How to choose a university

Choosing a university is one of the biggest decisions of your life, so make sure you do everything you can to get it right. Here’s what you need to think about before you submit your UCAS form.

girl hiding under a uni prospectus

If I stay under here, maybe the right uni will come find me?

How do I pick a university?

You’ve made the decision to continue studying. Congratulations! But how do you decide where to spend the next three to four years of your life? First you have to work out what’s important to you and write a list of everything you what from university, ask yourself:

  • How near do you want to be to home?
  • Do you want to be on a campus or in a spread-out city uni?
  • What sort of nightlife options do you want?
  • Is its academic reputation important to you?
  • What grades will you need? Can you get them?
  • Do you want a year abroad or a year in industry?
  • Would you be happy to study overseas?

Talk to other students

To get an idea of what uni life’s all about, talk to anyone you know who’s already been: family members, your friend’s older siblings, neighbours’ children – even your teacher. Ask them what made them decide to go to that uni and what they did and didn’t like about it.

A clear idea of what to expect will help you decide what you want out of the experience. But be careful not to let their stories influence you too much: not every club or society requires you to shove a Mars Bar up your bum, or spend a night naked in a cave in Wales before you’re accepted as a member.

And when it comes to your parent’s input it’s important you stand your ground. They may have strong opinions about where you should and shouldn’t go, but ultimately this is your decision.

Use an online university comparison website

Once you have your wish list of criteria, it’s time to find the universities that tick the boxes. Fortunately, there are loads of websites ready to help you do this:

  • Push lets you type in all of your criteria to create a list of possible universities. You can even type in more than one subject if you’re still not sure what you want to study. Then it ranks those universities according to your preferences.
  • Which? is a simpler version of Push. You can look by course or university, and it also has lots of great advice on things like bursaries and what grades you need.
  • The Times University Guide is good if prestige and reputation is important to you. It lists the world’s top ranking unis in terms of subject as well as overall performance.

Get info from universities themselves

So you’ve got a few options, but you’ll need to narrow it down to five. A good way to help you make this decision is to leaf through prospectuses, which you can order or download from uni websites. You can also pick them up if you go to a UCAS convention.

Unis can look very enticing in a prospectus, but the best way to get a feel for what they’re really like is to go and check them out for yourself. All unis have Open Days so you could book yourself in for a tour or two, but don’t worry if you don’t visit them all. You could always choose the five you’re going to apply to, and then wait to visit all of the ones you get offers from.

Can I get into that university?

Be realistic about your expectations. It may be your Number One choice, but check the grade requirements and try to find out what they’re looking for in a personal statement and interview before you apply. You know your own capabilities, so be careful not to set yourself up for disappointment.

What if I choose the wrong university?

Don’t panic. All you can do is find out as much information as you can and choose carefully. If it turns out to be the wrong place or course it’s not the end of the world – you can always change.

Photo of book girl by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • UCAS processes your university applications - from the very first form, right through to results day.
  • Whatuni? offers advice on picking a university and student life, written by students.
  • Looking for a mentor to help boost your knowledge and skills? Find a youth zone close to you.
  • Reveal your skills with Define Me and find the right words to tell employers.
  • Download Motimator - an app that helps you get the career you want - by giving you a gentle kick up the ass each day when motivation is running low.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015