroad and aren’t familiar with the local area or country. Looking around the campus can help you to choose a university that feels like you would settle into student life quickly and easily.
Check out the societies and clubs
University courses aren’t the only important thing in a student’s life. It’s also a good idea to join as many cultural or social clubs as you want in order to make friends and learn new skills.
You can choose to join clubs and societies that are focused on hobbies that you already have or as a way to collect new ones. These groups are also a good chance for you to expand your CV by gaining important skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication – especially if you join the committee and help to organise meetings and events.
Clubs are a good way for you to take a break from your studies and spend time with your friends. Many students struggle with stress, especially during examination periods, so this can be a good way to unwind and take the time doing things that you enjoy.
The students union is usually the central hub of the campus university. They usually contain cafes for socialising, as well as hosting a variety of clubs and events throughout the year. It’s a good place to meet new people and try new things – especially if there are stalls or taster sessions set up at an open day event.
You can usually see what the students’ union gets up to on the university website or social media platforms. The social side of universities is an important aspect of student life, which is why it should play a part in your decision on the right university to apply to.