Picking a university: Tips your college won’t give you

02 Apr 2019
By Jodie T., Student at University of Edinburgh

So, you’re picking a university, and nobody will stop telling you where to go. Your teachers are pushing you to any Russell Group uni they can. Your parents want you to stay close to home. Your best friend wants you to come to Leeds, but your cousin said you’d have a better time in Liverpool. Confusing, right?

Well, I can’t tell you where you should go but, as someone who has been there and done this, I can offer you some tips on how to choose a university for yourself.

Here’s my short list of things to keep in mind.

Look outside your comfort zone

Sure, there are benefits to going to university in your home town. You can stick around your friends from school, you’ll be near your family, and you might even be able to skip paying rent if you live in your family home.

This said, I’d really encourage you to consider universities further afield. I moved four hours from home to go to Edinburgh. Some friends from high school think I live at the ends of the earth and, understandably, not many can be bothered to trek that far for a visit.

But I’m still glad I live in Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful, vibrant city, and it’s perfectly placed near both the sea and the countryside. Plus, the accent is amazing (I even bagged a Scottish boyfriend, who scientifically speaking has the sexiest accent in the UK). But I digress!

Moral of the story: looking at universities beyond your corner of the universe can really pay off.

Remember: Location, location, location

Your college has probably told you to look at the university league tables to find the most prestigious university to go to, right? Well, in my opinion, that’s a terrible measure of how much you are going to enjoy your university experience.

Here’s my opinion: it’s more important to go to a town or city you like than a university you like. Shocker, I know, but the enjoyment of your university experience isn’t going to come from having Macs to work on instead of regular ol’ PCs. It’s going to come from the people you meet, and the place you’re in.

I only learned this after I went to university. I was tempted to go to the University of Lancaster but, in hindsight, Lancaster is such a small town that I would’ve felt trapped. And the opposite may be true too – if you’re a ‘country mouse’, LSE probably isn’t going to be the best choice even if it is prestigious.

Don’t let your parents make this decision

While you’re picking a university, you’re going to get a lot of unsolicited advice - not just from your parents, but from their friends, your grandparents, your grandparents’ friend from bingo who has a grandson who does medicine at Birmingham, and all the rest too.

Truthfully, what they have to say is absolutely useless unless you believe it too.

Don’t get me wrong, consulting friends and family is a great way to get a trusted second opinion. I brought my mum to almost every open day I went to. Her insight was really helpful because, like a lot of parents with their children, my mum knows me better than anyone.

So please don’t ignore your family because some writer from Unite Students told you to.

What you should do is listen to the opinions of the people who matter to you, to help inform your own decision. It doesn’t matter that your dad thinks you should go to Oxbridge if living in the south is your idea of hell. These are the next years of your life, so don’t let anyone else dictate your decision.

Use your insurance choice wisely

It’s good to be ambitious. It’s even good to have your heart set on one particular university. But, I beg you, do not throw away your insurance choice. Like a fool, I fell in love with Edinburgh, so I didn’t put an insurance choice. Lo and behold, I got rejected because I was just one grade below my offer.

A word from the wise: crying down the phone on results day will not get you a place. I then had to go through clearing, which was stressful and terrifying. Eventually I bit the bullet and rejected all my offers to take a gap year instead. All this stress could’ve been avoided if I had an insurance choice that I would’ve genuinely been happy to go to.

Luckily, everything worked out for me. I got to stay in the summer job that I loved, and in the following September one of my exams was remarked, boosting my grade to the point where I met my offer from Edinburgh. The university then offered me a place for the following year.

If getting into university straight from college is important to you, choose an insurance choice you really would be happy to go to. This is the next three years (at least) of your life, so choose wisely!

Good luck!

So, while there’s still 136 universities in the UK to choose from, your decision should now seem a little easier. The most important thing to remember is that this is your decision. Make sure you’d be happy with any eventuality on results day, and you stand the best chance of having a great university experience.

Enjoyed this article? Give it a like
I'm a second-year undergraduate psychology student at the University of Edinburgh, and I have lived with Unite Students since first year. I enjoy writing, poached eggs, and driving around Edinburgh. I dislike olives, exams and TV shows about antiques.