Choosing a university: I don’t know where to start

Choosing a Uni what's important

By Nicole Correia,

It feels like everyone’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt when it comes to going to university. But sometimes it’s difficult to actually get a graduate to tell you about the very beginning; how they chose the university they wanted to go, what course they wanted to study and why.

We have all heard of people who have studied miles from home but never actually asked them if that was intentional. With so many questions racing through your mind already about what to study, we know it’s a bit of a jumble sorting out where to start with finding the right uni. Each person will have their own reasons for choosing a particular university, so we’re here to furnish you with the various options to consider.

Course - interests and career ambitions

If you’re not sure what you want to be when you graduate then the best place to start is to ask yourself what you enjoy and what you’re good at. It is most probable that the two will marry hand-in-hand after you’ve had a good look at degree options. If you can’t decide between two subjects, perhaps consider joint honours. If you do have a career in mind then find out what qualifications are needed for it - the right university and degree will help path your way there.

If you really don’t have any idea, don’t panic. Plenty of others are in the same boat as you. Choose something which interests you and that you’ll enjoy dedicating three years to. Also be sure to check the contents of the course – don’t just rely on a title! Not that it’s something you should or will want to go through, but if you are really unhappy once you begin your degree, there are usually possibility to help you with changing your course.

Nightlife and student life

A consideration for some and not for others. If you’re a big clubber and enjoy your party nights out on the town, then a city campus may be best for you. If you like the outdoors then maybe you’ll consider a more remote campus. Also bear in mind that what you might consider a ‘quieter’ campus which is further from town, will almost always have its own on campus activities and nights. Be sure to ask these questions if they matter to you at the open day.

University league tables

Are university rankings important? Should they determine your decisions? This one is a tricky one; one which warrants a thesis in itself. Our advice is to not let university rankings be a major factor in your decision. Subject rankings can be a good indicator to help you see which are the best universities for your chosen course. However, each of the many rankings uses a different methodology – this also tends to change slightly year-on-year, so don’t use these as your sole decision maker.

Location

Do you need or want to be close to home? If you’ll travel home regularly consider travel costs. Also consider if there are personal or family reasons you may travel home more regularly. Or perhaps you will just feel more at ease knowing you can get home in half an hour.

Perhaps you want to study abroad? Is this a strong deciding factor for choosing a university and degree? And why is it important to you and for your future? These are some follow up questions you could ask yourself to help whittle down your options. If you've found the right degree, and uni, but they don't meet your wanderlust needs then perhaps consider a gap year or saving some money and travelling before or after your degree.

Grades

Try not to get bogged down with universities asking for above your predicted grades. You can always apply for a couple of them, but be realistic. It is a good idea to talk with your teachers about your progress and grades. Your study ethic will be challenged at university and independent research and study is important, so start asking your teachers how you can improve to boost your grades and impressions for potential unis now.

Finance

This F word is a factor that you really must think about. Sit your parents/guardians down and talk them through how you feel about moving away from home and saving money, and living at home and commuting. A little research goes a long way – tuition fees, living costs dependent on location, accommodation costs. Tap a few buttons on your calculator and soon enough things will begin to appear clearer as you have some yes or no factors to consider when finding the right university.

The other F word: Friends

Ultimately, we are all different; we have different interests, aspirations, abilities, hopes and needs. Even your best friend is no doubt incredibly different to you; and so it is important to understand that choosing the right university based on relationships may not be a good decision. Buy yourself a rail card and you can easily hop between friend’s universities without compromising on which university is the best for you. If you have friends already at university then visiting them is a great idea and will help you get to know the town, just as you would as if you were studying there. However, again, whilst finding the right university is important, the degree must be right for you as well.


Your university decision should be based on a combination of the above which are most pertinent to you, a little prioritising and a lot of question asking and research. It’s probable that you’ll change your mind a few times upon finding out more. Before you have even reached university you begin learning about yourself, and once you’ve understood yourself a little better, choosing the right university will become a lot simpler.

Our university profiles and search gives you information such as the boy to girl ratio (we know you’re curious, and basing your decision on this one!), graduate employability rates, and the amount of time you’ll have to spend in seminars, lectures and on coursework, and is a good starting point to finding out which universities offer the degrees you are interested in.