Choosing a University

Choosing a university is a very big decision in anyone's life. It is also often the first major decision a teenager has to make. It is so important to select the right university. A surprisingly high 20% of all students drop out of university altogether during the term of their course. When you consider the fees now involved in studying at university selecting the wrong course is a very expensive mistake to make. Anyone dropping out will also find themselves behind those who chose to embark on a career when leaving school.

There is a lot more to choosing the right course for you then simply selecting the subject you wish to take. Universities come in all different sizes. Different universities will offer different facilities and have their own style. Some will have lively social scenes while others may be quieter. There are more than 100 universities and colleges in the U.K. where you can study for your degree. In order to choose the right decision there are a number of key criteria to consider.

University or Specialist Centre

One early decision to consider is whether you prefer to be at a campus type university mixing with students studying different disciplines or at a specialist teaching centre. The specialized centres tend to be available for subjects such as Art, Medicine and Agriculture. Some universities will be at a central location while others will be dotted around a city and may even have centres in nearby towns. Therefore it pays to find out the exact set up of the places you are considering studying at.

When to Start Looking

It is a good idea to start looking before your child chooses the A levels they wish to study. Universities can be very specific about the subjects taken at A level and the wrong choice can mean missing out on a place at your ideal university later.

Some subjects, such as medicine, and leading universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have early cut offs for applications. A lot of schools don't appear to take this into consideration when deciding when to brief parents about the university application process. This is another good reason for starting your search early and making sure you are well aware of the cut off dates for applications.

In addition it is a good idea to visit possible universities in Year 12 as this reduces the number of days your child will be absent from school in the run up to their A level exams.

Fees and Grants

Before you get too far down the track of selecting your university it is worth checking out the fee structure. You may find that you also qualify for a grant or bursary. Some of the grants and bursaries are based on family income. Others are based on grades achieved at A level. Finding out how your son or daughter can qualify can work as an incentive for achieving better A level grades.

Local Area

The local area will play an important part in your life at university. If you are used to city life you may well feel more at home in a city based university. Likewise if you are used to living somewhere quieter you may appreciate studying somewhere with a bit less hustle and bustle. Another factor to investigate is how safe the city is. Would you feel safe traveling back to your accommodation at night?

On a similar note what is local transport like? Is there a regular bus service? Is local transport expensive? What is it like to cycle? Do you need a car? These are all questions it is useful to have the answers to.

Local Industry Connections

Depending on the course you take connections between local business and the university can be important. Good relations can help you to gain extra experience and even open up career opportunities.

Other Students

Partly through the increasing cost of taking degree courses you may find the university you are considering attracts a lot of local people to it. The main area that this has implications for is socially. Many students may already have an established circle of friends and this can make social opportunities more infrequent. You may also wish to check the type of schools students typically come from. For example if you went to a state school you may find it easier to settle into a university where there are a high percentage of students with a similar background to your own.

How Far From Home

Even if other students are not from the town of city the university is based in there appears to be a trend where many students opt to attend a university nearer to home. Although this is likely to be too far to commute on a daily basis it does mean a number of students head home at the weekend. This is worth keeping in mind if your own child is considering a university some way away from where you live. This could lead to them being left on their own at weekends.

It can help to check with the universities that your son or daughter is considering attending to see if they keep any statistics of where their students come from.


Most universities offer halls of residence to first year students. It is sensible to find out what part of town these are based in and how far you will need to travel each day. You will also need to find out about accommodation in later years. How much does it cost? Where is it? How easy is it to find?

Sports and Social

How enjoyable life is away from studying is likely to go a long way to determining how much you enjoy university life. You may be active sports wise, like attending concerts and gigs or just enjoy a good night out. Therefore it's important to find out what the university offers from a social aspect.

Cost of Living

Students by nature become very adept at finding places to shop and eat that are inexpensive. Where your university is based and the make up of its intake can have an impact on this. It is advisable to calculate the cost of key items such as transport and accommodation before you make your choice.

Work and Outside School Experiences

A lot of universities are just as interested in what your child has done outside of school as what they achieve in it. For example you stand a much better chance of gaining entry to a medical university if you have picked up some experience of working in a hospital. Places such as hospitals get lots of requests from students asking to spend time shadowing doctors during the school holidays, so get any requests in early.

Writing a Personal Statement

When applying for university your child will need to write a personal statement. This is really their sales pitch. A selection of out of school activities and any community or voluntary work will look good on the application and improve your child's chances of being accepted by the university.

Open Days

Before going too far with your selection process it is wise to visit a short list of universities. You may be surprised to find out which ones suit you and which ones are somewhat different to your expectations. To get an idea it is well worth attending university open days. A small number of universities also offer taster days and even taster weeks. It is well worth taking these opportunities to give you a clearer insight into what to expect.

To help you're your decision making started and to find out which universities offer which subject take a look at The Times University Ranking Tables.

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