We kick off the week by carrying on with our FAQ on picking a university from your offers. Today we’ll be addressing some queries that many students have related to who they should turn to for advice if you’re in a quandary about picking a university.

Who are the best people for me to speak (and listen) to when I’m making a decision?

Unfortunately there’s no one simple answer to that question. It really depends on the different groups of people you could feasibly turn to, how much you feel that they understand your interests and needs, and how knowledgeable they are about higher education and picking a university.

In difficult times we always turn to friends, and the situation of picking a university is no different. These are the people who probably understand you and what you want from life the best. However, friends in your age group may also have another thing in common with you: they’ve also never been to university, and so won’t be giving advice based on first-hand experience. So get input from them, but don’t use them as your only source of advice. If they happen to have older siblings who’ve been to university, they may be able to give you more of a direct account of the university experience.

Family members are another key group of people to consult when picking a university. Where your friends might be tempted to make you pick the same university as them so they have a buddy there, your parents are more likely to keep you grounded by focusing on things like which course seems to offer the best career prospects and so forth. That said, the generational divide can make some of their information out of date. What might have been a hip place to go when they were young may now have fallen on harder times, or a place people discounted twenty years ago may have now surged up the rankings.

The other main group of people to talk to when picking a university are your teachers and/or careers advisors at school. They should have a pretty good overview of the university scene, and hopefully will also understand your academic needs better than most others. Unless you go to a very small school, however, it may well be that as a source of advice they are spread quite thin between all the other people in your year group. They’re also possibly less likely to know the social you so well, and therefore will be in not such a good position to judge whether you’d be happy in a big city, a rural campus etc.

What we can see, then, is that there are many different people that can help to advise you in picking a university, but none of them are perfect. Collectively, though, they should cover all angles of the question, so the best thing to do is understand what they can contribute to your decision-making process and get input from all of them.

How much attention should I pay to what I read on forums and social networks about a particular university?

Anonymous of the Internet is the one person we left off the groups you can consult above. He or she can be a tricky character who you need to be careful in dealing with. While you can get some really important insights from him or her, you also have no idea of their motivations, their preferences, or even whether or not what they say is factually accurate. Like any form of online review, what you’ll find when it comes to discussions of universities online is that the commenters will either be wildly enthusiastic or very negative–these being the two feelings that motivate people to put effort into writing about something.

This means that it’s best not to look at online opinions in isolation. Instead, look for trends in what people are saying about a course or university. If the student union Facebook page is packed with enthusiastic comments, the trend would suggest the university is a fun place to be. Lots of students complaining about a course on a website, on the other hand, would suggest there are genuine issues with that course, rather than there being just one disgruntled student among a big majority of happy ones.

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