Choosing a University

Natalie Thompson
Created: 2 weeks ago
Last modified: 2 weeks ago

There are lots of factors to consider when choosing the right university - I have outlined some of the most important ones to think about. Spend some time thinking about what criteria are important to you, and narrow down your choices based on those. The summer between Year 12 and Year 13 is a great time to start thinking about this - you may also have the opportunity to attend open days and ask questions of current students. Then, at the start of Year 13, you can focus on finishing your personal statement and working hard to ensure your academic achievements will meet your chosen university’s entry requirements.

Things to consider when choosing a university:

- Location
Does the university have good transport links? Location can also affect rent prices, which may be more expensive in London and the South East, and cheaper in some parts of Yorkshire or the North West. Think about whether you would prefer to live in the centre of a big, bustling city, or in a smaller town with a predominantly student population (see the ‘city, campus or collegiate’ section below!). If nightlife is your thing, bigger cities might have more options to suit you. But if you’re a fan of open spaces and countryside, consider a more rural university location where you can get your fresh-air fix.

- Distance
Would you prefer to be within an hour or two of your current home, or are you happy to move further afield? Your decision may be influenced by whether you plan to visit home several times each term, or if you plan to stay at university during term time. Alternatively, you may decide to stay at home for the duration of your degree, in which case you will need to choose a university which is within a commutable distance from your home, and consider how you will get to campus each day.

- City, campus or collegiate
Some universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, have a collegiate system whereby students live and study in a specific college for the duration of their degree. Colleges differ in terms of their architecture; size; location within the city; and the subject specialities of their fellows (teaching staff). Other universities, such as York, Lancaster, and Exeter, are campus universities, where all the accommodation, lecture theatres and amenities are located on a single campus, usually on the outskirts of the city. Confusingly, some of these universities also have ‘colleges’ to differentiate between accommodations, but these are within the broader campus university! Finally, other universities such as Manchester and some London universities are ‘city’ universities, where the teaching facilities and accommodation are located in various places across the city. You can think about whether you would prefer the smaller collegiate communities, or in a city centre where there is always lots going on.

- Course
A big factor in your decision has to be the course you are applying for. Courses differ hugely across various universities - some courses are more prescriptive in the modules you take, whereas others offer more flexibility to tailor your degree to your interests. If applicable, consider the balance between lectures and practical teaching methods in the courses you are considering. Would you have the opportunity to incorporate a year abroad into your degree, or a year in a relevant industry? You will be studying the course for three or more years, so make sure it is something you would enjoy doing. There are several websites which can help you to compare university courses, such as WhatUni 🔗, The Uni Guide 🔗, and Uni Compare 🔗.

- Entry requirements
Different university courses have different entry requirements, meaning applicants are required to achieve a certain set of grades in order to be accepted. By the start of Year 13, you should have an idea of your ‘predicted grades’ - the grades your teachers think you can achieve in your final exams. Ask your teachers if you’re not sure. You can compare these predicted grades to the entry requirements of different university courses, to get an idea of which you could consider applying to. If you are predicted to achieve BCC in your A Levels, for example, you are unlikely to meet the entry criteria required by Oxford and Cambridge. If you are predicted A*AA, however, you could consider lots of prestigious universities including the Russell Group 🔗. Although entry requirements inevitably affect the universities you apply to, it is important to also seriously consider factors like course content and university location - there is no point applying for a prestigious university such as Oxford or Cambridge if the courses they offer don’t allow you to pursue your individual academic interests.

- Societies
University life is about more than your degree. As well as studying, you may want to get involved in a variety of sports and societies, which can be a fantastic way to pursue your interests; meet new people; and try something new. If you are looking to continue an existing high-level sporting commitment, perhaps research how trials work for the university teams. You could get in touch with current team captains with any questions. Similarly, if you want to continue playing a musical instrument in an orchestra or band, for example, research the opportunities to do this at your chosen university. Most universities will have opportunities to get involved in sports and societies which require less commitment or existing talent, so take a look at the options available if you would like to try something new.

- Financial support
As well as receiving a Maintenance Loan from Student Finance 🔗, you may be entitled to additional scholarships and bursaries from your university, which you will not need to repay. These differ vastly across different UK universities, so it may be worth looking into the financial support available when you apply. You could also get a part-time job while you’re at university, either working for a student-run bar or shop at the university, or at a shop, pub, or cafe elsewhere in the city. Note that some universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, have restrictions on students working part-time jobs during term time. These universities would prefer for students to apply for financial support if they are struggling with money, rather than taking on a job. You are, of course, permitted to work during the holidays while you are at home.

- Welfare support
If you are concerned about welfare support while you are at university, either due to a pre-existing physical or mental health condition, you may wish to research the support available when you are applying. Most universities will encourage students to register with a nearby GP, and some will also have their own campus or college nurses who can be another point of call. Some universities have their own counselling services which students can access for short-term counselling or attending group therapy sessions. If your physical or mental health conditions already impact your ability to study, you can apply for extra help or exam mitigations - research if your university has a disability advisory service, or if you could be entitled to funding through the Disabled Students Allowance 🔗.

There may be some more factors that are important to you, but these should provide a starting point. Good luck!