How To Choose The Right University | UniAdmissions Guide

With over 100 universities to choose from in the UK, how do you make the right choice? At this stage of your application, you probably know the subject you want to study, or at least the major (if you don't, we'll get to that later). The next step is to determine the university you would like to study at.

Author: Rob Needleman

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With over 100 universities to choose from in the UK, how do you make the right choice?

At this stage of your application, you likely know the subject you are hoping to study, or at least the field (if not, we cover this later on). The next step is to narrow down which university you would like to study at.

This article is the first of our two blog posts on ‘how to choose the right’. The second can be found here which explains how to choose the right degree

It can be overwhelming with so many universities to choose from so to help you with your decision making, we will take you through the key considerations you should make, such as course content, employability, facilities and sports and societies, to help you decide on the right university.

How to choose the right degree

Choosing the right degree is an incredibly important decision. It will significantly affect your future as you’ll likely be studying your degree for 3 or more years and working in the related field for 40 years. That is a lot of years. 

There are key considerations to make when deciding on your degree:

Course Content

With many universities offering degrees in the same field, it is vital to pick out the one that matches up with you. For example, there are nearly 80 UK universities offering Economics degrees so you could start by looking at the course content and the particular modules the university lecturers cover.

Consider what you found interesting in school and where you would like to take your career in the future to see if these match up with the modules covered. You may want to go into consultancy or work for Government Agencies such as the Office of Fair Trading so studying Economics and Management at Oxford with a focus on Economics of Industry could be right for you.

Teaching and Assessments

Teaching and assessments is also another key consideration. You may prefer to be taught in a large lecture theatre, or one-to-one in tutorials, you may also be looking for a year in industry or to study abroad. From school assessments, you might favour end of module exams over coursework across the year. Continuing with the Economics example, LSE Economics degree teaching and assessments are heavily exam based whereas Portsmouth Economics Degree assessments are 62% written exams, 4% practical exams and 34% coursework in the first year. Choose a university that has a teaching and assessments style that you prefer and perform better in.

Career Prospects

Lastly, look at the career prospects for the degree. Going to university will unlock a lot of doors for you and it is never too early to think about what’s next. Find out where alumni have taken their careers, and if this is an area that interests you. If you have any questions, contact the university to ask what their graduates tend to go into or if they stay on for postgraduate study.

University Location

Location can be a deal-breaker for university decision making. It does not matter how prestigious the university and degree is, if it is in a location that does not suit you, it will dampen your university experience. If you are looking for access to the great outdoors, then a university in North Wales near Snowdonia would suit you and a university deep in London may not. 

Likewise, if you are looking for amazing nightlife, then Leeds will probably suit you more than a university in the Lake District. You’ll find other students with similar interests by choosing universities that match up with you. So ask yourself “do I want to live and study in a City or a Town, a Campus-based university or a city-based university?” It is all about your preferences and what will make your university experience brilliant.

With location comes cost. Living costs vary across the UK and it is something that catches a lot of students out. You can budget for university, but if you do not budget for the area you will be living in, this can make for a nasty surprise. For example, using the ‘metric’ of a cost of a pint of beer, in Lancaster, a pint can cost around £2.80 but in London, you can expect from £5.20 upwards. 

Costs also include commuting to lectures and back, which is something that students regularly forget to consider in their budgeting. Check to see if student halls are near your labs or lectures, will you need to drive every day, cycle or walk, are there good transport links? If commuting is something you would like to avoid, then look for very campus-based universities such as Loughborough University and avoid spread out universities such as Cambridge, with Colleges and lecture rooms spread across the city.

Quote from Sammy who studies PBS at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge
Map of the Cambridge University Colleges

University Facilities, Sports and Societies

As you will be studying at the university for a number of years, the standard of the facilities is important. You will be able to properly scope out the facilities for yourself during an open day, however, in the meantime, try to gather an idea of the quality of the facilities. For example, you may want to study in the library or have access to state of the art labs. You may also be looking to study at a more historic university such as Oxford and Cambridge which have a strong focus on research and a  more traditional academic focus. These are all factors that might seem minor right now but will become an important factor when you start your degree.

