12 UNIVERSITY & COLLEGE PROSPECTUS GUIDE; Map for a blackboard jungle

Redbrick, campus or Oxbridge? And which course? The choice facing applicants for places is wide and difficult. Stephen Pritchard advises; 'The main criterion is the course. There is no point in applying for an AAB course if your predicted grades are three Cs'

WHAT TO do, where to go: finding the right university place is a hard balancing act. With 107 institutions offering degrees, each with a wealth of courses, sifting through prospectuses is a daunting task.

The advice offered most often by careers advisers, heads of sixth forms and university admission tutors is to select somewhere where you will be happy to spend three or four years.

Everybody has their own criteria. In some cases, the choice will, of course, take precedent over all other factors. Medicine, for example, is restricted to the large civic universities and Oxbridge; aeronautical engineering is offered by only a handful of institutions, such as Southampton and Kingston.

Elsewhere, especially in the arts, the choice is much more open. But check course details carefully. Academic programmes vary: modern history is interpreted more broadly by some departments than others; languages may be literature-based, or may come closer to the social sciences or European studies.

"The main criteria must be the course and what your interests are," advises Angela Bogg, Manchester University's admissions officer. But it also helps to talk to teachers about expected grades. "There is no point in applying for an AAB offer course if your predicted grades are three Cs," she adds.

Domestic considerations are also important.

Finance is a key issue for students, and cost of living is higher in some cities than others. Oxford, Cambridge and London are particularly costly, not just for housing but for student staples such as beer or entertainment.

With the grant falling by 10 per cent each year, accommodation may now swallow up a year's money. Studying in a city with an abundance of cheap rented housing can help, although it might not be in the most salubrious part of town. The number of places in halls of residence is also worth checking - as are their locations; in London especially, some halls are a fair way out and travel costs need to be allowed for.

Studying close to home is one way to save money. Travelling can be expensive and time-consuming, and the grant for living at home is less than for those living away. But with students coming from wider backgrounds and age groups than heretofore, commuting to university is far more commonplace than it was even five years ago.

Universities can be placed in a number of groups, each with their own characteristics. Oxford and Cambridge still occupy their particular niche, although the Brideshead image is less and less valid. Entrance exams have gone, but the universities still operate their own admissions procedures which need careful research - and an early Ucas application.

Next, in terms of age, come the Victorian redbrick universities. These often offer the best social life, as they are located in city centres. The two most popular universities last year, Manchester (in terms of overall applications) and Nottingham (applications per place) are both redbrick, and both in cities which are vibrant but not too expensive.

The campus universities date mostly from the late 1960s. They are a little way out of town, and they are smaller than the others. This gives a more intimate atmosphere, and shorter travelling times between lectures, at the expense of a smaller local town, such as York or Colchester. Sometimes, this is a benefit: Lancaster, for example, is within easy reach of the Lake District, which appeals to outdoor enthusiasts.

The "new" universities, or former polytechnics, are usually in or close to city centres. They are often highly innovative, for example, in offering flexible modes of study; modular degrees were pioneered in the polytechnic sector. They also have a history of providing for mature students.

It is also possible to take a degree, or an HND, away from university altogether. Higher education colleges offer degree programmes, and local further education colleges may have "franchise" degrees from a university in the region. In some cases, students can complete the whole course at the college; in others, the FE college teaches just the first-year programme.

Teaching methods also vary from institution to institution. Oxbridge retains its famous tutorial system, although groups of two or three students are now more common than one-to-one groups. Most universities use a combination of seminars, classes and lectures, as well as lab practicals in the sciences. The exact mix varies, and it is worth finding out more before applying, if only to avoid a shock later.

Although it can be a lot to take in in a short space of time, it is difficult to have too much information about a university. As well as the official prospectus, and national guides to universities, some student unions also produce their own unofficial guides, which are often entertaining as well as informative. Open days and visits are especially useful because they allow applicants to meet real live students. It is also worth talking to friends, or friends' brothers, sisters or distant relatives about their experiences.

Spend time finding out about every choice on the Ucas form; any one could make an offer. "There is no point in putting somewhere down on the form to fill up space," says Jess Enderby at Ucas. "You have to be prepared to spend three or four years at any one of your choices."

Although it may seem a way off, applicants should also think about where their courses will lead. It is important to check the success of a university's graduates on the job market, says Richard Broom, admissions officer at City University. This might be in the prospectus; otherwise contact the department, the careers service at the university, or the admissions office.

In fact, applicants should see the admissions office as their ally. As Angela Bogg at Manchester points out: "We are happy for people to ring up. Students and applicants are our customers, and we are happy to help them where we can."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on