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When looking at universities you have to take a lot of things into consideration. Remember you are planning on spending at least 3 years of your life at your chosen institution, so look into EVERY detail of the university. It is a good idea to write a list of your priorities, you should consider all of the things below but some may be more important to you than others.
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When thinking about university, the first thing you should consider is the subject you want to do. It is obviously important to chose something you are good at and something you like because you will be studying it for three years but there are also a number of other things to take into consideration:
How many hours do you want to be in uni?
If you’re doing an engineering, medicinal or science course you will have very long hours in labs and lectures whereas a course such as english literature will have only a few lectures a week and have a lot of individual work that you can do in your room. If you particularly prefer working independently, or with a lot of contact hours, it is important to bear this in mind. Also remember, the number of hours you spend in uni should impact your decisions about accommodation and which universities you look at.
Which facilities do you need?
Once you know what subject you want to do, it is a good idea to filter this into your university choices. It is not always about the calibre of the university or even the course. Facilities are really important. For example, some universities that have not been rated highly for media in the past may have very recently invested in amazing media and arts facilities.
How important is the library?
If you know you are doing a subject such as English, History or Politics, where you will be spending lots of time in the library and where you need access to a huge number of books the library will be very important to you. It is a good idea, therefore to look at universities with extensive collections and good facilities. If you do not, you may find yourself very limited in the topics you can study.
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Once you know which subject you want to study, you will probably start thinking about what sort of university you want to study it at. There are more things to consider here than you might think. You need to make sure you consider your social life as well as your academic life.
City, town or countryside?
This is probably the most important factor to consider. Do you want to live in lively city or are you more comfortable in a countryside environment? If you have always grown up in city it is probably a bad idea to go for a university in a really small town because it will not have enough stuff going on to keep you interested. On the other hand, if you have always lived in a small village where you know everyone, you might be scared and intimidated by the anonymity of a large city.
Do you want a campus?
Living in a campus uni can be a really nice middle ground for people who want to experience living in a big city but want the support of a community, especially in their first year. Some people, however, may find campus life a little intrusive. Some campus universities can also be situated pretty far out of the city meaning that going shopping or on nights out can be a bit of a nightmare. If you go for one of these universities it is a good idea to check out the students union first because you will probably end up going there for a lot of your nights out.
How close to home do you want to be?
This is also an important thing to think about carefully. You may think that you can’t wait to get away from your family and then end up wishing you could see them every weekend. It is really nice to be close to home; you can take your washing home whenever you need. However, you don’t want to feel smothered by your parents. Just make sure you check out the travel links and work out how long it will take you to get home if you ever needed to.
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Once you have chosen what subject you want to do and the type of university you want to look at, you need to start thinking about the courses offered by each university. For some subjects courses will be fairly similar but for other they will vary widely between institutions. therefore, it is a good idea to really investigate the courses offered by your preferred universities.
Reputation of the course:
It is useful, when investigating which university to choose, to look at the reputation of the course you are applying for. This is because although the university might rank highly, it might be far further down the league table for your individual course. All of the major survey including THE, the guardian and the student survey breakdown by course. The student survey in particular can give you a really refreshing outlook as it shows just what other students thought of the modules, the facilities, the support and, importantly the teaching. Also having a look on the Student Room and other, similar, forums may help you to find individual reviews of classes or teachers. Googling a few of the professors working in your department can also show you how respected the academics and the institution is. You will be able to see how many books and articles they have had published and therefore, whether or not they are heavyweights in their field.
How do you want to be assessed?
By the time you are applying for uni, you probably know already whether you prefer writing essays or sitting exams. You should bear in mind that the number of exams and essays can vary from university to university and from module to module, even on the same courses. Some subjects like maths or medicine will always be very exam based but for things in the humanities and social sciences there may be huge variation so this is something to bear in mind when choosing which university to apply to. Usually you can find out how modules are assessed on the course website.
What are the modules like?
This is another thing to look out for, which individual modules a course offers. Again this is more pertinent for courses in the humanities and social sciences where there is more variation between universities. The types of modules are important because often courses are very broad but then student’s specialise as they go on. Different universities are strong in different specialties. For example, not all universities will offer courses on Japanese history or African poetry. It is also important to consider how much choice you want in your modules as some university courses require students to study a number of core modules in the first and second years, whereas others allow students to choose all their modules from day one.
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Once you have narrowed it down to a handful of universities you should start thinking about other aspects of the uni experience. Always check out the student union when looking around a university; it’s the heart of the uni! how lively the union is is an indicator for how lively the uni is as a whole and it can make a big difference to your experience if there is very little going in in and around uni.
