Going Higher: Pollution, noise and concrete - I wouldn't swap it for anything!

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Yvette Essen regretted her decision to study in London - for about a week. So, there are

not the leafy campuses, cost savings and tranquillity of the regional universities,

but the bright lights and endless options of the capital more than make up for it

The smiling and enthusiastic girls who returned to talk to the sixth form always promised us that university would be the best years of our lives. It was their stories of a new way of learning, independence and a non-stop social life which saw us through the difficult final year and several months later I too was ready to embark upon my new life.

But on my first day, standing alone in unfamiliar surroundings with a churning stomach, I wondered what I had got myself into and whether the University of Birmingham would have been a better option after all.

To begin with, I had expected attending a college in the south-east to be costly, perhaps as so many people had muttered "London" and "expensive" under their breath. Yet each month I was knocked speechless by the credit card bills that winged their way through the mail.

I also found that although most of the departments and halls were within walking distance, a college in London bore virtually no resemblance to the leafy campus sites of other institutes across the country. Misleading prospectus pictures had created images of patches of lawn and ambling students but instead smog, traffic and continuous noise were constant reminders of the city presence.

Although universities in London are at a disadvantage in terms of expense and beauty, many do compensate for this by excelling in specific academic subjects. For example, a medical degree from the Medical College of St Bartholomew's Hospital, the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine or St George's Hospital Medical School is highly acclaimed, whilst only musicians of the greatest talent will pass the auditions for Trinity College of Music, the Royal College of Music or the Royal Academy of Music.

The London College of Printing and Distributive Trades, City University and West Herts College are well known for their strong media departments whilst King's College London is reputed for its extremely competitive law degree and Middlesex for its art foundation course.

London is considered to be the city where things happen, and is particularly attractive to many students from overseas. The courses on offer at the School of Oriental and African Studies certainly appeal to those with a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds and the majority who attend the London School of Economics and Political Science are overseas students.

The belief that London has an attractive, cosmopolitan, non-stop social life with theatres, nightclubs, streets packed with shops and numerous job prospects is well founded and makes a good reason for living in the city. Even the students' unions aim to provide a night to remember, with the University of North London recently spending pounds 300,000 on redeveloping the Rocket Theatre to create a lively music venue, bars, restaurants and a games room.

London is also proud to boast that it is the home of one of the four traditional universities in the country which is made up of smaller colleges: only Oxford, Cambridge and Durham can share this claim.

Nevertheless, although being quite different in atmosphere, universities situated outside of London also have plenty of impressive assets.

Most may appear to lack the characteristic drive and fast lifestyle of the capital city but in reality the majority of them do not crave the social prospects which London has to offer.

For instance, Bournemouth, Brighton and Portsmouth universities are based in tourist resorts near the coast where art exhibitions, large clubs and pier pubs help create a lively environment where there are plenty of jobs on offer. The beaches in these regions also add to the institutes' popularity, providing opportunities for water sports. France is a quick ferry ride away from Brighton.

Campus-based institutes such as the University of Southampton, Southampton Institute, the University of Sussex and Chichester are also good venues for entertainment. Although they are generally based within a short bus ride from London or the closest town, most of the socialising generally happens on site and, according to the Push Guide to Which University 98, a pint of beer or a glass of wine at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design costs as little as pounds 1.

Last year, the University of Essex hired bands such as Shed Seven to amuse enthusiastic freshers and September will see the opening of a nightclub with a capacity of 1,000 at the University of Kent at Canterbury where students can party until the early hours of the morning.

In addition, universities in the south-east are also known for their picturesque beauty and green landscape. Both Canterbury Christ Church College of Education and the University of Kent at Canterbury are located close to the famous cathedral and only the impressive red-brick buildings of the University of Sussex break up the 200-acre campus.

The additional bonus of being based on a campus in the south-east is that London is usually within easy reach and many Royal Holloway students who crave the city's entertainment take the short train ride into town.

And outside the London area entirely you will find East Anglia on an extensive campus on the outskirts of Norwich. Oxford Brookes University shares its ancient city with a very much older institution, but is no less popular for that. While Anglia Polytechnic University has a campus in Cambridge, as well as facilities at Chelmsford, and Brentwood.

Unfortunately, when it comes to rental accommodation, higher education institutions in the south-east tend to be pricey in comparison with those in the North. However, living out can be considerably cheaper than in London and if you are lucky and gain a place in self-catered accommodation at the University of Portsmouth, a week's rent can cost as little as pounds 39.

But despite the expense of furthering my education in London and the distinct lack of a college campus, after my first day at university I have never wished I'd filled in my acceptance form differently. I would not dream of swapping the pollution and busy life.

Yvette Essen, 20, is in her second year at University College London reading ancient history

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