How to Choose Your University as an A-Level Student

Here’s your go-to guide for how to choose your first choice uni 👇

The time has come to make your choices for university. With over 140 universities in the UK to choose from, it can be a daunting decision to make.

From location and lifestyle to courses on offer... and even where your friends are headed; there are so many factors that will help shape what you select as your first choice uni.

When asked about the reasons for choosing a university, 30% of UK students ranked high-quality teaching as top of the list, while the promise of scholarships came second. Just over 23% said the position of a university within official rankings came third, but we all know there are plenty of social factors that can sway your choice. With so much to consider, it can feel like a leap of faith. 

If it all feels a little overwhelming, don’t worry. The team at UniHomes have got your back! Below, we’ve broken down all the considerations into one simple guide on university choices 👇

What's in this guide?

Looking for some specific advice? Here's what's covered in this guide.

👉  How to find your perfect course
👉  Deciding on location
👉  What's on nearby?
👉  Lifestyle and culture
👉  Making up your mind

Find your perfect course

Choosing a course for uni is one of the most important decisions you will make as a student. More than 30,000 undergraduate courses are offered in the UK, so it’s important you choose a course that aligns with your interests and sets you up for the future.

Let’s break it down into a few simple steps to narrow it down.

👩‍💻 Choose the right subject

While it's possible to transfer to a different course at some universities, the process isn’t always easy and often certain courses will be full up. If there’s one thing worth stewing over, it’s the subject you choose to study. 

Not 100% sure which subject is right for you? Here are some key pointers to help you choose:

  • What is your dream job/career, and what degree will help you get it?
  • What do you enjoy day-to-day, and how could this be a part of your future job?
  • What subject do you feel the most passionate about?

We recommend having a brainstorm and trying certain quizzes online to help you decide. Take your time too!

UK degree courses are usually specialised from day one, however, there are others that are broader and structured in a way that allows students to find their specialism further down the line. Make sure you read course descriptions carefully.

It might be worth checking out graduate job sites too, as they’ll reflect the kind of opportunities that you’ll be looking forward to once you’ve got your degree.

📚 Compare course content

Not all courses with the same name have the same content; each university will have their unique approach and set modules based on the expertise of teaching staff. Some may be taught in the form of lectures, and others will be focused on group work in seminars. If you have a couple of universities in mind, do some reading up on the modules covered in each course and decide which ones are the most relevant to your career.

👩‍🏫 Who are the tutors? 

Quality of teaching can make such a difference to your interest level, engagement with the subject, and overall performance in coursework and exams. 

When surveyed, nearly 70% of students strongly agree that having highly qualified teaching staff indicates that a university provides good-quality education.

Once you’ve settled on your chosen subject and have a few universities in mind, do some digging on who the tutors are. Are they experts in areas you want to learn about? There’s no need to stalk them on social media, but a little research into their qualifications/specialisms goes a long way.

Location, location, location 

The UK is brimming with beautiful cities, historic market towns and coastal hotspots, so it’s no surprise that the country is one of the top destinations for students around the world pursuing higher education. We’ve got some of the best lifestyle, culture and nightlife attractions in the world – not to mention some of the most prestigious universities!

Of course, where you choose to study will inevitably shape your university experience. If you’re considering where to go, here are some key considerations to point you in the right direction.

🏫 Campus uni or city-based?

Before you drop that pin on the map, think about the type of university you want to go to. 

There are two different types of university; campus based, like University of Canterbury, Keele University or the University of York where all accommodation, teaching spaces, research facilities and amenities like shops and restaurants are on one site. 

On the other hand, you have city universities like the University of Leeds, the University of Edinburgh or Imperial College London. The facilities at city universities are spread out across various locations throughout the city. 

City-based universities will usually have more cultural diversity and allow you to really get involved with what the city has to offer like nightlife and culture. Plus, city universities tend to have strong connections to the business community in the area, which makes for more industry opportunities like placements and internships. 

On the flip-side, campus-based universities offer a sense of community and are usually based in the beautiful British countryside, allowing students to get the buzz of the union and the tranquillity of nature at the same time. Campus unis are usually often cheaper, too: as facilities like sport, food and drink are all on site, the prices are geared towards student budgets.

🏙️    Rural or urban?

From vibrant cities to picturesque towns and the expansive countryside, each university offers a different experience. A rural university is ideal for lovers of the great outdoors or students who have spent most of their lives in a busy city and fancy a change. It will usually be quieter, too, which is a plus when it comes to studying for exams and concentrating on coursework. 

Going to university in a big city can be really exciting for those raised in smaller towns or villages in the UK. Not only will you have an array of cultural experiences on your doorstep, but you’ll be able to go for more impromptu nights out and benefit from a more diverse population. Of course, with a busy social life comes distraction. 

