Choosing a University

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Is university the right choice?

A disclaimer: university is not the right step for everyone. Or it may not be the right step right now. Great stock is placed in the traditional route from school to university, with perhaps a minor detour in the form of a gap year. But a three year degree (or more) is major commitment of time and resources and shouldn’t be undertaken out of a sense of obligation to a cultural norm. If your school is not offering advice about alternative routes, seek other counsel. It is, of course, easier to find the time for further study when have yet to fully join the workforce but it is certainly possible to do so, as the thousands of mature students will attest.

There’s every reason to be excited about the prospect of higher education. University offers the chance to study in a freer academic environment, where original thoughts are welcomed and encouraged. It can create the platform to a dream career. And, of course, it offers a first glimpse of independence, an unsupervised social life, and the opportunity to develop interpersonal skills and vital habits of mind.

Choosing the right university

Choosing the right subject is often the easy part. By the time you’ve taken A levels or there equivalent you have already narrowed down the list of options. The student who took English, history and philosophy won’t be going on to study maths.

Choosing a university is, perhaps, the harder decision. There are so many to choose from, even excluding study abroad. If you don’t have anywhere particular in mind then think about the following points.

Most obviously, does the university you are looking at even offer the course you want to do? If not, move on. Relatedly, be realistic. There’s not much point at looking at Oxford or Cambridge or other top tier universities without a consistently exceptional academic performance. Fortunately, you live in a country where the standard of higher education is incredibly high – there are many great universities within the top hundred.

A huge factor is whether you want to stay at home or move out. If the former, that will drastically narrow down your options (you really don’t want your journey to university to take hours every day). Financial concerns are often a reason behind students deciding to live at home but you may be missing out on some of the best aspects of student life if you choose not to live in halls or other shared accommodation.

Are there any facilities which are particularly important to you? Perhaps you are an avid gym-goer or tennis player – if these are parts of your life you really want to export to university then make this a focus of your research.

Different types of university

The sense of student life at a university is particularly impacted by setting, layout and overall population. A university in a major city like London will require getting used to London life. It will be busier, noisier and harder to get from a to b. Campuses in metropolitan areas will be more fractured than campuses which lie on the outskirts of cities.

Brunel University, on the outskirts of London in Uxbridge, is a smaller and more concentrated university experience. It’s easier to coordinate a social life and walking up and down the purpose built campus avenues generates a feeling of community. Most inner city universities, excepting perhaps Oxford, cannot replicate that experience. Halls and lecture centres will be on or near to busy roads. Of course, being the in the centre of major city has many advantages – arts, culture and a social scene as wide as the city. Reflect upon yourself as a person – will you find a big city too hectic or too distracting? Is this that sense of community really important to you?

Researching the right university

Finally, open days are absolutely crucial aspect of the decision making process. Yes, it is expensive to hop on trains or buses and travel round the country but there is no substitute for seeing the university and its surrounds up close. At the end of the day, you want as much information as possible. Open days allow you to test your assumptions, about the university and about yourself.

Take your time and do the research. Finding the right university should be an exciting time, filled with possibility.