With over 100 British universities to choose from, how to I know which ones to select and apply for?
Here are the suggestions my father made a university professor, former head of department and former head of admissions at a leading British university.
First, make a list of the kind of subject areas you might be interested in. Be as broad or narrow as you want based on your present knowledge and thoughts. Don’t worry your views will be refined as you embark on this process.
Second, read the University Guide in the Guardian Newspaper or on-line. The Times produce a similar Guide. It is the nearest thing to a university league table, complied with robust criteria and updated every year. It will give you a broad idea of the different strengths and weaknesses of each university according to the undergraduate courses they offer.
This will also give you an idea of the typical entrance requirements based on your likely or actual A level grades (or equivalent). Those which are completely unrealistic can be omitted, along with those which offer entrance levels well below your own achievements.
Third, decide whether you would be happier at a campus university or a city center one. There is no right or wrong here. It is very much a personal issue, but do make a choice. It will influence how much you enjoy the experience, especially if you are leaving home for the first time.
At this point, you should be in a position to draw up a short list. Don’t worry if it’s not that short! 20 or less is fine. You’re going to narrow it down further in the next few stages.
The next step is to read the prospectuses of the universities you have short-listed. At this stage you would do well to pay particular attention to the courses offered within your areas of interest and the content and structure of these courses. Read the detail. Law at Birmingham University, for instance, is not taught the same way as Law at the University of Kent. Find out what the different approaches are and think about which you find most interesting and appealing.
By now, your short list will be a bit shorter.
The fifth stage is then to fine tune your selection. Look at some of the less obvious issues. How long is the course? Does it include a year abroad? How far is the university from home and how important is this to you? What is the student composition like on the course you are thinking of and how important is this to you? Be practical: if the student body on the course in question is 50% Chinese and you speak only English, how will you spend your free time? This is more of an issue in and around London when large numbers of students disappear at weekends. Loneliness is one of the major reasons students drop out of university. Does the university attract mainly students from public schools? How do you feel about that?
Much of this detail can only be discovered by visiting for an open day. That’s not always practical, but if you can, it’s definitely worth it. It can help with the final factor in making your decision: gut instinct. You will often get a good or bad feeling about a place by visiting. It may be right for others but not for you and it’s your choice.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned fees yet. That’s because I think they’re among the least important aspects. Find out what you want to do and where then figure out how to pay for it. If it means delaying your application for a year so you can work and save some money, it’s worth doing. There’s no point going somewhere you don’t want to be just because you can afford it.
By now your short list will be even shorter so start applying and good luck with the rest of the process!