There are a few key things to consider – and the price of tequila in the student union isn’t one of them (sorry). There’s obvious stuff like what’s on your course and the university’s location, but some crucial stuff you may not have thought of too. Like, how many students land a job right after graduating? How does the nightlife compare with what you’re used to at home? And what experience do your potential tutors have? To help you get your head around it all, we’ve spoken to some university experts and students – past and present – and put together this guide…
It might not always seem like it, but you are going to uni to study – and one of the biggest regrets graduates have is not picking the right course! In fact, a recent study by a major jobs board found that 44% of students regret their choice of subject. That’s one expensive regret you don’t want to make. Picking the right course needs a guide all to itself (watch this space), but for now here are the key factors to consider:
No idea? No problem! But if you do know what you want to do – or have a good idea at least – then choose a course that has some kind of work placement attached to it, or one that is well regarded in the industry.
So if you want to become a journalist, for example, choose a degree that is accredited by the National Union of Journalists. If you’re clueless about what sort of career you want (and this is fine) choose a course that actually interests you. It seems so obvious, yet many students pick courses they don’t particularly care about.
Do exams make you want to hurl? Or are you actually quite good at cramming and performing under pressure? Perhaps you’re academic and studious? Or maybe you’re better at practical-based learning?
If you’re not very academic, look for a course that is less theory based and more hands-on. And if you’re self-disciplined, think about a subject that involves lots of reading, like English Literature or philosophy.
Know what the Erasmus programme is – or a sandwich when it’s not a sandwich? According to Susan, lots of students don’t know what options are available to them. “Courses that involve a sandwich year living abroad or an industrial placement working for a business are fantastic – but you must do your research first.” In other words, swot up on all the different options out there so that you don’t sell yourself short.
You know that Oxford and Cambridge are top universities, right? But did you know that Sussex University has a world-leading chemistry department – or that Edinburgh is brilliant for linguistics? When doing your research, make sure you look at the overall ranking of the universities you choose, but also how well regarded their courses are.
“It's a fact that some universities and courses are more prestigious or highly-respected than others,” says Tanya de Grunwald, founder of graduate careers blog Graduate Fog and author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession. “They are known for having tougher entry requirements, higher teaching standards and for producing smarter, more motivated graduates.
According to Tanya, you should think in terms of what their course is worth too. “Just because most courses cost about the same amount in fees, doesn’t mean they’ll be 'worth' the same to future employers”.
And what if you don’t know what you want to do after uni? “Then look up lists of the most respected, prestigious universities in general. Don't worry about being 'snobbish'! It’s part of ensuring that you make a smart decision about your future – and make the best investment possible.”Researching university courses
You can find a university’s ranking and compare courses right here on Top Universities; justs select the subject you’re interested in from the search box at the top of the page, then narrow down your results using the filters on the left-hand side of the search results. When you’ve found some courses you like the sound of, you can compare them directly by clicking ‘add to compare’.
But there’s more to it than just that. “Use the internet to find out which courses and universities are particularly well-respected by employers in that field,” says Tanya. “Where did successful people study? What degree subjects do they particularly like their graduate applicants to have studied?”
Okay, spill – how much time have you spent thinking about where you want to live over what you want to study? Okay, don’t answer that! To be honest, if you’ve devoted far more time to city research than course research, it’s not such a bad thing. Because no matter how great your course is, or how prestigious the uni, if you’re stuck in north Wales when you want to be clubbing, or you’re cooped up in London when you want to be out surfing, you’ll be miserable. And that’s rubbish.
Some students thrive on living in halls and campus life; they love the community aspect, getting involved in societies, being able to crawl home from the students' union… others, on the other hand, find it claustrophobic and boring. “Why wouldn’t you want to be in the real world?” They argue.
So, how to decide? Think hard about the lifestyle you want, the type of person you are, and exactly what you want to get out of university.“And make sure you always visit the campus, of course.
Don’t just stop at visiting the university and campus either – visit the surrounding area too.
Of course every experience is different, so to get a real insight into what student life is like in a city, check out our Student City Guides.
Each university has its own culture too. The only real way you can find out if a university’s culture is right for you is by going to open days and by reading student reviews – first hand accounts of what life is really like at that particular uni.
Gagging to get as far away from your parents as possible? You won’t believe it now, but after six months living on cheese sandwiches and side-stepping beer cans on the way to the kitchen you might actually look forward to going home for the odd weekend. For a start you’ll be able to rinse the fridge, your feet won’t stick to the floor and the shower will be clean. Choosing a university that’s on the other side of the country makes going home for weekends and holidays more expensive and harder all round.
Where you study is massively important – after all, if all goes to plan you’re going be stuck there for at least three years. The best way to find out if a university is right for you is by visiting it. Every university announces about its open days. So, be sure you find out an important information on time.
Another reason to visit your university of choice is to glean application tips from the admissions tutor. My top tip for students looking at getting in to a university is to ask the admissions tutor what they want to see on the application form. It seems so obvious – yet few students do it.
Depending on your course, you’ll probably want to do some work experience while you study. If you study fashion, or finance for example, you might want to intern at London – and where you base yourself will affect how easily you can reach these work placements.
Think about the companies you want to intern for, or do work experience at, and choose a university that’s realistically close to that company.
No idea what you want to do for work after uni? That’s fine! But it’s important to get some work experience while you study, so think about the types of industry you want to work in and take it from there.
A pint of beer in central London can cost – prepare yourself – £5, while a two-mile taxi fare will set you back between £8.60 and £13.80. Why? Because it’s London. The cost of living will vary depending on which city or town you choose to study in. When doing your research, compare costs you know you’ll have to pay – stuff like the cost of accommodation, transport around the city and transport between the university and your hometown.
Remember, though, that wherever you go to uni there’ll always be the students' union – and you’ll have your NUS card! In other words, try not to be too put off by more expensive cities like London and New York, but make sure you do bear the cost of living in mind when thinking about which university you’d like to go to.
Many students don’t back themselves up properly – i.e. they don’t put down a realistic second choice. Either they don’t put down a genuine ‘insurance’ offer – which is a course that asks for less than their predicted grades – or they don’t research their back-up choices properly. This means that when results day comes around, the students who don’t get their predicted grades are forced to go through clearing or take up a second choice they don’t want!
The answer? First of all, make sure that your second choice is as well researched as your first – so that you actually want to go to that university and study the course. And secondly, make sure it is an “insurance choice” – so make sure one of your options is a choice where you need less than your predicted grades.
Found your perfect choices? Now you need to get into them!