Choosing a university can seem like a daunting task. This was definitely the case when I was applying. I found myself scrolling through many university websites, wondering how on earth I was going to turn my list of 15 universities into just 5. I would have certainly benefited from the advice of an actual student, which is why I’m writing this article for you. As a second-year student, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the UCAS process and I’ve come up with an analogy that might just put things into perspective. I’ve called it, ‘The University Jig-saw’.
Firstly, I want you to think about your university experience as a big jig-saw puzzle with many pieces fitting together to make up the bigger picture. These pieces need to fit and work together, if not, the end picture will have missing pieces. Now, think of these ‘pieces’ as different aspects of university life. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that there are six. We have the course quality, the location, the finance, the graduate prospects, the student satisfaction, and the diversity . All six pieces fit in what we call the ‘university experience’. This is why it’s important to have all these pieces working together, to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your university years.
Let’s start with course quality. If you have your mind set on a particular course, then you should start comparing different universities with regards to the modules that they offer. Often times, despite offering the same course, universities will differ slightly in the content that they teach. For example, some literature degrees focus more on classical texts and critical analysis, whilst others gravitate to the creative side of writing. This is why it’s important to know what modules you’ll be taking throughout the years. You can easily do this by visiting their website, viewing the undergraduate course and opening up the section on course structure. This will be similar throughout all university websites. By doing this, you are ensuring that your chosen university is offering you exactly what you want, as well as avoiding any unpleasant surprises when it comes to semester time. I have attached the link to the course structure of my degree as an example.
Now that you’ve ensured that the first puzzle piece fits with your image of the university picture, you should also consider location. It is important to note that I’m going through the list in chronological order, meaning that you might prioritise other puzzle pieces. This is completely fine! When thinking about university, location will most likely be very important to you. You have to ask yourself, do you want to go to a campus university? Or perhaps a city university? A campus university means that there is a designated area which forms part of the institution. Often times, this includes accommodation, teaching blocks, libraries and in some cases, a night club. This is the case for the University of Surrey. On the other hand, city universities are normally a group of buildings that can be found within big cities. This is often the case for institutions within London. As you can imagine, city universities offer a busy and bustling atmosphere, allowing you to experience what it’s like living in a major city. The decision all depends on you, both kinds of experiences offer many ways for a student to grow into a successful young adult! Lastly, you might also want to consider how far away the university is to your home town, taking into account travel between both places. The location of a university can make or break your university experience, therefore, you should not rush into a decision! To help you further, here is a fantastic article on location.
Moving on, we’ve reached the finance piece. I won’t bore you with specific figures but I do think that it is very important to think about budgeting and how you’ll be able to manage your expenses. Generally, you’ll find that university accommodations in the southern portion of the country are significantly more expensive than their northern counterparts. This is especially true for universities around big cities such as London. This is definitely something that I had to think about when choosing a university. This is a really important jig-saw piece as finance is something that will affect your university experience one way or another. You want to be able to choose a place where you’ll feel comfortable and able to manage your expenses, as well as provide for yourself. Every student’s finances are different so advice on this topic can seem quite vague. However, I’d urge you to think carefully and perhaps plan how you are going to budget. It is also worth noting that many universities offer student jobs which can be a game changer when it comes to finances. I, for example, am a student ambassador, which has given me plenty of opportunities to improve my CV and save that extra bit of coin! Lastly, a large number of universities offer scholarships and bursaries, so be sure to get involved if you have the chance to! Here is a fantastic video all about budgeting at university.
In this section, I will tackle both student satisfaction and graduate prospects as they very much influence one another. Evidently, satisfaction levels at university is super important. Normally, it indicates how current students are feeling, giving you an insight into the university’s method of incorporating the student voice in their operations. Here at the University of Surrey, the voice of the student is of the utmost important. We have an entire section of the Student’s Union dedicated to it! It is important that universities listen to their students and appropriately action on the feedback. Happy students will often equal better attitude to learning, and thus, better chances of success! Similarly, a university should also help their graduates transition from student life to the working world. This will often be found in the form of graduate schemes and placement years. Be sure to check out what your chosen universities have in terms of supporting you after you graduate! As an example, I have attached a link to the University of Surrey’s graduate scheme.
The last puzzle piece that I want to talk about is diversity. This has become more and more prominent throughout recent years, reflecting on the progressive shift that society has taken in tackling discrimination, inclusion and equality. The student diversity of a university is indicative of the type of students that it’s attracting. Universities with high student diversity will mean that they are actively trying to engage with students from many different backgrounds. This, not only points to the progressive ethic of the university, but also ensures that you’ll meet a vast array of people from different cultures. For me, this was a defining factor in choosing a university. You should feel included and equal to every other student! For my last resource, see below a video speaking student diversity.
I would like to leave you with all my best wishes. After reading this, you should hopefully be able to make an informed decision that will benefit you in the long run. Thank you for reading my article and good luck on your successful years at university.
To hear why Elena, a current EU student, chose the University of Surrey, head to her blog!