A Complete University Application Guide: More Offers, Less Stress

Choosing a University: 6 Important Questions to Ask Yourself

Would you buy a laptop or a smartphone without considering exactly what you’re looking for first? 

Drawing up a wish-list is the first thing you should do when choosing universities to apply to. 

Here are 6 questions you should ask yourself before you sign up for a single open day:

1. Where do you want to study? 

Getting away from home for the first time in your life can be liberating, exciting, and a great chance to develop new skills like cooking, managing money and, best of all, doing the laundry. Experiencing somewhere new and unfamiliar can also broaden your horizons. 

On the other hand, you might prefer – or need – to live close to your family.

Location isn’t an important factor for everyone, but if it is, it will help you eliminate certain universities before you even start looking. 

And, if you’re toying with the idea of studying overseas, thinking about it early will give you the time you need to prepare. 

(Considering studying abroad? Find out everything you need to know here.)

2. What are your grade expectations?

By the time you apply for university, you will have some idea of the grades you’re likely to achieve. Use your grade expectations to help you choose courses which are both challenging and realistic.

Allow for all possibilities by picking a mix of safe choices and more ambitious options if your grades come in at the higher end of your expectations.

3. What subject do you want to study?

Universities tend to specialise in certain subjects, so your subject really matters. Google is your friend here. 

It’s common to assume that just because a uni is famous or has a good reputation, it’s good for every subject. However, Googling “best universities for [name of your subject]” may turn up some surprising – and less competitive – results. 

Be sure to check out the uni league tables too – you can rank them by subject. Use this information wisely, and it could boost your chances of getting in to a uni that’s really good for your subject.

4. How much contact time are you hoping for?

People learn in different ways. Some of us are independent learners happy to plough through a stack of books, while others prefer to talk through an idea. 

While you’ll need a good mix of both, you’ll probably prefer a course that is weighted one way or the other. 

A recent report suggested that students tend to overestimate the amount of contact time they’ll receive at university – so know your facts. Many world-class universities are famed for their research rather than their teaching.

Check out the National Student Survey, look at the league tables (which you can rank by student satisfaction, and for more detail, look at the individual uni reports from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

5. What is your ideal life/study balance?

Just because you don’t want to spend all your waking hours studying doesn’t mean you’re not “university material”.

Preparing for employment, getting involved in politics, the arts or student societies is all part of the amazing tapestry that makes up uni life. 

Whether or not you’re a straight A student, understanding your personal priorities will help you find a uni and a course which lets you strike a realistic balance. Look at the course content to understand the intensity of the programme, and ask students and staff on open days.

Anna is the treasurer for the Conservation Society at Sheffield Hallam University, she discusses why it is important to look at everything a student’s union has to offer...

When I was applying for university, the Students’ Union was one of the first things I looked at. Degrees are important but what you do alongside your degree is also important. There are so many diverse societies, from academic to funky ones like Horror or Quidditch. Societies are a fantastic way to get involved, make friends for life or step out of your comfort zone. The Students’ Union is a huge part of my student life, it is where I eat, exercise, meet my friends, study, go out, volunteer, work and do other activities. Additionally, SUs are run by students for students, so you can basically make anything happen.

Also SUs and societies are incredibly helpful if you’re trying to gain experience for employment because you learn so many transferable skills if you get involved. SUs provide a smorgasbord of opportunities to build skills, meet new people, discover passions and just have fun alongside your degree. It provides a safe environment that encourages and enables students to explore what they want and how their future might look like.

Over the years I have been involved in Conservation Volunteers, Amnesty International, UNICEF, Basketball, Korfball, Skiing and I have also been an SU Officer. Student Unions provide you with an opportunity of a life time where you can try new things, that’s why it’s so important to choose a good one.

6. What will your employment prospects be like?

Compare employment statistics when researching universities and courses – again, you can see some basic information in the league tables

This will indicate whether a degree from a particular institution is likely take you where you want to go in your future career. It will also help you plan summer jobs and internships to boost your skills and work experience while you study. Some universities have links with employers, with work placements forming part of the course.

All of that is a lot to ask, you may be thinking. However, with over 100 universities and colleges to choose from in the UK alone, there’s almost certainly somewhere that ticks most of the boxes, if not all of them.

Take control: Choose a university to suit you and no one else. The feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing. The act of taking control is empowering, and it's a crucial part of finding a solution that satisfies you and not someone else.

Author Bio

Jamie Goodland writes careers advice at successatschool.org. Success at School is a website helping schools and students understand their career options and connect to employers and universities.

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