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Choosing the Right University
It’s not as simple as you think…
In order to get the most out of your university experience, you need to make the right decision about where to go. This sounds simple enough, but don’t forget it’s not just the course that matters.
For the next three or four years, you could be living in a city far away from your friends and family. To help make that daunting decision, there are many things that you should consider first.
There are three main things to consider when choosing your course. Firstly, will you enjoy the course that you plan to study? Secondly, does the university you want to go to offer that course? Thirdly, will the course allow you to break into the career that you are interested in?
If you are planning a career in a specific area, then do your research. Make sure that the relevant subject is taught by your first choice university. Furthermore, some universities allow their students more freedom than others when deciding which modules they want to take; so again, make sure you do your research.
For many employers, the reputation and quality of the university that you choose to go to can influence their decision to offer you an interview or not; especially if you want to compete for the most desirable graduate jobs in the most competitive industries, such as law, banking, accountancy, media and engineering. Consequently, it’s important to consider the various factors that can have an impact on an institution’s status.
University league tables can be a good start. These are released annually by publications such as The Guardian, The Times and The Independent. They rank universities based on a range of criteria, including: teaching excellence, graduate employment rates and student satisfaction. However, the tradition and long-standing reputation of certain universities can often eclipse the impact of current university tables.
You may have heard of the ‘Russell Group’ universities. If you haven’t, they are “20 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector.”* A degree from one of these universities may put you in a more advantageous position when it comes to applying for your dream job.
We’re not saying that you have to go to one of these universities in order to get a top graduate job. Indeed, there are many exceptions to the rule. Indeed, people that choose not to go to one of these institutions can, and will, secure the best and most competitive jobs. However, a degree from a Russell Group university can certainly improve your chances of success.
Another thing to consider is that general university league tables and the general reputation of an institution may not be important if you are looking to work in a niche area. Indeed, some universities, which are not generally considered to be an elite university, may offer courses that are particularly respected in their specific field. You really need to do tons of research before making your choice!
You will be living in the city where your university is based for at least three years, so you need to make sure you like it. It would be unwise to move to a city that you have never visited before, so go and take a look around before you waste a UCAS option or move to a city that you hate.
The nightlife is important to consider. Even if clubbing isn’t your cup of tea, it’s a good idea to go out and socialise with the people that you are living with. This will help you to build friendships and meet new people. Investigate the student union and the local clubs. Furthermore, try to check out the average price of drinks and entry into clubs. In larger cities, you might be looking at forking out £10 or more to get into a club on a Friday or Saturday night. Having said that, most places have student nights or student offers to help you get the most out of your loan.
You can’t party hard all the time, so check out what other activities are on offer in the city you’re moving to, such as cinemas, sports facilities, galleries, places to eat and shopping centres. It’s inevitable that you’ll get bored sooner or later and you’ll need something to do during an evening of procrastination.
It might not have crossed your mind yet, but it’s also a good idea to consider the potential for getting work experience in the city where your university is. Getting work experience whilst you’re at university can be important for getting a job once you graduate. It’s difficult to get that first piece of work experience, so you need to make sure that you maximise your chances. Do some research and find out if there are any companies in the city that offer opportunities which might interest you in the future.
Some people get homesick when they’re at university and other people don’t miss home at all. However, it’s likely that everyone will need to go home at some point. Therefore, it might be a good idea to make sure that you can get home when you really want to. For example, if you live in Newcastle and go to university in Plymouth, then it will be more expensive for you to get home.
You also need to be certain that you will be able to adapt to living away from home. For many students, this will be their first experience of living away from their parents. For many people, it is the most free and exciting time of their lives. However, other people might not be able to handle not seeing their family for up to three months at a time. This is not a decision that can be taken lightly, as it may affect whether you stay at university or drop out. If you do like home comforts and the little luxuries that your parents offer you, then make sure you do actually want to move away from home.
When you’re choosing a university, you need to think about the long term, i.e. what extracurricular activities does the university offer that will make you stand out from the other 200 people applying for the same graduate job?
You should find out a bunch of things before making your final decision: what societies does the university have to offer? What sports teams can you join? What other things can you get involved in to boost your employability? Do they have a student newspaper? Can I work for the university as a student ambassador? How active is the student union?
Halls of residence…
You really do get what you pay for here! You should probably go for the best option that you can afford. You don’t want to be the person saying, “I paid £50 a week and the shared toilet didn’t work, my bedroom was tiny, the walls were cracked and there was an ant problem.” It’s much better to be the person proudly saying: “I paid £70 a week and I had a huge room, an en suite and no cracked walls or infestations.”
If it’s possible, when you go for your open day, you should have a look around the halls that takes your fancy. Otherwise, it’s likely that you will automatically be shown around the best halls they have. Make sure you pick a university where the halls have a good reputation with the current students; you can usually find this out by conducting a cheeky bit of internet research.
Moving on your own…
Moving to university can be lonely, but don’t compromise what you want to do for the sake of others. Going to university is one of the most daunting and exciting experiences you will ever go through, but don’t fret, you're not the only one! Everybody else is in the same boat as you. The vast majority of people in your halls won’t know anybody else either and you’ll make friends as soon as you move in.
Don’t go to a university with a friend if you don’t want to. Choosing a university is a decision that you and you alone should make. Don’t be afraid to move on your own and go to a uni that you want to go to.
It’s all about making sure that you pick a university which has a good balance of all the things that are important to you. You are effectively choosing where you will spend the next three (or more) years of your life, so you need to look at everything the university will offer you. If you find the right mix, you will have the time of your life!