How To Choose The Right University For You

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Written By Dr Shane McKeown

Read the title!

Remember you need to pick the right course for you, not necessarily the best course in the league tables.

There are over 50,000 degree courses to apply to at just under 500 course providers! This can feel like an intimidating amount, especially considering you have to narrow down all these choices to just 5.


Start With The Basics


Struggling to know which direction to go in? Begin if you haven’t already with your subject strengths and choices. This really applies even if you have a solid understanding of which courses you want to attend. A roster of primarily humanities and social subjects will not play well if you apply for a mainly scientific course.

Over 1 in 20 students who start at uni fail to complete their course. This will be for a whole host of reasons but some students remove themselves simply because it is not the right choice for them.

This is a fairly large waste of time and money so it makes sense to do your research properly and make the right choice now!


What is the right course and university then?


You need to ask yourself what you want and need from your chosen path. The following question list should help you get started.

First things first, does your interest at A level or outside of school translate into studying the course for at least 3 years? This should always be at the forefront of your mind when doing your research.

What is useful in your future? Do you need a wide range of skills or does your future career dictate exactly what is expected of you?

Will the prestigious name of a top institution on your CV really make much of a difference for you? Are you sure you will be able to attain the same grades at that university?

Looking into a course at the bleeding edge of current tech? Certain subjects develop and change much faster than others. Make sure before you apply you really know the course specifics at that university.

What will be happening in the future? Some career options are dying whilst others are exploding. Now more than ever tech and AI is changing the career landscape at lightning speed.

Do you want a course that offers undergraduate work? Many courses offer a year out, usually in industry. These again can change frequently so make sure you do your research.

Finally, does your career actually need a specific degree?

If not which option is the strongest for that career?

Don’t assume this is the one you should go for however. A degree that you are passionate about, that will hold your interest so that you do well in the end is a much better idea in the long run.


Research, research, research


Above all, do your research! Lots of people can give their advice but at the end of the day only you can decide.

If you feel overwhelmed by the choices out there, just make a start. Simply by researching broad topics like computer science, engineering or social studies on university websites will give you a taste of what is possible.

Make a list of all of the courses that pique your interest. After going through a few different universities you will begin to get a flavour of the common degree variations on offer. Eventually you will see a pattern emerge from the list, with one or two subject areas leading the pack.


Your Future University


Depending on the course you decide on, you may have a number of different options when it comes to universities. Some courses are new or very specialist meaning some of the hard work will already have been done for you as only a few institutions will offer them.

Always double check at this point that the courses at each university are actually what you expect! Some courses, especially those that are not driven towards one particular career path can vary wildly in their course content.


How will your performance be assessed?


Your A-levels will have been a mix of coursework and exams. By now you probably know fairly well how you perform in each of these arenas. Although you shouldn’t avoid a course simply because some group or presentation work is present, it would make sense to play to your strengths.

The university course pages will list a breakdown of course components and how you achieve your end of year marks. If a course at one university results in the same degree but mainly examines your strengths rather than weaknesses it is the sensible choice for the future.


What can you achieve now?


Your personal statement is obviously central to your UCAS application. A strong statement goes a very long way in securing the university place you want.

You do however need to be realistic about your chances. If the course asks for AAA and you get AAB will you get offered a place? Possibly, it all depends on how good your extracurricular background is and the competition for that course.

How about AAA required and you get BBB? Some would argue that it is still possible if there is low competition for the course that year and you have an outstanding personal statement and interview. This is your future you are betting on however so stay safe and realistic!


Your 5 Choices


When listing your 5 choices you have to balance the courses you really want versus the risk of not getting a place at all. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, spread the risk over different courses. If you have been predicted below the entry requirements for your favourite course and university then it would be wise to have a back up plan.

You know yourself how happy you are to work harder to change your predicted grades. Maybe you had a rough AS year or were unprepared for your mocks. Allow yourself some room to improve but be reasonable.

Regardless of how much you believe you will improve, make sure your insurance choice is at the same level or slightly below your predicted grades. It is your back up choice after all so don’t stress too much about it, concentrate on your primary courses.

Pick one or two ambitious courses if they are something you are interested in. If your initial choices are already within your predicted grade set don’t place yourself under unnecessary pressure and risk.

So to sum up, you want at maximum 2 ambitious choices, 2 predicted choices and 1 back up plan.

Following this rough guide gives you the chance to excel if your grades pick up but protects you from being left with no place if things take a turn for the worse.


The Real Experience


Hopefully you will make time to go visit at the very least your top choice universities. This helps gives you a more realistic idea of how far it is away from home, what the local city feels like and of course first hand experience of the university and its grounds.

This is only the first step however, as there is plenty more you can find out to help you make your decisions. University courses can hold taster sessions or seperate open days to meet lecturers and get a deeper insight into what to expect.

The best information often comes from the current students themselves. They’ll let you know the little details that will be missed on tours and brochures like good and bad lecturers, the state of facilities around the university and the general level of student satisfaction.


Start Now


Regardless of when you are applying to university, it is never to early to start your research. From attending open days and taster courses to doing you due diligence and looking into your interests fully there is a lot to get done.

There is no point working hard to get good grades if you don’t put some time and effort into thinking about the next 3 years of your life! Get it right and you could spend the next few years of your life in a university you love, excelling at your first choice course.

At Acrosophy we know it can be stressful to have your future hinge on your upcoming grades and choices. We’ve been helping students for over a decade, with personal statement and interview training but also guidance in making the right university choice.

Head over to our forum here if you any questions to ask our admissions tutors or other university applicants. For the best chance of success check out our member guides and seminars on all aspects of your UCAS application.
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