If you’re planning on making the big move to university, the institution that you ultimately choose to pursue your studies is perhaps one of the most important decisions you’ll be required to make in your academic career. Yet with the overwhelming choice available, the decision can be a difficult one, to say the very least. How can you be sure that you’re making the right decision for you?
When making your decision about which university to attend, you’ll need to look beyond the prospectus. Your choice institution will affect not only your academic and professional life, but your social life, too - all of which are inherently important for an all-rounded university experience. To shed some light on what can be a frightful task, here are perhaps some of the most important factors to consider when it comes to narrowing down your university choices.
1. Choosing what to study.
There are many reasons and motivations for attending university, however, at the end of the day you are there to study and ultimately receive a degree. It might be the case that you’ve been set on a particular career path for a number of years, and you know exactly how you’re going to get there. Though, it isn’t always so easy - in fact, determining what you want to do for the rest of your life can be daunting. Believe it or not, one of the biggest regrets many graduates have is not picking the right course. To save yourself a world of wasted time, consider your course carefully.
Take some time to mull over some important questions with yourself; what subjects are you most interested in? What courses are offered in those subjects? How do you like to learn? What are your career aspirations? Once you figure out what it is you really want to pursue, this will ultimately help you to narrow down your university choices. Many universities will offer similar courses, but with different approaches to teaching, as well as different modules and subjects covered within the course itself; so be sure to do your research, especially on the compulsory modules, as you won’t have a choice about studying them!
You should also research the entry requirements for each course that you look at. Be realistic about your target grades, but be sure not to under or overestimate your abilities. When narrowing down your choices, cover all of the possible outcomes.
Don’t forget that some universities will also have a better reputation for your particular field of study than others, and this can greatly help in narrowing down your choice of institution once you’ve settled on your course.
2. University rankings.
It goes without saying that some universities are more prestigious or highly-respected than others. Some are known for having tougher entry requirements, higher teaching standards, and better graduate prospects. As such, when it comes to narrowing down your choices, it’s always worthwhile taking a look at university league tables. They allow you to compare universities, but perhaps most importantly, allow you to see how well they rank in your particular field of study.
However, a word of caution. Do not put too much emphasis on this. Whilst it is information worth knowing, all other things being equal, it should not be a sole influencer in making your choices. The course you really want to do in the location you like best is going to be the most conducive to doing well. A First from a university lower down the rankings could well be better than a 3rd from a presitigious university and if you are not happy that is what could happen.
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3. Location and distance from home.
Location is arguably one of the most important factors to consider when narrowing down your university choices. Perhaps you’re itching to move as far away from home as possible to get your first real taste of independence; but are you really ready to be on the other side of the country, making it more difficult to visit home whenever you please?
Where you choose to study is undoubtedly important - after all, it’s where you’re going to be for three years at the very least. The best way to find out whether a university and its location is really right for you is by visiting it. University open days are designed for exactly that reason, so don’t hesitate to make the most of the chance to visit the campus and surrounding areas.
4. How much will university cost?
Financial considerations will inevitably play a huge role in where you decide to study, and there is much more to consider than the tuition fees alone (which, by the way, vary from university to university, region to region; so research is key!)
The varied cost of living in each town or city could potentially sway your choice of university completely. You’ll need to factor in the cost of accommodation, public transport, and basic living expenses - all to name but a few. A pint of beer in central London could cost you £5 - why? Because it’s London. Take the time to compare living costs across different towns and cities to gain a better understanding of what will be the most realistic choice for you.
Remember, though, more and more universities are now offering scholarships, grants and bursaries to help students with the cost of living whilst studying - and you might just be entitled to this additional funding. Take the time to research what funding opportunities might be available.
5. The overall student experience.
With so much focus placed on the academic rankings of universities, the overall student experience is often very much an afterthought. However, for many young people who are likely having to adapt to life away from home for the very first time - the social aspect of university is something that will play a huge role in their time spent there, and should be a priority.
Universities across the UK are hugely diverse, with campus culture varying across each and every institution. You can choose from bustling student cities such as Leeds or Liverpool; perfect options if the social aspect of university is important to you, as the student night-life culture is much more prevalent in these cities. Perhaps it’s the idea of getting involved in the university’s clubs and societies that appeals to you most - what does your choice of university have to offer? All of these factors and more contribute to the overall student experience, and what you will get out of it.