education

Where will you decide to go to university?


Starting out at university is, as everyone will tell you, one of the most exciting experiences of your life. But when you’re sitting at home, trying to decide which prospectus to order from hundreds of institutions, you could be forgiven for thinking that it might also count among the most stressful.

Would you like to study in a campus or a city? A small university or a large one? Do you care whether there’s a brand-new library or tennis courts? Are you worried you might not make friends if you live in a flatshare?

These are all valid questions, and struggling to answer them is nothing to worry about. Experts who advise school leavers just like you say: don’t panic, but do be strategic.

Neil Fowler, dean of students at Salford University, has guided hundreds of sixth-formers, and his two daughters, through the process. He recommends jumping off with these two questions: What do you want your experience to look like? What things matter to you as an individual?

Which institution will you pick?

After that, think geographically, he advises. Consider where in the country you’d like to be: close to home, so you can commute, or discovering a new region? In a buzzing city or a leafy countryside campus?

Chris Wilcox, associate dean of student experience at Hull University, explains: “City-centre campuses are often integrated into the city with buildings scattered around, whereas campus-based universities offer everything on one site, from teaching and accommodation to bars, coffee shops and social spaces.”

Once that’s decided (and perhaps you’ll have selected a few locations), think about the type of university. Fowler suggests: “Do I want to be somewhere big or much smaller? Do I want to be somewhere that’s quite studious, with a research-rich environment because I’m academic, or somewhere that will give me a really good employability experience, located close to the industries I’m interested in?”

See also  Former Ofsted head says government school funding claims are misleading

For work prospects, reputation is important, though the experts point out that all UK universities are good quality, regardless of where they fall on national rankings. “Don’t be afraid to be aspirational in your choices,” says Emma Leach, director of marketing at Nottingham Trent University. She advises applying to a mix of universities: some with requirements that match or slightly exceed your predicted grades, and a couple of backup choices which ask for lower grades.

Back-ups are likely to be especially important this year as, according to admissions expert Mary Curnock Cook, “all the tea leaves say getting into university will be a bit more competitive.”

Her top tip is to make sure you search the full A-Z list of courses, as most students apply to a small number of the most popular options. “All the popular courses, like medicine, law, business, pharmacy, economics and so on, are likely to be more competitive than some of the super-interesting related courses available,” she says.

Where will you live?

Of course, going to university isn’t just about getting a job, it’s also where you’ll figure out what interests you and make friends you might keep for life – so social and extracurricular opportunities should feature high up on your list.

“There’s a decent chance that once you’ve finished your studies, you and your friends might be interested in living locally. Some of the most satisfied grads are those who stay close to where they studied,” says Charlie Ball, head of higher education at Graduate Prospects.

Want to play badminton? Mainstream sports, cultural activities and hobbies are available at most universities.
Want to play badminton? Mainstream sports, cultural activities and hobbies are available at most universities. Photograph: master1305/Getty Images/iStockphoto

How you make friends will be influenced by the housing choices you make, so it’s worth asking universities what they offer and if it’s guaranteed. “Accommodation can have a big impact on your experience,” says Rachel Olijnyk, accommodation manager at Leeds Beckett University.

For example, living in a corridor with 40 other students in catered halls is a very different social experience to a flat with six others cooking meals together. Equally, some universities will have recently refurbished halls, while others will offer older, potentially shabbier rooms. Remember that costs vary wildly.

What will you do for fun?

Next step is to think about which interests you might like to pursue. While mainstream sports, cultural activities and hobbies are available at most universities, the experts recommend researching how active they are by looking them up on social media and on the student union website.

Consider the extent to which these are deal-breakers. You might find a new sport to replace your casual badminton habit, but if you’re a competitive athlete or would like to work in the theatre, prioritise finding an institution with a thriving drama scene or a winning track team.

Student life has long been synonymous with socialising, and some institutions gain reputations as a “party university”, but student union reps say there’s both fun and the quiet life to be found wherever you go.

“To a large extent, I’d say it’s about finding your tribe,”says Zakary Coleman, president of the University of Cambridge’s student union. “Cambridge only has about four clubs, but lots of people still go clubbing a good few times a week, whereas some people never go.”

Coleman adds that if parties and socialising are your priority, be aware that there are considerable workload and timetabling differences between universities and courses.

How do you get a feel for a university’s general vibe?

Once you have your wishlist of the things you’re interested in, and have narrowed down a handful of institutions, it’s time for some more detailed research. A great starting point is to look at universities’ social media presence. Leach recommends following several accounts to get a feel for different universities’ general vibe.

The library at Llanbadarn campus, Aberystwyth University. Some universities will have modern study spaces for collaborative work while others will have traditional libraries.
The library at Llanbadarn campus, Aberystwyth University. Some universities will have modern study spaces for collaborative work while others will have traditional libraries. Photograph: Photofusion/Getty Images

This will also alert you to any online events. These can range from virtual tours and online exhibitions with multiple universities, to Facebook or Instagram live events with students showing you around their accommodation blocks, to Q&A sessions with staff. Attend as many of these as possible.

Leach adds that it’s worth approaching universities directly. Many use platforms such as Unibuddy to connect you with current students, and are happy to answer anonymous questions via live chat, or put you in touch with staff.

Once you’ve drawn up a final shortlist, the gold standard is visiting an open day. This can be expensive, but the experts recommend visiting at least a couple. If this is difficult financially, do talk to universities, as some offer travel bursaries and free accommodation on site.

“Lots of students talk about getting there and having conversations with students and staff, and the experience of physically visiting the university – and that’s the moment when they know, because it feels right,” says Dan Barcroft, head of admissions at the University of Sheffield.

Remember to tour the facilities as some universities will have modern study spaces for collaborative work while others will have traditional libraries.

Make sure you come armed with questions, to ensure that you’re getting all the information you need. You also might want to think about what academic or mental health support would benefit you, especially given the toll the pandemic has taken on many pupils.

“There isn’t a central database of all the support available, so you’ll have to ask those questions directly,” says Dylan Cozens, student recruitment manager at Coventry University, adding that “it’s worth asking what they’re offering next year because they might be working on something new.”

The best approach, the experts agree, is to think holistically about how you want your university experience to look. When he applied, Coleman thought all that mattered was course content. Now he counts his climate activism among the most valuable experiences from his time at Cambridge.

His message to his sixth-former self?

“I wish I’d known that you can learn at least as much from the experiences you have outside of your course as you do from your taught content.”



READ SOURCE

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more