Making the Decision
Compile a short list of possible universities.
- For some, location will be critical and this will immediately narrow down the choice.
- Others may be keen to go to a prestigious or high-ranking university and then have to consider whether they can meet the entry requirements.
- Some students may be particularly keen to carry on with a minority sport and so will want to go to one of the two or three places where they can do this.
- For most, it is a combination of factors such as these that will result in the elimination of most universities, so that a manageable list of perhaps ten or fifteen will emerge. Then the detailed work begins.
The first sources of information will be the undergraduate prospectus, website and app.
- These are the main recruiting documents that universities produce and should include most of what you will need to know, including details of courses, facilities and entry requirements.
- Prospectuses and websites are not impartial; they are designed by the marketing and advertising department to make the university seem attractive. The sun is always shining in prospectus photographs.
- Good quality prospectuses and websites will give you a feel for a university's priorities. Nothing replaces a face-to-face visit.
- The website will generally have the most up-to-date module choice and financial details.
- Our University Profiles include links to the individual university websites.
- The website might give you the chance to take a virtual tour of the university. Departments will usually have their own sites and you can often access student handbooks for all the detail you will ever need about courses, options, teaching methods and assessment.
Tricks of the prospectus trade
- Graduates always get interesting jobs. There may have been one student who twenty years ago became an astronaut. What are the usual employment routes available to graduates from the course? Data and 'graduate level employment' or the graduate data from our subject rankings is a better guide.
- Famous bands or top media personalities hang around the Students' Union – but when did the chart-topping act whose photograph features in the prospectus actually come to the campus? On a typical week (as opposed to the freshers' week or summer ball when all the stops are pulled out) what will be the entertainment or guest lecture programme?
Other sources of information.
- In addition to the prospectus, many universities will produce a series of departmental booklets, which will give more detail about individual subject areas.
Another easy way of obtaining a pile of prospectuses and departmental booklets is to visit a higher education fair where most universities will have a stand to give out information.
- You may also get an opportunity to ask specific questions to a representative from the university.
- A list of the events for applicants starting university in 2013–14 can be obtained from the UCAS website.
If you are still unclear about entry requirements, check University & College Entrance: the Official UCAS Guide or the entry profiles on the UCAS website.
- If you want more information about employment or about how happy students are with their courses or about what external examiners have had to say, you can go to the Unistats website.
A personal visit to the university can also be very helpful.
- You can get a feel for the atmosphere of a university and find out just how far you will have to walk between the lecture theatres and the students' union when it is raining.
- Don't forget that open days are designed to make you want to apply and so you should be critical of what you see and hear, just like when you read a prospectus and look at the website.
- If you are unable to make the date of the Open Day, some departments might make arrangements for you to visit more informally during the summer.
- A few universities offer residential visits or accommodation viewing days, which allow a more extended and comprehensive look at the university.
While trawling through all these sources of information, you will no doubt talk to friends, parents, teachers, careers advisers and anyone else who comes within range.
- While it is good to talk, times have changed.
- A parent or teacher may have some relevant experience, this might be 20 or 30 years ago. Universities have changed a lot since then.
- Go and see for yourself.
Checklist – choosing a university
- Which universities offer your chosen subject?
- Where are they ranked in the Complete University Guide League Tables?
- How far away from home do you want to go?
- Which facilities are important to you?
- Have you looked at the website?
- Have you got a copy of the prospectus(es)?
- Is there an Open Day you can attend?
- What are the costs of going to university?
- Is the library open 24 hours a day; how far is it from your accommodation?
- Does the university cater for your hobbies or interests?
- What are the career prospects like?
- Is there a culture of students taking placement years, sandwich placements or year abroad programmes, if that is important to you?
- What is the campus like – location, single site, low travel costs?
Next page: Overseas Universities