Making the decision
By this point, you should have a short list of possible universities; potential institutions you think you like the look of, or which are the right sort of distance from home.
You should have about ten or fifteen universities you quite like the look off, with solid courses, appealing locations, reasonable expectations of you as a student and fair satisfaction rates. Once you’re happy with that, then the detailed work begins. Then you can start narrowing your spectrum of choice down to the five universities you’ll eventually apply to.
Talk to people
University is a big deal; a lot of people have been through it and all of them are going to have their own unique experiences and opinions. As you research and think about university, you’ll inevitably talk about it with your teachers, parents and friends and they'll inevitably make suggestions. Listen to them.
They’ll be able to point you in the right direction, make suggestions about where you could go or what you should do, and that’s always valuable. These people are going to have experiences similar to yours, or they’ll be going through the same sort of thing. They only want what’s best for you. But don’t let their advice cloud your judgement.
This is still your decision, and universities are going to have changed massively since when your parents and teachers went. Make sure you visit universities yourself, and that your final decision is your own.
These will be your first port of call when it comes to narrowing down your choices, and axing universities from the long-list. These will give you more information on your course, on the services offered by the university, on the ethos it cultivates, on its history, accommodation, student’s union, on the facilities it offers, on extra-curricular offerings like student journals and newspapers. All the important stuff – it’s vital you collect them.
There are a couple of ways to get hold of them. Your sixth form or college might have a handful of different prospectuses available, and they’ll be more than willing to order some from a particular university if you ask. You can also download them from university websites or receive them face-to-face at higher education fares.
Those fares are almost as important as the prospectuses themselves; they’ll give you a chance to meet and speak to a representative of the university and, in so doing, get a taste for the kind of ethos they cultivate. More than that, you’ll get a chance to ask questions and get an answer. Even if it’s something you can find out online, getting something from another human being is always more convincing than reading it online.
The prospectuses, at best, should help you axe a few potential universities from your list. Open days are what will help you make the final few decisions. They’re also deeply, deeply necessary. Because, although prospectuses are useful, they’re biased. They’re marketing materials, and they’re always going to try and show the university in its best, most positive light. Trust a university prospectus and every university everywhere is going to seem like the best in the world.
The only way to make a distinction, a real distinction, is to visit for yourself. That’s where open days come in. They’re the best way to get a real, distinct feel for a campus and a campus environment, to decide whether or not you like it. You might read that Birmingham is a bustling midlands metropolis, but you won’t know if it’s the metropolis for you until you take a look for yourself.
If that isn't quite enough, if you're still a little bit stuck, there are a few more things you can do.
Take a look at online resources like our university profiles and visit university and department websites to get better sense for their exact personalities. Doing this might also net you the chance to take a virtual tour of university facilities and accommodation which, though by no means a substitute for the real thing, is always valuable.
Next page: Choosing a University – Student Experiences