With thousands of courses being run by hundreds of UK universities every year, choosing the right one for you can be an absolute minefield. With the average cost of a degree being over £12,000 a year in tuition fees alone (and often considerably more for international students), it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, either.
What’s more, the decision of which university to attend and what course to enrol on will be one of the most important you’ll ever make in your life, significantly impacting both your immediate future and your broader aspirations. With world-famous historic institutions, pioneering research centres, and specialist universities dotted all across the land, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of available options.
Thankfully, along with a wide variety of other online resources, the following article is here to help you make the right choice for you and your dreams for the future.
The first (and most obvious) thing you need to do is get a rough idea of the courses you’re eligible for and which ones most appeal to you. A comprehensive list of course types and their entry requirements is available from the UCAS website. However, if you’ve already got a clear idea of what sort, of course, you wish to study, you should consider the following ‘golden rules’ before advancing towards a final decision:
- Modules – Which ones are covered during the course? Do they interest you? And do they tie in with your future career plans?
- Lectures – How many of them are there? What do they involve? How much of it will be group work vs how much of it will dictate notes?
- Assessments – It’s essential to know how each end-of-module assessment will look and whether or not it will play to your strengths. For example, if it’s mainly coursework-based, but you’re far more suited to exams, then it could be time for a rethink.
- Tutors – Who are they? Do you find them engaging? And do you trust their expertise in the areas you’re keen to learn about?
- ‘The Power of Love’ by Jennifer Rush or Huey Lewis or Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Be wary that courses with the same name as another can be radically different in terms of content!
Note for International Students
You should be aware that, although many UK university courses offer flexibility, many others are specialised and specific, meaning you get to dive straight into your chosen subject right from the get-go. Read the course descriptions carefully to ensure you choose the one best suited to you. Perhaps do so with the help of a translator to avoid misunderstanding if English is not your first language.
Different Horses for Different Courses
Alternatively, you may have your heart set on attending a specific university/ and may wish to prioritise this ahead of the course you end up studying? Or perhaps you now know what course you want to do/ but are undecided on which location you’d most like to study in?
In either case, there are various online tools available to research the universities and colleges of interest. These include the individual university website(s) and online reviews left by students, and databases such as Discover Uni and university ranking tables like QS World Universities and The Times Higher Education.
The best way to get an accurate ‘feel’ for your potential university is to attend one of the many open days held by higher education institutions throughout the year. Once again, you can find a list of university open days via the UCAS website. They offer the best opportunity to get physically acquainted with the location and surroundings, as well as the staff and your potential future classmates.
If you are unable to travel to a university open day physically, or if you happen to be reading this at a time when stringent Covid_19 restrictions are still in place, then fear not – virtual open days are now a thing, too!
Again, there is a list of ‘golden rules’ to consider and follow once you’ve got your final shortlist of possible universities together:
- Do they specialise in the subject you want to study? If not, then perhaps look at a university that does, even if you don’t like it as much.
- What societies and sports facilities do they have, and would you be interested in joining any of them?
- What’s the location like? How far is it to travel to and from?
- What’s the available student accommodation like? Is it affordable? Is it in a nice area? How convenient is the location? Or, as students, as long as it’s warm and enables you to get drunk with your housemates, are you particularly bothered about any of that?
- Are you interested in work placements or studying overseas? If so, does the university course offer or allow for this?
- Have you also considered colleges? They are often much cheaper, run shorter courses, and maybe better suited to you?
Note for International Students
The most famous university is not necessarily the one that’s best tailored to you or your chosen subject. Follow the advice already laid out earlier in this section to make sure you make the right decision, rather than just the most obvious one.
Being new to and unfamiliar with the UK when you first arrive, you might also want to know how many other students from your country of origin are attending the university? Fellow compatriots who’ve been in the same situation as you can be a great help for putting you at ease, quelling some of the inevitable homesickness, and helping you adapt to student life in the UK!
You’ll also be welcomed with open arms should you wish to join any social or cultural clubs connected to your institution of choice.
As per the previous section, if English isn’t your mother tongue, perhaps consider guidance or accompaniment from a native speaker or translator when researching and deciding where and what you’d like to study.
Online Reviews & Interaction
As we’ve already referenced, many online resources are readily available to compare university and course quality. These include university rankings and online reviews.
However, perhaps the most useful and complete of these resources is Unibuddy, where you can not only read reviews from current undergraduate students at specific institutions and studying any course/ but exchange messages with and ask questions directly to them, as well.
This resource is potentially invaluable, as it will allow you to obtain a reliable picture of what to expect from an institution or course. This can either put any niggling doubts you may have to rest/ or confirm that it’s not for you, and you’re therefore better off looking elsewhere.
Don’t Forget About Specialist Universities!
If you already have a clear idea of the career, you wish to pursue and the subject you, therefore, want to study at university, it’s a good idea to look at one of the UK’s many and varied specialist universities. These focus and specialise in specific subjects and areas of study – often not STEM subjects. They can be centred on areas such as music, theatre, art & design or business.
At a specialist university, you’ll not only receive the targeted and expert teaching you desire/ but the opportunity to make new friends and connections from the pool of like-minded students you’ll be attending the institution with.
The Final ‘Golden Rules’ to Consider
- In terms of flexibility and the courses on offer, is the university right for you?
- Is it ranked highly for student care and satisfaction?
- Is it the best available option for aiding your future career? Do the majority of its students go straight into further education or employment upon graduation?
- Are the tutors knowledgeable and engaging enough for you?
- (If applicable) Does it perform well in terms of research?
- What are the facilities like? Are they sufficient and plentiful enough for your studies?
- Are there enough extra-curricular activities on offer that would be of interest to you? Sports, student unions and societies, for example?
- Is the university campus-based or liberally scattered over a town or city?
- Do the UK authorities recognise the institution as having the power to award degrees?
- Tuition fees and living costs. Can you afford them, and do they offer reasonable value for money?
- Location, location, location. Whereabouts in the UK is the institution, and does this suit you?