1) PrioritiseThe key to finding your course and uni of dreams is prioritising what you deem to be important, less important and virtually unimportant. Some students find they work best when away from home, others excel when they have a balanced social and study life, others still like peace and quiet...Write a list and chart three grids: in one column, write out all the things you couldn’t live without (e.g. social events, state-of-the-art technology, good library facilities etc); next, the things you would like to have but aren’t necessarily that fussed about (e.g. gym, place to park your car etc); last but not least, the things you would be willing to compromise on (e.g. halls within walking distance of uni, uni transport etc). Once you have the basics laid out, you then need to focus on both course and university.
2) Your course(s)Picking a subject can be easier for students who have a clear idea of what career path they would like and extremely difficult for those who don’t have a clue. If you fall in the latter category, try and speak to careers advisers at your school and look at what subjects you enjoy - remember, you’ll be signing up for a course for 3 years minimum, so it’s best to study something you have a genuine interest in. It’s wise in such cases to pick a course that is relatively open; that is to say, a course like Modern Languages or Politics, as you will be able to tailor your course with modules along the years, and thus specialise in a certain field. It’s also worth noting that many career paths do not require a specific course - Media, Advertising, Business and Law professions do not necessarily call for a particular course, as they employ graduates from many fields. When picking a course, you should look past its title and alluring prospectus photo, analysing its content:
- What particular aspect(s) of the subject does the course focus on?
- Can you pick your modules according to what interests you/what are the core units?
- Can you pick modules (open units) from other departments?
- How is the course taught (lectures, seminars, group work, tutorials)?
- How big are the classes?
- How are you assessed (exams, coursework, essays, presentations)?
- How does the marking system work?
3) Work placements and/or the year abroadYou should also look into whether your course offers the chance to undertake a placement or a year abroad. More and more employers are seeking graduates with work experience or language skills, or both. Students who opt for a year abroad and/or a work placement are at a distinct advantage over their peers, as you will get the chance to 'test run' a potential career path. Students who take a year abroad, to study, work or volunteer, gain valuable work and language skills, as well as experiencing a new side to student life. Some courses require students to spend time away (e.g. Modern Languages and Engineering courses), though it is becoming more and more common for universities to encourage students from all departments to take advantage of this opportunity and the grants and schemes on offer. Enquire as to when your work placement or year abroad would occur, and how it would fit into your course - some unis require their students to secure a placement in 2nd year, others bank on the 3rd year...Taking some time out of uni also gives you the chance to take a break from studying, which proves beneficial for most students, as you develop a different set of skills (self-confidence, flexibility, initiative) during that time.
4) Choosing your modulesWhen looking into modules, there are key factors to consider:
- Can you pick different subject areas?
- How much flexibility is given to students who wish to change their modules?
- How are students picked for each module (grades, attendance, first come, first served)?
- Can you change your course if you are unhappy? How far through?
5) Picking your universityOnce you have gathered what you’d like to study, you need to choose your location. The Guardian offers university league tables, by course and by subject. Remember that these league tables do not include social events, the student union and other activities; rankings are based on study only. Even if you are not that career-minded, you should take into account the employability of students as some companies tend to employ graduates from certain universities.
6) To live close to home or not, that is the questionWould you like to live close to home or, on the contrary, do you see university as your chance to spread your wings? Would you like to study at a campus university or in a city university? These are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself. Of course, you need to factor in costs and figure out if you can apply for bursaries and student funding. You will need to look at the university facilities, too: should you wish to study in the library or go to the gym, be aware of what your university has to offer. You will need to factor in other elements, too, such as your expected grades and financial situation; student advisers recommend picking 6 universities, with 2 requiring your highest expected grades, 2 others requiring your comfortably expected grades and the final 2 requiring lower grades, just in case you don’t do as well in your exams as you thought you would.
7) Student social life and experienceIt’s also wise to speak to current students about their experiences and views of the university, as a prospectus is there to sell, in essence. Search for students here, by course and year, or post something in sites such as The Student Room to get some feedback. Of course, you may decide you would like to study with some of your sixth-form friends; although that is all fine and well, you should also think about how easy it will be for you to meet new people, essentially what university life is all about. Though a friend from home might provide security and support, it may also hinder you when it comes to befriending new faces. Look at the university’s student union and see what sort of societies are on offer; pay close attention to the university’s Careers Service and the help they have on offer: you might need help later on with your CV or finding a job; look into the university’s exchange partners, over the world, to get an idea of how they are represented internationally.
Finally, bear in mind that people have different reasons for studying at different if not the same universities - don’t let yourself be swayed by friends and family, but instead choose to visit universities on their Open Days and speak to their students and course tutors to try and get a better idea of what suits you.