How to choose a university

Choosing a university is a damn big deal, so make sure you do everything you can to get it right. And that consideration has to take more into account than just the nightlife. Luckily, we’ve got you sorted. Read our guide to find out what to think about when deciding how to choose a university.

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How to pick a university

So you’ve made the decision to continue studying. Congratulations! But how to pick a university? Especially when this is basically going to be your home for the next 3+ years?

To be honest there are no set rules for how to choose a university. But we’d recommend that you start by working out what’s important to you and then prioritise everything you want from uni. To do this, try asking yourself:

  • How close do you want to be to home? Is the university location too close or too far away? 
  • Do you want to be on a campus or in a spread-out city uni? Will you be living at home, perhaps?
  • What sort of nightlife options do you want?
  • Is its’ academic reputation important to you?
  • What grades will you need to get into higher education? Can you get them?
  • Do you want a year abroad or a year in industry? Would some work experience be better than getting yourself into a buttload of debt?
  • 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 why they chose their uni and how it lived up, or didn’t, to their expectations. Are there any fun extracurricular activities they got up to, for example? What was university life like in general? How was the Student’s Union? As a quick note, it’s probably better to get younger people’s opinions rather than your parent’s generation because they’ll be able to give you a better idea of what uni’s like right now. 

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

It’s also worth mentioning that 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. Don’t be afraid to subtly remind them of that every time the conversation starts steering towards their dreams for you. 

Use an online university comparison website

Once you have your uni wish list, it’s time to find what each of the universities offer . Fortunately, there are loads of websites ready to help you do this:

  • Push has a really good user experience. It 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 deciding what you want to study. Then it provides university rankings according to your preferences.
  • The Uni Guide is a simpler version of Push. You can look by course or university, and it also has lots of great advice on things like course contents, bursaries and what grades you need.
  • The World University Rankings is good if prestige and reputation is important to you. Here you’ll find league tables for the world’s top ranking universities and colleges in terms of subject as well as overall performance.

Get info from universities themselves

Now that you’ve followed our amazing advice, you’ve got a few options. Unfortunately, you’ll need to narrow it down to five. A good idea to help you make this decision is to leaf through prospectuses. You can either order or download these from uni websites. You can also pick them up if you go to a UCAS convention. Not to mention the fact that most unis are on social media nowadays.

Thought that was the end of the process? Well, we’ve got some bad news for you. Most 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 UK universities will 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 that doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. Check the entry 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. If you need some more advice, you can check out our guide to university interviews here. or, if you’re ready to jump in find out more about how to apply for university here.

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 at that moment in time. If it turns out to be the wrong place or you end up choosing a course that isn’t for you, it’s not the end of the world – you can always change. In fact, we’ve got a guide to changing university or university courses here.

Still worried about how to choose a university? Check out the rest of our articles on applying to university here. Plus, Whatuni? offers advice on student life, written by students themselves.

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.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.



By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 02-Mar-2022