December 6, 2023
5 min read
Cress Warnell

You may feel overwhelmed when it comes to choosing a university for your degree studies. With over 160 to select from in the UK, many offering a huge number of courses and variations within those courses, the options can feel almost infinite.

Your choice of university is one of those decisions that can change your life. The subject you study, your professors and tutors, the new friends you make and the new interests you acquire, will all help to shape your life and your career. 

You can’t predict how your university experience will influence your future, but you do want to choose a university that gives you the best possible opportunities in life as a graduate.

We’ve worked with thousands of students and many universities. This guide to choosing a university is based on our knowledge and experience, and can help you make the best possible choices.

Choose a university for its course

You probably have some idea of what degree you want from your university. This choice of subject can be a major influence on your choice of university. 

While each university offers a variety of degree courses, some have a reputation for leading the way in specific subjects. 

For example, Imperial College London and King's College London both have a distinguished reputation for medicine. Whereas students of media studies are more likely to put the University of Westminster or University of Leeds at the top of their list.

It’s important to remember that no two university courses are identical, even if they share the same name. When selecting a particular university and course, it pays to study the prospectus, to glean as much information as possible about how a course is structured and administered.

Be aware of entry requirements

While you may be choosing the university that best suits your needs, that university will be deciding whether to accept your application.

Make yourself aware of the specific requirements of the university and course you want to apply for. Many degrees require that you have already studied a particular subject to A-level standards. Even those that don’t usually require a minimum set of grades or UCAS points.

Be realistic about what you can achieve. However, many students find themselves securing a place through UCAS Clearing, which can sometimes throw up unexpected opportunities and outcomes.

Choose a university for your career prospects

Your university degree is the gateway to your future life. 

Perhaps you have firm ambitions to be an engineer, a lawyer or to work in healthcare. Or you’re not so decided and hope your university experience will help you select a future career path. Whatever your ambition when choosing a university, the choice you make will play a part in your career after graduation.

Factors that can have an impact on your career direction after university can include:

  • Opportunities to study part of the course outside the UK.
  • Connections between industry and the university.
  • Specialist equipment available in the university (labs, studios etc).

Many universities have strong relationships with employers, particularly in subjects where the university has an excellent reputation. Universities often provide statistics about how many of their graduates go on to get jobs in their preferred career.

With you career in mind, take a good look at how universities on your short-list help their graduates to get the jobs they want.

Look at university ratings

There are a number of different rating and ranking systems for universities in the UK.

Some institutions, such as the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, have a reputation that’s recognised internationally. The Russell Group of universities comprises 24 institutions known for high quality research and education.

Times Higher Education provides a highly respected ranking of universities across the world, not just the UK. Leading alternatives to this are the QS World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities from the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy.

Every ranking system uses its own methodology, each of which takes into account a wide variety of factors.

These ranking and rating systems can be useful guides. As you review them, bear in mind that they’re based on historical information.

Choose a university for its location

Do you want to study in the heart of a busy city, or would you prefer a more tranquil setting? How important is it that you are relatively close to home, or are you excited to live and study in a very different part of the UK?

Another important factor is the availability and form of student accommodation. Some universities offer self-contained student villages. These may be close to the main campus, with its complex of faculty buildings, Students’ Union, sports halls and other facilities.

You may prefer the challenge of living in the wider community, in houses or flats rented out to students. It’s useful to know the university policy on accommodating its students. Think about how you’ll get from where you live as a student to your lectures or main places of study. 

The cost of living as a student will also be influenced by your choice of university. Consider an outline budget, how much money you will need to cover rent, travel, study fees and the day-to-day costs of student life.

The university will be your home for a number of years, so you’ll want to be sure it’s a place you’re comfortable living in.

Attend university open days

A university open day is the ideal opportunity to experience a particular campus. You can attend these well in advance of making your application.

During an open day you’ll get the chance to speak with tutors and existing students. To help inform your choice you want to get as much information from them as you can. Questions you could ask include:

  • Where do you spend most of your study time?
  • How easy is it to travel around the campus and to where you live?
  • How do students spend their time when they’re not studying?
  • What do you think of the Students’ Union, library etc.

Take time to get a feel for the local area. Look at the signs and notices advertising events and activities. Explore the other resources available to students, such as sports facilities, health provision and shops. 

Choose a university for its facilities

Do you want to pursue particular interests while you’re a student at university? Or do you need access to specific services or forms of support? 

You’ll want to be sure that the university you choose is fully equipped to deliver what you’re looking for. While every university has a wide range of clubs and societies, these will be of varying quality. 

If you’re keen to develop yourself in a particular sport or other extracurricular activity, you’ll want the confidence of being in the company of like-minded people, with the best possible facilities.

Likewise, if you have special needs, you’ll want to know the university is able to give you the best possible experience. While every university will understand its responsibilities under the Disability and Equality Act (2010), you’ll want assurance that they go beyond the minimum standards.

Social media can be a great way to hear directly from students already at the university you are considering. There are likely to be groups and conversations on social media channels that you can listen into and take part in.

In summary: how to choose a university

The essentials to consider when choosing your university:

  • The course subject and structure.
  • The entry requirements.
  • The location of the university.
  • Your career prospects after graduation.
  • The facilities available for your extracurricular needs.
  • The reputation of the university.

Summer Schools can help you choose a university

Selecting the right university for your degree is a big decision. It can influence much of your life after graduation, including your career, your network of friends, where you choose to live and much more.

Attending a Summer School course gives you valuable insights into what university life will be like. It gives you a taste of campus life, of lectures and tutorials, and of the people you’ll meet as a full-time student. All these experiences will help you make a better-informed decision about which university is right for you.

The experience will also support your application to your preferred place of study. By investing time in a Summer School you demonstrate your commitment to learning and to your future.

Start your university journey today by taking a look at the Summer School courses we have on offer.

Cress Warnell

Cress is a skilled copywriter who transforms ideas into captivating content. With a passion for words and a keen eye for detail, she crafts compelling copy for Summer Schools, helping students explore their options in education.

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