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How to Choose a University

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Things You Need to Know

  1. As well as comparing academic rankings of universities, it’s also worth looking at how universities rank according to student happiness levels, for example in the National Student Survey (NSS).
  2. Most university rankings list institutions by individual subjects, allowing you to see which ones are particularly strong in particular fields.
  3. You should also look out for a university’s employability stats, such as what proportion of a course’s graduates get a job within six months of finishing.
  4. If you are keen to use your degree to find a job in a particular industry, don’t be afraid to get in touch with employers operating in this field and ask them what courses they rate most highly.
  5. Always try and attend an open day before making your mind up about a university and if you have any questions, never be afraid to ask.
  6. As well as the academic quality of a course and the reputation of a university, consider the course fees as well as the cost of living in a certain city.
  7. If money is a big concern, look into the possibility of studying abroad, for example in the Netherlands, Germany or even the United States.

Finding the Best University

Comparing the academic merits of individual universities is relatively straightforward and, given the amount of time and money that goes into getting a degree, is well worth the effort.

The simplest way of comparing universities is to read the numerous rankings published each year. Among the most popular – and most trusted – of these league tables are the Times World University Rankings, the Guardian’s University Guide and the Independent’s Good University Guide. Additionally, the QS World University Rankings give a non-UK perspective on the country’s top institutions. While the rankings may differ slightly, generally speaking, these give a good overview of where you should be looking to study and, just as importantly, where employers will want to study.

Alongside these academic rankings, it’s also worth looking at how universities rank according to student happiness levels. The National Student Survey (NSS), carried out each year by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, is a good indicator of this, allowing you to make an informed choice about where to study.

Finding the Best Course

As well as comparing the quality of universities, you should also take the time to research the quality of specific courses. After all, some smaller, less academically-esteemed institutions, offer courses that are particularly attractive to employers.

Most university rankings, such as those offered by the Times or the Guardian, rank institutions by individual subjects, allowing you to see which ones are particularly strong in the fields of dentistry or geography, for instance. You should also look out for a university’s employability stats, such as what proportion of a course’s graduates get a job within six months of finishing.

Additionally, some smaller, vocational courses may be accredited by professional bodies, so it’s always worth looking out for this. Furthermore, if you are keen to use your degree as a springboard into a specific line of work, don’t be afraid to get in touch with employers operating in this field and ask them what courses they rate highly.

Open Days

Just as you wouldn’t spend thousands of pounds on a new car without giving it a test drive too, neither should you choose a university without visiting it in person beforehand.

The good news is that all universities hold special open days for prospective students. These will allow you to take a tour of their facilities, speak with current students and, possibly, members of staff, see student accommodation and ask any questions you may have. If, however, you aren’t satisfied with an open day – for instance, you may not feel your questions are answered fully or you may not be able to speak with anyone related to your course – don’t be afraid to ask for another, more personal open day. Most good universities and departments will be happy to have you take a look around and, time permitting, speak one-on-one with a lecturer.

Financial Considerations

As well as the academic quality of a course and the reputation of a university, it’s also highly likely that money matters will play an important role in helping you choose a course.

For the academic year starting in September 2012, universities in England and Wales will be charging up to £9,000 per year for tuition fees, with most charging in excess of £4,000 a year and nearly all the top institutions charging the maximum.

That means, therefore, that your fees could total £27,000 for a three-year-course, meaning it’s imperative you work out if getting a degree is worth it. Additionally, you should also take into account your likely cost of living. Being a student in Liverpool, for example, is likely to be significantly cheaper than being a student in London. Most universities offer basic guides to living costs, though be sure to do your own homework before committing yourself to a specific course.

Consider Studying Abroad

According to a Telegraph report from October 2011, growing numbers of UK students are looking abroad as they look to save money on their higher education.

Given that tuition fees in countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are a fraction of those levied by English universities – even at some of Europe’s leading institutions – this is hardly surprising. So, consider looking into the benefits of studying for a degree abroad; not only will you probably save money, but you may also pick up another language as well as a degree, while employers may be impressed by your keen sense of initiative.

Further Reading

  1. Check out the latest QS world university rankings here.
  2. If you don’t think university is right for you, consider taking a vocational course with the home learning college.
  3. The qualifications you gain earlier on in life will play a big part in determining your eligibility for university courses. Read our guide to choosing your A level subjects for more information.
 

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