How to ensure students choose the right university and course before the Ucas deadline

'Choosing a university, course, or career at the age of 18 is not easy as you’re not always set on where you want to be in 3 years’ time'

Owen O'Neill
Thursday 14 January 2016 16:46
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Choosing a rural campus - like Penryn at the University of Exeter (pictured) - could be a much more important decision than you realise
Choosing a rural campus - like Penryn at the University of Exeter (pictured) - could be a much more important decision than you realise

When I applied to university, I actually ended up choosing accountancy as a course pathway, not because I wanted to, but because I had my parents and teachers telling me it was a good and reliable career path. It’s no surprise, then, that almost 30 per cent of freshers have - or are considering - dropping out of their chosen course when so many of us choose subjects based on other people’s (well-meaning) opinions.

Choosing a university, a course, or a career - or, indeed, all of these - at the age of 18 is not easy as you’re not always set on where you want to be in three years’ time, let alone in ten. I contend a lot of the problems stem from a lack of standardised information on what particular universities and courses are like. So, start by going onto a university comparison site and having a good look around.

With the Ucas deadline for the next cohort approaching on Friday, there are some top tips which could help with that big decision. The main piece of advice is to choose a subject you already know you’re passionate about, whether that be science, English, art, business - or something more unusual. University is a path to self-discovery as well as employment, so as long as you’re aware of what you enjoy, your future job will not be as hard to find.

Like most teenagers, I wanted a secure and reliable income once I had left university, and I was almost ‘brainwashed’ into thinking accountancy would fulfil that. But, once I got to university, I knew it wasn’t the course for me. I couldn’t wrap my head around the terminology, and wasn’t striving to learn. I just wasn’t something I was passionate about.

Having eventually transferred to a computing degree, only then did I begin to feel at home and make progress towards my future. I felt right at home and began to enjoy my term-time lessons.

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With that in mind, it’s wise to consider the other facets of university life that will have an effect on your experiences. Consider where you live now: do you want to be far away or close to your parental home? Do you live out in the rural heart of the Cotswolds? Then maybe somewhere a bit ‘buzzier’, like Manchester, may suit. Or are you coughing and spluttering in London’s smog everyday? A cleaner, greener pace of life on a campus out in Wales may be something you’re more interested in. Overall, whether you’re more an introvert or extrovert may also come into play here.

Some universities, such as Southampton, are situated in what we like to call ‘uni towns’, meaning that, during term-time, student life seemingly dominates the space. This has both pros and cons; what may seem like a dull-as-dishwater town at first glance is actually a super-fun place to spend the next three or four years. On the other hand, though, if you don’t gel with the town’s nightlife and vibe, you may not have the best experience.

It’s also good idea to think about what type of university you might be interested in attending as well. An Oxbridge college, for instance, is going to have a very different teaching style to a modern university which has opened in last few years. Do you want to focus on traditional academic study? Or have a more vocational tint towards what you’re learning? If so, a newer university may suit you.

Try pulling together a top ten list. After this, it boils down to what you will learn on the course, each module, your major projects, as well as the time spent in term-time lectures and seminars. Some courses will offer 80 hours per week term-time, while others will offer 35. It’s about understanding how much independent study you wish, and are realistically able to take on, before you make the leap.

Methods of assessments are also vitally important to consider before picking a course or university. If you’re good at exams, then there will be a course suited to you. However, you may choke during tests and go dizzy at the the thought of them. In that case, there will be a course out there with more essays, labs, or vocational assessment.

Another important tip is to try not to be too swayed by where friends from sixth-form are going to be studying. It’s very easy to get swept up in either wanting to go somewhere where you know people - or have heard it’s fun - rather than assessing if it’s going to be your kind of town, or course. It’s surprisingly easy to make friends at university, but it’s a lot harder to change course, or university.

Above all, always remember: every course is unique, just like you. So, by using these top tips, you should be able to find the perfect course for you. When selecting your final five courses and universities, just remember it's you that has to study there over the next three or four years and it's your future career on the line - so it’s worth choosing wisely.

Twitter: @OwenONeillUK

Owen O’Neill is the founder of the higher education comparison site, University Compare

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