Choose a university
Whatever your personal criteria may be, it's important that you assess the university's courses, reputation and location before applying. You can use the following questions to help you make the right choice.
Does the university offer your subject?
Use UCAS course search to find out what's available, then look at the specific university websites for detailed course information. Course content can vary quite a lot between universities, so read up about the modules involved.
Think about what is more important to you: the choice of university or course. How willing are you to compromise one for the other? For most people it will be a balancing act between your ideal course, your perfect location and your expected grades.
Order the university prospectus online. The university prospectus is an institution's official guide to their campuses, accommodation, entry requirements and extra-curricular activities. You will find it to be an important source of information.
Where would you like to study in terms of the location?
Have a good think about what you want:
- A small university or a large one? What about a college system – like Cambridge?
- A campus or a city location? Are you more at home in a rural location?
- Does the location suit your interests? For example, is it easy to get to the sea if you are into sailing? Will you be near to the countryside for walking? Are there places of historical interest nearby?
Bear in mind that many universities have several campuses and your course may not be on the one you prefer. Check the facilities for the campus and the transportation links around the area.
If you need to work to support yourself, think about the number of part-time jobs that may be available in the area. Take a look at the Students' Union website. They usually have a Jobshop.
Ask around. Do your friends and family know anyone from the city or at the university? Look at a map. How are you going to get there, or more importantly, how are you going to get home?
Would you like to study nearby or away from home?
For some people, getting as far away from home as possible is what university life is all about. However, it's important to think about how far away from home you need to be. For example, sixty miles can be as good as 200 miles for not having your parents drop by every weekend and it will save you money on train journeys every university break. But sixty miles is also close enough for your parents to pop in when the need arises and to fix your household appliances!
What accommodation would suit you best?
If you have never lived away from home before, this can be a difficult thing to assess. However, there are some main points to consider about your lifestyle and preferences:
- Would you like the residences to be catered or self-catering?
- Would you like a shared bathroom or en suite? Most of us share a bathroom at home, but if you want (and can afford) an en suite room, make sure you apply early. They book up quickly at any university!
- How do you feel about sharing a room? You can't always choose who you share with, but you can save quite a lot of money with a shared room.
- Would you like to stay in a Halls of Residence or a smaller flat? If you like your privacy, a flat would probably suit you better, but halls are packed with potential friends, which makes them lively places to live.
Whatever you choose, there are some important things to check before booking:
- Is there an accommodation guarantee for first year students?
- Can you stay in the university residences over the holiday period?
- How secure is the accommodation?
Watch videos on the university website to get a feel for their residences.
The university's reputation and League tables
This information is useful, but you have to put it in context with the other factors that are important to you. For example, are you most interested in student ratio, facilities, student experience, placements or employability? Find the tables that are most relevant to your priorities and interests.
Different reviews and league tables offer varying perspectives, so use them in conjunction with other sources to gain a balanced view. Remember to read the small print as well, to see exactly what they are comparing everything against.
Visit your choices
You now know what is important to you, but how do you figure out which universities is right for you?
Make a short list of around three to six universities and book on to their open days. It's important that you do so, as these are the most important way of figuring out if a university is for you. No amount of reading, surfing or research will give you the atmosphere of a university.
Give yourself a whole day and don't underestimate how long it will take to get from the bus or train station to the university. Traffic may be heavy in larger cities and you're not going to be the only one going to the open day!
Make sure you plan time to see the accommodation, Students' Union, lecture theatres and facilities, sports centre, library and IT rooms. Most open days will have a tour. Make sure you are on it.
If the open day ends at 4 pm, don't plan to go straight home. Explore the town or city as well. Find out where the nearest supermarket and bus stop is. Make sure your bank, optician and favourite shop has a branch there. Let the traffic die down and try out a local restaurant before heading home.
Hopefully after all that, you will have your favourite university all sorted out and a back-up insurance choice just in case. Now all you have to do is study hard to get those important entry points!
- make a shortlist
- search UCAS for where your course is run
- check university websites for specific course information
- sign up or order any prospectuses and course literature on their website
- visit the universities of interest to you.
Book your place on an NTU open day and see what we can offer you.