HOME OR AWAY?

The English, but not the Scottish and Welsh tradition, is that you go to a university or college far from home. That's changing fast as increasing numbers of people opt to go to an institution within convenient travelling distance of where they live. To give an idea: last year about 64 per cent of applicants living in Greater London ended up going to an institution in that area.

FIND OUT

l what will it cost to get

there and back each term

l whether you will be able to leave your belongings in store over the vacations

ACCOMMODATION

Mention of student accommodation conjures up images of steaming heaps of unwashed clothes, placed casually on top of piles of congealing washing up. The reality is rather different. First, the great majority of students get into university or college-owned accommodation for their first year. This varies from the traditional study bedroom with no mod cons (except possibly a sink), to hotel-like en suite accommodation, or self-catering accommodation in a shared house.

It is in the second year that you are more likely to be required to fend for yourself, and a preferred option is to share a house with friends. Many students find this a pleasant change and although it can be a crash course in budgeting, cleaning and cooking, outbreaks of cholera are rare.

FIND OUT

l what accommodation costs

l what you get for your money

l the terms of the lease

l if you will have daily travel costs

STUDY FACILITIES

Most universities and colleges have pretty impressive-looking libraries and will wax lyrical about their computing facilities. It is worth remembering that the use of these kind of facilities is seasonal, so there may appear to be lots of capacity in November, but there may not be a spare seat or terminal at times of dissertation writing or exam panic.

FIND OUT

l how much study space there is in the library

l whether the sections relevant to your subjects are extensive

l the arrangements for short-term loan of key course books

l what photocopying costs and how easy it is to do it

l library and terminal room opening times

l numbers of terminals available to undergraduates

STUDENT WELFARE

Every university and college has a slightly different way of providing welfare support. Key players are usually the Students' Union's welfare department, a counselling service, a medical centre, an accommodation office and often an equal opportunities officer. Finding somewhere decent to live and staying solvent are likely to be your biggest non-academic challenges during your time as a student, so be sure you are going to have easy access to people who can give advice and practical help when you need it.

FIND OUT

l how you get access to welfare services

l whether there are arrangements to provide emergency short-term loans

l how much accommodation is available locally and what the accommodation costs

l what the Accommodation )ffice will do to help you find it

FACILITIES FOR STUDENTS WITH

DISABILITIES

All universities and colleges have procedures for dealing with inquiries from potential students with disabilities. Often it is the person with equal opportunity responsibility, but it may be a specialist within the admissions office. Be sure to check that the specific facilities you need are available. It can be particularly useful to talk to a current student with a similar disability and get his or her first-hand experience.

FIND OUT

l if the university or college already has students with disabilities similar to your own

l if there are specific staff with responsibility for disabled students

Finally, a word of caution: you are likely to encounter universities and colleges that you would really like to attend but on closer inspection you discover that the department offering the subject you fancy is not right for you; and conversely there could be great departments in universities or colleges that would not come top of your list (or somebody else's league table). It is worth bearing in mind that the hard work will be department-based and brilliant social facilities are not going to be adequate compensation for a crowded library and dreary lecture and seminar rooms.

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