There are plenty of universities in the UK that offer the best of both worlds: Oxford and Bristol, for example, are renowned for boasting gorgeous green spaces amidst the hustle and bustle of city life. Brighton and Swansea are equally great for students seeking a city by the seaside.

Not sure what student city is right for you? Read our blog to find out what uni we recommend based on your personality.  

🚌 Far from home or down the road? 

Moving to university is an opportunity to start a-fresh in a totally new environment. But that doesn’t mean you have to live miles away from your friends and family. If you still want to visit home regularly, look for unis in nearby cities and towns that offer great transport links. Some people prefer to live at home, either by choice or to accommodate for personal circumstances. You’ll still be able to get fully involved in uni life even if you don’t live with other students, and you’ll find the UK has strong transport links to help with the daily commute.

Alternatively, you might be eager to get the independence you’ve craved for so long. Moving from England to Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or vice versa can make for an exciting new chapter in your life: just remember to book your tickets home well in advance to take advantage of cheaper rates!

What's on nearby?

From clubs and socs to study zones, mental health support and careers advice, the facilities offered by a university usually vary depending on campus size. If you have any special requirements, it’s important to get a good understanding of the facilities, opportunities and services available as this will ultimately factor into your decision. 

📖 How is the library? 

Libraries play a massive role in connecting students to all the materials and services they need to deepen their knowledge. According to the Times Higher Education survey, Loughborough University ranks top in the UK for their library facilities, closely followed by the University of Leeds and the University of Bath. Being totally honest: you might spend a lot of long nights in the library, so you’ll want to choose a uni whose library is modern and well-equipped to help you with that 3,000-word essay.

⚽ What clubs & societies are on offer?

Joining a club or society is one of the best possible ways to get more out of your time at uni. Passionate about politics? Fancy yourself as the next Scott Mills? Big fan of the beautiful game? Whatever drives you outside of your course, clubs and socs are a great way to meet like-minded people and keep your interests and hobbies alive. 

Most universities will cater for sports like football and rugby and have societies linked to courses like Law Soc or Psychology Soc, but the smaller unis won’t always have clubs for super-niche interests. (Of course, you can always start your own!) If you have a few options for universities in mind, check out their website – they’ll typically list their clubs and socs on their site so you know what to look forward to. 

🥇 How does it rank? 

Clearly, university rankings play a huge role in influencing the choices of A-Level students. While this isn’t an exact science, it is worth taking a peek at how your university of choice scores in the QS World University Rankings. 

As you probably guessed, the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge sit in 1st and 2nd place due to their prestige and academic excellence. However, Imperial College London, the University of Manchester and the University of Bristol also made it to the top 10 in 2021, reflecting their high standard of education and student satisfaction. 

In 10th spot is the University of Warwick, which has earned a stellar reputation in recent years for research standards, cutting-edge technology and outstanding services.

♿ Do you need any special services?

Universities should meet the standards set out in the Disability and Equality Act 2010, meaning they’ll be ready to accommodate anyone with special needs. If you have any doubt as to whether a particular university has the right facilities, don’t hesitate to get in contact and ask what services they have to help you feel welcome. It may be worth enquiring about accessibility in halls and university buildings or asking what learning support they have available. 

Lifestyle and culture

While expanding your knowledge and completing coursework is the main objective of higher education, going off to uni is as much of a life experience as it is a step in your career. If you’re still undecided about which uni to put as your first choice, you might want to factor in student satisfaction.

According to the National Student Survey 2021, the University of St Andrews and Aberystwyth University hold the top spots for happiest students, ranking 1st and 2nd respectively for the second year in a row. 

As for the Russell Group universities, the University of York scored the highest for student satisfaction. Plymouth University, The University of Bolton and Loughborough all made it to the top 10 in the entire UK, which tells you a lot about the positive experience on offer from these institutions. 

Making your mind up

The time has come to select your first-choice university. If you’re stuck between a couple of options, why not try scoring them on course content, teaching style, location, type and extracurricular opportunities?

Think about your future career and whether the unis on your shortlist will help you achieve your professional goals.

Ultimately, you can always return to uni in the future, but it’s better to take some time now to make sure your first choice is the right choice.

What to look for when choosing a university

  • Official rankings
  • Specialist subjects
  • Course content
  • Tutor expertise
  • Student satisfaction
  • Accessibility 
  • Clubs and socs
  • Career support
  • Library facilities 
  • Proximity to transport links
  • Accommodation options 

Questions to ask when choosing your uni

  • What subject do you want to study? 
  • Which universities offer the specific course you’re interested in?
  • What is your preferred teaching style?
  • Where do you want to study?
  • What size/type of university do you want to study at?
  • What other opportunities or facilities do you need? 
  • Do you want to be close to home?

Going to university is an amazing, life-changing experience. So, wherever you choose to study, make the most of it and have fun!

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