If you’re wanting further education, your choice of university is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. You’ll be spending the next 3 – 4 years of your life there. Investigating the universities that are available to you is worth every minute you spend on it. Putting in the hard yards up front will pay off big time, both in your level of enjoyment and in your future career prospects.
All universities have open days and attending these is a great way to get a feel for a particular institution. You’ll get to speak to lecturers and existing students, tour the buildings and grounds, examine the various facilities and take a look at the surrounding town or city. Prospectuses are another great source of information and reading these is essential when choosing a university. Check with the Student Union, too, as they sometimes produce an alternative prospectus which describes the uni and its courses from a student point of view. The internet is an excellent university research tool.
Obviously, your foremost consideration will be that the university you attend provides courses in the subject or subjects you want to study. Once you’ve made a short list of universities offering these courses, there are a number of points you should think about before you make your final decision.
Where is the campus situated? Is there a certain part of the country you’d like to experience? Is the countryside or town that surrounds the university of particular interest to you? Do you want to study away from home? Moving to a new city for the duration of your studies can offer an adventure, throwing you into a new world, allowing you to meet different people and enjoy a wider variety of experience. If it’s going to be your first time away from home there are valuable life lessons to be learned too. You’ll learn how to shop and cook for yourself, how to do your own washing… On the downside, you’ll have to deal with separation from family and old friends and factor in travel costs when you return for visits during holidays.
If you do choose to study away from home, does the university provide accommodation? Are there halls of residence and what are they like? Does the uni guarantee first year residence? If they don’t, is accommodation readily available at an affordable price in the neighbouring area? Think about things like internet access, ease of travel to and from campus, personal safety, entertainment facilities…
Some universities are bigger than others. Do you want to attend a large campus, or would you prefer a more college-like atmosphere? The size of the institution may also have bearing on the student-faculty ratio and on the number and quality of facilities available.
Is the university well regarded in the field you wish to study, both by other academic institutions and by employers in that field? Having the name of a university renowned as a world leader in a particular subject could do wonders for your CV.
Does the university have an employment service? You may need a holiday or part-time job to eek out that Student Allowance. When you finish your course, what assistance is available to help you find employment in your chosen field?
How good is the library, the gym and sports hall, the medical clinic etc? Do you have a sport or other interest you want to pursue while at university? Are there facilities that will enable you to do this? Societies are a great way to develop an interest and meet like-minded people. Is there one that suits you at your chosen university?
How active is the Student Union? Does it play an active role in student welfare? Does it organise enough social, entertainment and leisure activities? What services does it provide? The Union can be a big part of uni life – don’t forget to check it out.
How easy is it to transfer between courses? If you suddenly decide you can’t stand another day of Macro Economics, will you be able to jump ship to Communication Studies? How much flexibility will you have in choosing and mixing the various units?
You’ll know your course fees going in (or you should), but what about extras? How much will it cost you to use the gym? How much will you have to pay for photocopying, connecting your laptop to the uni network, attending summer school etc?