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How to choose your University

Updated on August 30, 2012

Choosing which university you want to apply to is an important but difficult decision to make. This time last year I was doing just that and I now am awaiting my A Level results to see which university I will be at next year. Having been in the position of many young people, I know how much a bit of advise can help. However, whatever advise you hear from me or anyone else, everyone will be different so remember to think of what is important to yourself or your child. I may regard x, y and z as important but others may regard them as less important. This is just what I've learnt and can share. This is mainly aimed at British people applying to a University in the UK but will apply to internationals and will helpfully help others in other countries (under different systems). If you have any questions about my choices or about the UCAS process in general message me or leave a comment. Also, having been through the process of the Oxbridge entry system I can answer questions and may write a Hub about that as well.
And as always
if there is something I should mention
leave a message in the comment section.


Firstly, how does the system work

Those who use UCAS to apply to university, will put down 5 choices of university to send their application to. The UCAS form will also include a personal statement, personal details and your achieved and expected GCSE (not any more), AS Levels and A2 predictions. The deadline for this is sometime in March, with Oxbridge (that is Oxford and Cambridge) having individual deadlines for mid-October. Universities will have responded to your applications by May/spring time. To give yourself the best opportunity to get offers, apply as early as possible as offers are made as early as October. It doesn't take a genius to realise that you will have the best chance if you apply as early as possible. Each of your 5 universities will reply with either a CS (conditional offer), UCS (an unconditional offer) or a rejection.Once all 5 Universities reply, you choose 2 university offers (or less) to accept. The others will be rejected. Of these 2, you choose a First choice/ Firm, and an insurance. Your insurance should be a lower offer than your firm. If you fail to achieve the grades set by your FIRM in your conditional offer, but meet the grades/conditions offered by your insurance, you will be given an acceptance at that choice. If you meet the offer of your FIRM then you will get a place there. If you fail to meet the offer for both, you have the opportunity to go through 'clearing' where spaces on courses will offered to those with no acceptances.

Know What You Want From University

This is the first thing to consider - why are you going to university (or college) and what do you want from it? What subject do you want to study? Do you want to study one or two subjects? What is your plan for after university? What type of university do you want to study at (a city or campus)? What sort of location do you want to ideally be in? Is money a big issue for you?

This is the most important think to remember when choosing your options. If you don't know what you want, how do you know where you want to go. Knowing what you want to study is the most basic part of the application and will determine your choices. Furthermore, considering the career after university is also important. If you especially want to go into accountancy, then a mathematical, business or science option would be helpful choices. If you have an open mind then consider this, the best piece of advice we were given. 'Study what you love and, hopefully, are good at'.

There are two main types of university, campus or city. A city university (as I understand it) is intergrated into the city, with lectures and halls spread out over the city. Campus' are....a campus. Students live, shop and learn on the university site. The type of university you want will also depend upon what you want from a university experiences. Are you very very outgoing and enjoy clubbing and partying? Although this sort of activity is likely to happen at all universities (you are surrounded by young similarity minded people) city universities such as Manchester have a strong reputation for outgoing behaviour. Lastly, money. Some universities will charge lower than the £9000 a year tuition fees. If money is an issue, take a look at these OR at universities with a big push towards financial support.


Rankings and Reputation

These are good places to start. The Complete University guide, The Guardian and the Times are the best sites to use, to look rankings of British universities. Here you can compare the reputations of each university, the quality of teaching, their research, career prospects, the average entry tarrif and student satisfaction. All tables will vary slightly but based on what grades you are expecting and can get, you'll gain an understanding of the types of universities to look at. From here you can make preliminary lists of possible choices to narrow down. Remember to consider insurance choices as well. Other sites such as forums like TheStudentRoom can also give an impression of reputation and how hard it is get into each of these as well as some peoples impressions. Other studies can also help decisions such as a report I once found about the most targeted universities by employers. You can use groups such as the 1994 or Russell Group to help. E.g. If you are aiming for a top traditionally respected university, the Rusell Group isn't a bad place to go, you know you'll have some quality there. These are not perfect groups mind, and it is only now that universities like Exeter, York and Durham are being added to them, despite being firmly established as top 20 institutions.
Rankings should not be the sole factor for choosing a university because when you get there, you may not enjoy it. However, when it comes down to it, what do you want from a stint in university? Furthermore, a uni 'on par' with your grades would presumably be more suited to you in terms of learning.

The University

If this is going to be a big part of your life for the next 3 or 4 years, you should get to understand the place. Do you want to be by the beach or the coast? Do you want to live in an old archaic and beautiful university or town? Each uni has it's own character and I would advise you to visit them, it will help you find a selection of choices you want to go to. Furthermore, only you can know if you like the atmosphere and feel of a place.


Course options

Studying Psychology at place x is nothing like studying Pyshcology at place y. Lets take Scottish universities. Say you want to study Chemistry at a Scottish University. Unlike English uni's, its a 4 year course, not 3. You don't get a Bachelor's of Science at the end you get a Master's of Science. Furthermore, in your first 2 years, you don't study only Chemistry, but two other subjects as well. Say you studied Sociology and Biology as well, and in your 2nd year had an epiphany, now wanting to stop Chemistry and only study Biology, well you have the opportunity to do so.
Furthermore, the very nature of what you study is different at every university depending of it's research. For example, Exeter's Psychology department is focused on animal research whereas Warwick's is focused of psychological ideas. This is why it is important to look into the content of the subject you wish to study, and the modulus available.
Many universities also allow you to take modules in other subjects (frequently a language) and other uni's may not run certain subjects. Bath University, for example, is focused more on science subjects, rather than Humanities.

Strategic choices and offers

This will make a big difference on how many offers you get. When choosing options, look at how many applicants there usually are for each place on your courses. Look at the entry requirements( and double check them, I nearly got caught out by a sneaky A grade being turned to an A*) then compare them to what you inwardly know you can get and what your prior AS and GCSE results will suggest you will get. If the entry requirements cite AAA and you are likely to get ABB, then you may want to reconsider or have 4 safer options.
Also, remember that if you apply to 5 universities which all have the same entry requirements, given that unconditional offers are almost impossible, unless you get a low offer you wont have an insurance choice. In this event, you would have to hope a university would accept you if you slipped up in an exam.
However, do not apply to places you would not be happy with going to but have an offer you feel you can easily meet.
A balance is important.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

And if this Hub has tickled your fancy, then follow me for future ones.


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