Gigs and nights out
Check out what kinds of gigs the students union puts on and whether or not they put on a regular student night. They might also put on special balls or events so have a look for this too and see whether or not they have been given good reviews. Some universities have a huge budget for thing like this and, especially if you are out in the sticks, the quality of nights out at the union can make a massive difference. Aso have a look at types of bars around the uni and the accommodation, whether they are student run or not, because you want to be sure that you have plenty of good places to choose from.
Clubs and societies
It is a good idea to have look at the clubs and societies offered by the union. Most union have hundred of clubs and societies specialising in pretty much everything but it is still a good idea to check out what they do. This is especially important for people who are really good at music, sports and drama because the university might not offer societies in their particular niche. Similarly, have a look at the volunteering opportunities because volunteering and fundraising are both really good for your CV.
Prices of drinks and food
It is always a good idea to have a look at the prices in the university bars and food outlets. It probably won’t sway your choice of uni but being able to access a cheap pint or sandwich might be a lifesaver once you are there.
If you want to get really involved in your university a job at the student union is perfect. Jobs in the union bars and shops are fought over and hard to come by but they are a great way to make new friends and money. They offer really flexible hours and you don’t normally have to work during the holidays. You could also have a look at getting an administrative job in the union or even running as a sabbatical officer. This would look really good on your CV and it pays really well.
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Accommodation is usually the last thing you look at, once your offers have all come in. When you come to accept your offers, it is a good idea to look at it in detail just in case it is all awful although most universities have a good selection so don’t worry about it too much. There are loads of things to think about when choosing your accommodation so make sure you think about every little detail:
What kind of room do you need?
First things first, you need to decide what kind of room you need. You may just want a basic room with a small desk, a bed and no mould on the walls but you might need a few other things. If you’re doing a course with hours in lectures, study sessions and labs, then your accommodation is not going to be your main priority. However if you only have a few contact hours a week and the library isn’t really your thing, then your may be spend a lot of time in your room. You may prefer a nicer, bigger room or even a studio flat, or you may prefer a larger communal area. Also know that some universities still offer shared bedrooms. Think carefully about going for this option as you do not know who you will end up sharing with and they may have a very different schedule to yours. It is important to remember that every university is entirely different so look closely at your options.
What is your budget?
The next thing to do is think about your budget. Set yourself a budget before you even begin to think about catered or en suite rooms, because you may not be able to afford any of those things. This is because uni accommodation is for the most part horrendously over priced. I mean it is extortionate for what it is. Sorry about that but it just is. Therefore, you have to bear in mind that you might need to compromise on things like going out if having a really nice room is important to you.
Do you want a catered or non catered accommodation?
This is something to really think about. If having a catered room is really important to you, it might even impact your choice of university as many uni’s don’t offer any catered accommodation. In most catered accommodation you get breakfast and dinner 7 days a week, and rooms will reflect that in their price. Living catered halls is not just as simple as getting food made for you, it changes the atmosphere of the entire hall. Halls are laid out differently, in floors of 10 or even 15 rooms, meaning there are more people to get to know but also more people to wake you up in the middle of the night. Many people say that catered halls are more sociable as everyone gets to know each other in the canteen at meal times. You certainly will make a bigger group of fiends. However, in self-catered flats, there is a bigger communal area, shared by less people so you will probably make a closer, more tight knit group of friends. Of course, in this environment, you are more likely to end up living with a whole group of people that you don’t like. It’s a real toss up but I lived in self-catered accommodation and I don’t regret it one bit.
Location, Location, Location
When looking at your halls, look at what's around them and find out which areas most students want to live in. I have found that even if you end up in a hall that you don’t particularly like, if you are in the most lively student area you will have a really good time anyway. people might say that a certain hall is “the only good one” or “the fun one” but bear in mind that this probably means you won’t get any sleep at all. If this sounds perfect for you then great but if not, then consider going for a smaller or quieter hall nearby so that you can still get in on all the action but you can go home for a good night’s sleep afterwards. The only real horror stories I have heard about people not enjoying life in halls came from those who lived in really quiet areas with no shops, bars or other students around so I would say location is key!
Shared bathroom vs en suite:
This is not hugely important to most people but knowing which bathroom option you want might help you to choose between two different options. You should bear in mind all shared bathrooms will be single sex and almost all will have cleaners so they shouldn’t be too grubby. If having your own bathroom is really really important to you you may have to compromise on other things like location or style of room.