So far we have covered the location and quality of university facilities, but what about your accommodation? You don’t want to be leaving your nice and warm bedroom at home to be moving to what feels like a prison cell. As we mentioned earlier, think about the location of your halls as well, it is a great feeling to roll out of bed into lectures rather than catch a 30-minute bus. To check how the university ranks for accommodation, check the Whatuni Student Choice Awards here

Accommodation tends to vary in price across universities so make sure the accommodation is within your budget. You can see the variation in prices in the table below:

Student Accommodation Weekly Costs (£)
Royal Veterinary College
University of Oxford
Newcastle University
Falmouth University
National Average

Of course, student halls are not the only choice of university living, there is also the option of private halls and shared houses which is more common for students in second year onwards.

Universities will always accommodate anyone with special requirements. However, it is always a good idea to contact the university to make sure they can meet your needs such as accessibility to older buildings and specialized learning support. We also recommend looking at reviews from students with a disability to see if they felt like all of their needs were accommodated.

The opportunities you will have access to for sports and societies are immense. Depending on the university, you can do anything from Quidditch to Rowing and 3D Printing Society to Debating Society. This is a great chance for you to find new sports or compete in sports you already do but against other universities and to join a society that can enhance your understanding of your course and give you an opportunity to network for when you graduate.

Universities such as Loughborough and Durham are renowned having incredible sports facilities and clubs. Although the majority of UK universities have a diverse portfolio of sports and societies, take a look at the universities website to see if there is exactly what you are looking for and check the British Universities & Colleges Sport website (BUCS) to see the ranking of the university for the particular sport from BUCS points.

University Open days

University open days are an important step in your application because they give you the chance to get a feel for the university which you can’t really gain from a website and prospectus. By going to an open day, you are able to ask current students and tutors questions about the university and degree and visit the places you might study and sleep at night. Types of questions you should ask are:

Make sure you take full advantage of open days to help your university decision making by properly preparing which we cover in our ‘How do I prepare for a university open day?’ article.

How to choose a UK university for International Students

It is easy to pick a famous UK university rather than finding the university that is best for your subject. We strongly recommend putting time aside to go through the considerations we explained above such as location, facilities and course. The likelihood is that university will cost more for you and attending a university that is closer to an airport will be the preference. As most universities have great travel links, look for universities that suit you the most and the travel can come second.

The UK has a long history of world-class education and the universities often rank highly in international university league tables. For international students, this makes UK university admissions even more competitive. For example, only 8.9% of Oxford University students are international students and 11.6% for Cambridge. Make sure you are realistic with your university choices, the highest academically achieving international students will be applying to the top-ranking UK universities. Bear this in mind when you find out your predicted grades. 

The table below will give you an idea of the tuition costs for international students:

CourseHome Student (UK)International
Medicine at the University of Cambridge£9,250£60,942
Medicine at the University of Oxford£9,250£48,600
Engineering at the University of Oxford£9,250£39,010
PPE at the University of Oxford£9,250£29,500
Psychology at the University of Cambridge£9,250£35,517

*You’ll pay a college fee on top of this of £8,000 to £10,000.

To aid your decision-making process, we suggest you ask the following questions to universities and students:

This link here will take you to UCAS’s Unibuddy. This platform allows you to choose a university, degree subject or select a student by their home country, and find out what life’s really like at university for international or home students.

Choosing your university second choice

A common mistake we see each year is students putting all of their eggs in one basket with their first choice. You should put as much effort into researching your second choice university as your first choice. The second choice should also be slightly lower than your predicted grades as added protection for you. Of course, you will be disappointed if you are not accepted by your first choice, but your second choice should be somewhere you really want to study still, make it an insurance choice, not an ‘if all fails I guess I’ll go here’ choice.

Final tips on how to choose the right university

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