Researching Universities - Which Uni Should I Go To?

Researching UniversitiesThere are so many choices when it comes to choosing where you will be spending the next 3 or 4 years studying and essentially changing into your life and becoming a different person, the task can seem daunting. Your last year at college/sixth form will be consumed with the details of when, where, what, how, who all related to universities.  There are a lot of different things to take into consideration when deciding, which universities to apply to, things such as:

  • Location
  • Prestige
  • Money
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Bursaries/Scholarships
  • Etc.

All of this can seem like a lot but here is what you should remember and what you should do; Take a deep breath and remember, this decision needs to be practical but also the best decision for you. When looking into the different institutions and trying to pick your top 5 for the UCAS form, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Firstly, while many others can help you come to decisions and can influence your decision of which university to go to, just remember, you know yourself better than anyone else. When deciding on a university you need to ask yourself where and who. Where is the school located? Is it close to home, on the other side of the country? Don’t pick a university 300 miles away just because you want to get away from your parents or your home town. Is it somewhere that offers a lot of opportunities for the field in which you plan to enter after graduating? Also, you might want to check out how big the university population is. Do you work better in smaller class sizes or bigger? Do you need one-on-one time with your professors and tutors or do you work better on your own? You should know the answer to these questions when deciding on a university and then apply to universities according to them.

Cost is something very important to think about when choosing universities. This goes beyond the rise in tuition fees and what you will have to pay for the privilege of studying your chosen course. It includes living expenses, social activities, memberships to clubs/societies, books, etc. Know if you are going to need financial help or scholarships. Many universities have bursary schemes, which are based on your grades that you obtain at A-Level. It’s always worth contacting different departments at your university choices to find out if they have bursary or scholarship schemes.  If your parents are paying regardless of the cost then you don’t need to worry about it, but that isn’t the case for most students. Research how much money each university generally gives to students and what percentage of the tuition and fees it covers, if any. Check out any scholarships the school offers that you would be eligible for. Then, after making those calculations, figure out if you could cover whatever is left over. If you can’t afford the university and know you won’t be able to get much financial help or that the loan will not be enough to cover your living, then it might be worth looking into universities that you can afford even if they aren’t ideal. Being thousands of pounds in debt after graduation isn’t the most fun thing in the world.

At this point, it is worth noting that the Student Loans Company does account for the average living expenses at different universities. An example being, students in London do receive a higher amount for their maintenance loan that a student attending a university in Sheffield, given the higher cost of living in London. The loans are usually calculated to be enough to get you through the year, but as mentioned above, not everyone will want to get the maximum amount as not everyone wants to start life after university in thousands of pounds of debt. Also one can never account for the standard student blowing most of their first loan instalment during Freshers week (Something we do not advise!)

When researching, try to find out what the university is best-known for and if the department you are interested is a well known department of that university. Even if the department you’re interested in isn’t very well-known, dig a little deeper. Sometimes universities can have unsung heroes; amazing professors that haven’t been given much acclaim. This is when a campus visit can be useful. If you get to sit in on a potential professor’s lecture, it might give you a better idea about how that department works and you might even be able to meet a professor who can help foster your career interest. Other things to consider is, are you better at coursework or exams? This should be another consideration of which university you should apply to.

Something else to take into account you should take a look at all the extracurricular activities the university offers. Many smaller universities don’t offer quite as wide a variety as the larger universities. You could end up being very disappointed after you start only to find out they don’t have any sports teams you’re interested in joining or that debating society where you can strengthen your public speaking. If you’re interested in a particular club or society, make sure the university you choose offers it because not all of them do.

If you’re living away from home, find out what kind of housing is available for each year of being a student at that university. Some universities have special requirements for on-campus housing vs. off-campus housing. Know the price differences for each and how to become eligible. Make sure you know the dates those applications for campus accommodations are due. This is very important because if you try to get housing late, sometimes there won’t be any available and that can make for a very long commute or staying away from all your new friends. It’s worth talking to former students to get a good indication of which campus will suit you.

Wrapping up, the best advice anyone can and should give you is to visit the university you are considering. The best indications in life are always by experience – you would never buy a car without test driving it and the same principles apply to choosing universities. While on paper a university may appear great, you will never know if it is the right fit for you until you visit the campus, experience it for yourself and speak to current students and staff to get the real ‘insider information.