THERE ARE 260 universities and colleges in the UCAS scheme with different strengths and different missions. There is enough choice to satisfy most tastes, so for many options you'll be spoilt for choice.

All institutions have particular approaches, for example some have international reputations in individual subjects, some have excellent library and IT facilities, some excellent sporting facilities or good accommodation.

Once you know what you are looking for from your university or college it is easier to make the right choice.

You also have to be realistic about your chances of getting into a particular institution. Their entry requirements vary according to the competition for places in particular subject fields.

The location is also important to many students. Generally, studying in a rural area is going to cost you less than in a big city (though travel costs may be high), but you may be willing to pay extra for a good night life and plenty to do.

Student Sophie Baylis, 21, who is taking a journalism degree at the University of Bournemouth, said: "When you are choosing, looking at the course is very important but I think you have also got to look at the town and the nightlife.

"Being a student doesn't just mean studying hard, you have also got to have a good time as well, and I personally prefer to be in a town where there's lots going on rather than a town where there's nothing to do."

Some colleges or universities have also been seen as more fashionable than others, and for some students this is a factor in deciding where to go.

Towns like Brighton have always been trendy places to study because there are two universities, thousands of students, hundreds of bars, and plenty of cheap cafes. And for students who can afford to eat out, the town has a wide range of restaurants, as well as an active music scene.

Manchester, Leeds, London and Edinburgh have always been favourites too because of the wide range of entertainments they offer.

University of Bournemouth journalism student Jo Fernandes, 20, added: "Certain places have always been more popular than others. Manchester's got a good nightlife. And of course if you can afford it, universities in London have always been seen as a great place to be because you are right in the middle of everything."

Also institutions vary greatly in size - small colleges like Lampeter (University of Wales) have less than 1,500 students, while very large universities like Nottingham Trent have nearly 20,000.

UCAS Customer Support Manager Caroline Russell said: "There are a number of things to consider when making your choice.

"Firstly, how far away from home do you want to be? Each year more students live within 100 miles of their parent's home - coming home for weekends is otherwise very costly

"Accommodation is also important, and you need to find out whether the university or college can offer accommodation to everybody in their first year.

"Sporting facilities are another factor, for example if you are mad on surfing, there's no point going to Birmingham. Also where's your girlfriend or boyfriend going, or where have they gone?

"Another point is do you want to be in the countryside or a town? There are some beautiful places to see in Lancashire, but if you want to live in the middle of London it's going to cost you more and will be expensive to stay there."

Students can find out about where to study in the University and College Entrance: The Official Guide 1999, which lists all courses and institutions available in the UK. The book can be ordered through Sheed and Ward Ltd on 0171 702 9799 (cost pounds 19.95).

Information is also available through the UCAS website - at - or by contacting universities and colleges and ordering a prospectus.

Universities and colleges hold open days throughout the year, giving students a chance to chat to tutors and find out more about the campus.

Also UCAS stages a NextStep Network of around 50 conventions across the UK each year, where students can visit university and college exhibition stands and talk to their staff.

Information about life at university or college can also be accessed from the student UK website,, it can provide all the information an applicant could want from accommodation to travel, academic advice to film reviews and money matter to careers advice.


Lower sixth:

Start making up your mind about what course you want to study. Attend education fairs, university and college Open Days, use careers advice services, the UCAS ( and studentUK (

websites and the StudyLink Undergraduate CD-ROM to get more information about higher education.

It is never too early to start thinking about higher education use this time to research course, universities and colleges. Also practise filling in the UCAS form.

Upper sixth

Sept-Nov and on: Majority of pupils should fill in their UCAS forms and pass them to the referee before half term.

15 October: Closing date for applications to Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

15 December: Closing date for all other courses.

Receive offers from institutions. You may be asked to attend interviews.

1 Jan - 24 Mar: Make application for studio-based art and design course. These are flagged in the UCAS Handbook (Route B)

29 April: If you received all your offers by 31 March, then this is closing date to reply to them.

You can hold a maximum of two.

28 May: If you received offers by 7 May, then this is closing date to reply to them.

June: Take exams.

Mid-July: UCAS starts sending out clearing forms for non A-level applicants.

Clearing process begins for those who have no offer of a place.

19 August: A-level exams published. Students told whether they have been accepted. Those who have not achieved their requirement can apply to the Clearing system.

Aug-Sep: Once you know you been accepted, start organising accommodation, banking, etc.

Sep-Oct: University or college course begins.