People study abroad for many reasons - to see new places, to experience a different culture, and, most importantly, to get access to student life and educational opportunities not available at home. If you want to study at a UK university, you’ll not only have access to some truly innovative teaching and research, you’ll also be joining one of the most multicultural student bodies in the world.
The UK has a vast range of universities and courses to choose from. So, how do you choose between over 160 institutions and thousands of courses? Research finds that half of students who drop out of university early do so because they chose the wrong course, so it’s important to be completely happy with your choice.
So, here's what you need to consider before you make your university application so you can make the right choice.
Choose your subject
The first step in choosing a university is deciding what you want to study. Your UCAS personal statement will be sent to all your university choices, so it should be relevant to all the courses you apply for. This means that your course choices must be the same or in a similar field.
Think about the school subjects you’re good at, but also think about what you could spend the next three or even four years studying.
Is there a subject that you want to continue and deepen your knowledge in? Or do you want to study something completely new?
Do you want to study a subject like law or medicine related to a specific job? Or do you want to take a course like history that can be used in a wide range of careers? Think carefully about these questions and the rest of the process will become much more manageable.
Do as many events and online taster sessions, and sign up for as many free online courses as possible. Futurelearn has a great range of taster courses from universities all over the world. This can help you decide where your interests lie. Above all, keep notes on what interests you and what doesn’t.
If you think you want a broader degree, then you’ve always got the option of doing a joint honors degree. This means you combine two different courses. Many joint honors courses combine a language with another subject, allowing you to use your learning around the world or even do a study placement in another country.
Consider the competition
When thinking about what course you could do, it’s important to consider the competition. Some courses have many more applicants than places, but there are also hundreds of ‘hidden’ courses that get far fewer applicants. For example, the University of Oxford receives 16.9 applicants per place on its Economics course, but it’s closer to 3 applicants per Classics place. Classics covers a range of areas like politics, history, linguistics and social sciences, and really challenges your intellect.
Economics might be competitive but Classics might be just as valuable. There are thousands of ‘hidden’ courses, which don't attract as many applicants just because they’re not well known. Check out the full range of courses on the UCAS Explore site and the Uni Guide, and do it with an open mind.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of courses, it’s time to think about where to study.
Think about location and compare places
The UK might be a small country but it’s incredibly diverse. There are large, international cities like London or Glasgow, smaller towns and cities like Cardiff, Belfast or Nottingham, rural universities like Lancaster, coastal towns like St. Andrews or historic cities like York, Oxford or Cambridge.
So, when deciding on a UK university, you must first ask yourself: what’s important to you? Would you prefer to live in a busy city or the quiet countryside? Will you be doing a lot of exploring or will you stay near campus? These factors will make a difference to your decision.
You’ll also need to think carefully about costs. Different parts of the UK have different living costs, depending on things like rent, transport and the cost of entertainment. Check out property websites to see what rents are like, to get an idea of how expensive life will be.
Finally, the type of university itself is important. Some universities have campuses where the whole of university life takes place, like the University of York. Others are more spread out, such as the University of Manchester, which has buildings all over the city. Each has its own atmosphere and you should think about which you prefer.
Look at the university rankings
Find out how your preferred universities rank in the league tables. