Despite the ongoing pandemic, it is that time of year when students across the UK have the big task of deciding which university they want to attend  for a minimum of three years of their lives.

Last year I was in the same situation, bombarded through the mail with prospectuses from various universities and was swarmed with YouTube adverts from institutions I had never heard of, all vying for my £9,250 investment.

Whether you are certain which university you want to attend or are completely unsure, I have compiled a list of things you should consider before making your decision in the coming months (however tough that may feel right now).

City or campus

Your university experience will be different whether you decide to go to a campus university or a city university. At a campus university, the university is situated all on one site, with student accommodation, teaching and research facilities, as well as leisure activities all placed closely together.

The first big benefit of a campus university is that there can be a greater sense of community. All the friends you make, at least for the first year, will be in one place and it makes organising and socialising a lot more convenient and easier. However, campus universities are usually a lot further away from the nearby town or city — the bus from Warwick University to nearby Coventry takes 30 minutes — so there is a chance that when you leave campus after the first year, you will be less prepared to live on your own in the city.

A city university experience on the other hand, has the advantage that something will always be happening nearby. When you live in a city, concerts, art exhibits and museums are all around you. You’re also not limited to the small off-license on campus, as you can trek to a larger supermarket if you prefer. The downside of a city university though is that all this choice may result in you spending a bit more money on excursions and being distracted from your studies, due to the stream of events around you. If you choose to go to a city university, you should keep one eye on the bank balance and ensure you are staying on top of your workload.

Visit the university

Probably the most important tip on this list, and currently likely to have to be put on hold. Still, when things start to improve, it is vitally important to visit a few of your university choices at an open day and ask your student guide any questions you may have. These could include: What are the transport links like? Is it hard to find accommodation after the first year? What are the societies like? You may also be able to find everything you need on their website, but it is so much more useful to walk around the accommodation and teaching spaces and get a feel of whether you could actually live there or not.

Last year when I went to an open day, I realised that a university I was considering was much smaller than I thought it would be, with the campus looking outdated and unwelcoming. By attending the open days, you can decide whether a university you are considering is as good as it looks in the pictures. You may find yourself  completely won over, making it your first choice; or you may not.

Refer to university rankings

Although they should be taken with a pinch of salt, university rankings and student satisfaction scores can be useful in helping you decide where you want to study. The two most well-known tables are The Complete University Guide and The Times Higher Education Rankings. Although league tables can only tell you so much, and often say little about the social side of university and student experience, these guides are useful in showing you which universities are generally best for certain subjects, which could in turn affect your decision when you have to later decide which institution to put as your first choice.

Look at the course modules and assessment types

Looking at course modules for specific subjects is also very important, as ultimately you want to enjoy and be passionate about the modules you will be studying. Because there is no form of national curriculum at the undergraduate level, every university offers different modules in a bid to entice you to study with them and not their rivals.

Assessment types are important too. Will you be assessed through examinations or coursework? Different people work best in different ways. Universities also have leading experts in taught subject areas. The calibre of academics that a university is able to attract could potentially sway your decision, especially when the level of tuition you will receive can significantly impact your learning progress. Brian Cox, for example, is professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester. He is a leading figure in the space field with over 950 publications as author or co-author. So if that’s your area of interest, it is worth spending the next three years under his expert guidance.

Research the number of scheduled teaching hours for your course

Considering that you will be paying £9,250 a year for your tuition, you will want to be sure to research the amount of contact hours (lectures and seminars) you will be getting per week. Most universities charge the same price, so your decision may be influenced if one university offers more lectures per week — appearing to give better value for money.

Different subjects have different timetabled teaching hours too. Most sciences involve lengthy spells in the lab as well as the lecture hall, whereas if you take a humanities subject, such as English, History or Politics, contact hours are less at around 10 or fewer per week. This does not mean you have less work, but you are expected to work much more independently, doing plenty of background reading in the library or writing essays.

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