Eight things to consider when choosing a university

Is choosing a university overwhelming? Not sure where and what to study? Here’s a guide to the things you should consider when researching the options.

Deciding to go to university is a big deal and may even be the first important life decision you make independently. Going to university can enhance your career opportunities, greatly improve your social and personal development and be fun and exciting. It can also be a huge commitment in time and money so it’s important to get it right. 

Here are eight things you should consider when choosing a university.

1) The course/subject 

There are many different reasons for choosing a degree course so have a good think about why you are going to university and what you would like to study. Do you want to try something new or continue with a subject you are already interested in or enjoy?  Do you need a specific degree for your future career?  Would you prefer to do a degree with a combination of subjects? Does the course offer work placements or overseas exchanges?

To help you decide, it’s also a good idea to check out the course content. Is it a curriculum you are familiar with or would enjoy? What are the entry requirements, for example, is an interview part of the application process? How is the degree assessed, for example, what percentage of the course is coursework, exams and practical work?

2) Location and lifestyle 

What kind of lifestyle do you want to experience during your university years? Are you attracted by the big city or would you prefer a more rural environment? Do you have a geographical preference, or do you need to stay close to home? 

A large number of students find it necessary to work part-time whilst studying so are employment opportunities important to you? What is public transport like, for lectures, social activities and getting home for the holidays?  There are also many exciting opportunities for studying overseas so make sure you explore these too.

3) Type of university 

There is a wide and diverse range of universities available so it’s worth considering what kind would suit you. Is the size of the university important to you? Are you attracted to a more traditional university in a historical city or is a newer, more contemporary atmosphere what you are looking for?

Consider if a large campus or buildings spread across a town or city is more your style. Are you looking for a specialist establishment, for example, agricultural, sporting, musical, scientific or creative and artistic?

4) Accommodation  

Student accommodation has improved greatly in recent years. Serviced apartments, gyms, breakout rooms and social spaces are the norm in many universities. It’s really important to consider who you want to live with and how far you might want to commute with regards to university, social and employment travel.

Would you like to stay in university accommodation for your first year? Is private rental with friends more realistic for your second year? Don’t forget to look at the safety, affordability, accessibility and convenience of all the different types of accommodation available.

5) Ranking and reputation 

For some undergraduates, the history and reputation of a university is important. University rankings and league tables are a good place to start when assessing the overall rating of a university and specific courses you are interested in.

It’s also a good idea to talk to recent graduates and current students to gain an up-to-date insight of the university and the departments you may wish to study within. A word of caution though. What is good for other people may not be good for you so look at the wider picture and remember that league tables only show part of the story. 

6) Extracurricular activities 

University is not just for studying!  It’s a great time to explore your new world and independence, try new activities, find different interests, widen your views and opinions and meet other like-minded individuals. Sports and societies play a large part of university life, can enhance your CV and the facilities at some establishments are world class. They can also be a good way to meet new people away from your course or accommodation.

7) University facilities and services 

A large part of your student life will be spent using the facilities and services available on campus or within the university, so it’s worth researching what the universities you’re interested in actually offer.

Here are some of the things to consider:

  • The availability and reach of Wi-Fi
  • Library opening hours
  • Students’ union location and events
  • Availability and variety of food and refreshment outlets
  • Sports/fitness facilities
  • Social spaces
  • Transport
  • Medical provision
  • Career advisory services
  • Student support, for example, counselling and mental health

8) Post-graduation 

It may seem a long way in the future, but graduation day will arrive sooner than you think. It’s worth considering what will happen after you’ve completed your degree. What percentage of graduates from your chosen university and course go into employment? Does the university have good connections with industry? Is staying on for post-graduate study an option for you?

Sources of information

There is an overwhelming amount of information out there to assist your research in choosing a university. Here are some of our favourites;

  • University open days (virtual and in-person)
  • University websites
  • ucas.com – UCAS is an independent charity providing information, advice, and admissions services
  • Unifrog.org – all the available information into one single, impartial, user-friendly platform that helps students to make the best choices, and submit the strongest applications
  • School/college HE advisors
  • completeuniversityguide.com.uk – independent UK university rankings, course information and expert advice for every student
  • Current undergraduates and recent graduates

Student finance

Worried about funding your time at university? Going to university can be an expensive investment and the total cost can vary widely in different locations. Costs may include tuition fees, accommodation, food, social activites and transport. Don’t forget to explore financial support, for example, student loans, bursaries and grants. Ucas.com and gov.uk are great places to start.

Some final advice

University is not for everyone. There’s no pressure to go and it’s just one of the many different and varied opportunities for young people today. There is always the option to go to university later or you can study part-time – some employers will even pay for it! The most important thing is you do your research now so you can make an informed decision regardless of what you decide to do.

Remember – start your research early, take your time in making your choices and be prepared to change your mind throughout the process! Good luck and enjoy the ride.

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Caroline Would is a RAF veteran and founder of AD ASTRA Coaching Mentoring Training, which “unlocks the confidence, happiness and potential of young people”.

She provides confidence-building 1:1 programmes, workshops and online training courses for schools and organisations in the UK and across South East Asia and her clients include Hollywood actors, TV presenters, senior corporate leaders, artists, graduates, stressed-out parents and young people aged 10-18.

Photo by Thought Catalog