Find a University

Factors to consider when choosing your university

  • Cost
  • Grades
  • Location
  • Reputation
  • city-campus
  • course syllabus - way you are taught

Choosing your course

  • Graduate prospects
  • Enjoyment
  • Ability


The Queen's University of Belfast. Photograph: William Murphy via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

University Selection

Selecting a University

To an outsider, the number of universities in the UK is terrifying, and it is hard to know which one is good for what you want to achieve. Many of the institutions are vastly different so it is also hard to make meaningful comparisons. Different types of universities have their own strengths, so the trick is to find an institution suitable for you. I suggest that you firstly think about what you want from your experience and from your education in terms of future plans, style of learning, or environment. Some of the things you choose to consider may include:


  • Academic reputation of the university as a whole
  • Academic reputation of your course at that university
  • The quality of the research undertaken at the university
  • Facilities available, such as labs and 24 hour libraries
  • The grades you hope to achieve at school; determining where you can apply
  • The opportunities for field work/internships/study abroad
  • How you would like to be taught and assessed
  • The specifics of your course; are you being taught the areas you are interested in and are useful to you - you may have a subject you would like to study, but what about the course, how the university delivers your chosen subject, what skills it concentrates on


  • Support available for international students
  • Number of other international students
  • The social and cultural societies available to you, and sports societies
  • The availability of your place of worship
  • The entertainment and sports facilities available, is there something particular you want to concentrate on outside your course, such as photography, theatre, journalism etc. Christopher Nolan chose to go to University College London purely because of its film-making facilities


  • Accommodation available, and the costs
  • The size of the university; whether you like to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond
  • Whether the university is a campus, or built within a city, whether you would like to be among fellow students, or a student part of a city population
  • Whether you would like a modern university, or an older setting
  • The size of the nearest town and its amenities
  • The distance to an airport to take you home

In Summary

The practical and social aspects of university life can be understood in the specific university prospectuses, however the university in general and reputation can be hard to decipher. Hence I propose four ways in which you can choose your university:

To help you decide between universities, we have also provided a set of University Guides..

Research Quality

Research Quality

The UK uses the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) to assess the quality of research in the UK’s higher education institutions. This assessment is undertaken every five years, the last one published in December 2008, and evaluates each subject individually. Universities often cite these figures in their prospectuses, as a reason to study in their institution and particularly that course.

4* = world-leading

3* = internationally excellent

2* = recognised internationally

1* = recognised nationally

unclassified = below the standard of recognised work

Therefore, a university might state that the subject had 27% of its research activity in a particular subject rated as world-class (4*) or internationally excellent (3*) in the most recent RAE.

Another factor to consider in assessing the research quality of a university is the amount of money it receives in research grants; an institution of superior research quality will receive more money. If you want to continue studying beyond an undergraduate level, especially in a research position, it will therefore be useful to consider one of these institutions. However, the table will be biased towards larger institutions, such as Leeds and Manchester; they obtain more money as they have more staff and more experiments in general. It also is biased towards universities that only do science research, such as Imperial College London. Below is a table displaying the top twenty universities in terms of research grants and contracts.

1. University of Oxford 11. University of Birmingham
2. Imperial College London 12. University of Nottingham
3. University College London 13. University of Bristol
4. University of Cambridge 14. University of Sheffield
5. University of Manchester 15. University of Southampton
6. University of Edinburgh 16. Cardiff University
7. King's College London 17. Newcastle University
8. University of Glasgow 18. University of Warwick
9. Universtiy of Leeds 19. Queen Mary, University of London
11. University of Liverpool 20. Queen's University Belfast


University Setting

University Setting

Universities in the UK have developed out of a number of different factors and criteria which can make it hard for students to choose appropriately. However, as much as this variety also means that there is an institution to suit your needs.

League Tables

League Tables

League Tables are one way of finding a good university to attend. They examine a number of features including reputation, student satisfaction, job prospects, teaching quality, grade entry, research assessment and citations. National and international league tables can vary drastically, as the league table criteria also varies drastically. To choose the most suitable university for you, decide what factors are most important and use the rankings to guide you. Because there are other factors you might want to include, I would suggest that you not to choose a university solely on these figures.



Universities often create links and partnerships with one another to promote a specific need or outcome, which may include scientific research, business, specialisations, and technology. It may be useful to look at these affiliations because at a UK university it may be possible to study or research at one of their partnership universities, and the larger projects undertaken at these universities may appeal to you. 

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