It is that time of year when students across the UK have the big task of deciding which university they want to attend at least three years of their lives at. Last year I was in the same situation, bombarded through the mail with prospectuses from various universities and was swarmed with YouTube adverts from institutions I had never heard of, all vying for my £9250 investment. Whether you are certain which university you want to attend or are completely unsure, I have compiled a list of things you should consider before you make your decision in the coming months.
City or campus
Your university experience will be different whether you decide to go to a campus university or a city university. At a campus university, the university is situated all on one site, with student accommodation, teaching and research facilities, as well as leisure activities all together. The benefits of a campus university is that there can be a greater sense of community. All the friends you make, at least for the first year, will be in one place and it makes organising and socialising a lot more convenient and easier. However, campus universities are usually a lot further away from the nearby town or city– the bus from Warwick University to nearby Coventry takes 30 minutes – so there is a chance that when you leave campus after first year you will be not quite prepared to live on your own in the city. A city university experience has the advantage that something will always be happening nearby. When you live in a city, concerts, art exhibits and museums are all around you, and you aren’t limited to the small off-license on campus, as you can trek to a larger supermarket if you want to. The downside of a city university though is all this choice may result in you spending a bit more money on excursions and being distracted from your studies due to the endless events around you. If you choose to go to a city university, you should keep one eye on the bank balance and ensure you are keeping on top of your workload.
Visit the university
Probably the most important tip on this list, it is vitally important to visit a few of your university choices at an open day and ask any questions you may have to current students guiding you around. What are the transport links like? Is it hard to find accommodation after first year? What are the societies like? You may be able to find everything you need on their website, but it is so much more useful walking around the accommodation and teaching spaces to get the feel of whether you could actually live there or not. Last year when I went on an open day, I realised that a university I was considering was much smaller than I thought it would be, with the campus looking outdated and unwelcoming. By attending the open days, you can realise that a university you were thinking of going to isn’t actually as good as it looks in the pictures, or conversely completely win you over make you want to make it your first choice.
Refer to university rankings
Although they should be taken with a pinch of salt, university rankings and student satisfaction scores can be useful in helping you decide where you want to study. The two most well known tables are The Complete University Guide and The Times Higher Education Rankings. Although league tables can only tell you so much, and often say little about the social side of university and student experience, these guides are useful in showing you which universities are generally best for certain subjects, which could in turn affect your decision when you have to later decide on which institution to put as your first choice.
Look at the course modules and assessment types
Looking at course modules for specific subjects are also very important as ultimately you want to enjoy and be passionate about the modules you will be studying. Because there is no form of national curriculum at the undergraduate level, every university can offer different modules in a bid to entice you to study at their university and not a rival’s. Assessment types are important too: will you be assessed through examinations or coursework? Some people work best in different ways. Universities also have leading experts in their subject as lecturers, and the calibre of academic that the university can attract could potentially sway your decision, as the level of tuition you will receive will likely impact your learning. For example, Brian Cox is professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, a leading figure in the space with over 950 publications as author or co-author.
Research the number of scheduled teaching hours for your course
Considering you will be paying £9250 a year for your tuition, you will want to be sure to research the amount of contact hours (lectures and seminars) you will be getting per week. Most universities charge the same price, so your decision may be influenced if one university offers more lectures per week and appears to give more value for money. Different subjects have different timetabled teaching hours too. Most sciences involve lengthy spells in the lab as well as the lecture hall, where as if you take a humanities subject, such as English, history or politics, contact hours are less, with around 10 or less per week. This does not mean you have less work, but you are expected to work much more independently, doing lots of background reading in the library or writing essays.