It’s no newsflash that there’s a lot more to student life than just studying. In my experience, academia plays a relatively small part of the university experience, and it’s also one of the things that varies least between universities - especially ones with similar entry requirements.
If you’re a student about to head off to university for the first time, the likelihood is you’ll have applied to five institutions all with similar minimum grade requirements, and a similar academic reputation. However, my advice to you is don’t spend hours agonising which is better academically. Within one year, one university can vary massively between different league tables and jump hugely year-on-year. That’s not to say there’s no academia in a university degree - of course there is. But having just graduated in an academically rigorous subject from a Russell Group university, I spent far more time in part-time work and on the student newspaper than in the library - and still got a 2:1. The numbers don’t give you a real picture of university life, but the students’ union (SU) can.
SUs have a long and well-established history in the UK. Historically, they carry out social functions, represent student political issues, look after students’ welfare, and campaign on loads of issues. These are the things that are going to be affecting your day-to-day life at university - and these are the things that will get you employed.
The main aim of university is to improve your employment prospects, according to 85% of students at least, as well as to have three or four years of fun. Employers care a lot more skills you gain in higher education than where you go. According to research company Gallop, only nine per cent of businesses think university choice is “very important” when recruiting, and 80 per cent said “applied skills£ were of the utmost importance.
Research shows 70 per cent of businesses believe extracurricular activities make graduates stand out - and make them even better once they’re in employment. These skills are often gained from participating in union life; employers want to see active involvement, whether that be captaining the uni rugby team, hosting a student radio show, or being president of your French society. It all shows vital skills such as organisation, time-management, leadership, and teamwork that can’t be shown through your studies alone.
So, when you’re trying to pick your university, look at which societies exist. They may start off as a fun hobby, but they will then probably turn into something that lands you your dream job. The SU - from providing cheap pints, to engaging you in student politics, to enhancing your graduate prospects - is going to be the biggest part of your university experience. It could be where you work, where you eat, where you drink, effectively where you live - but prospective students overlook it all too often.
Bridie Pearson-Jones has just graduated from the University of Southampton where she studied politics and economics. This September, she’ll be studying for a masters in interactive journalism at City University London
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies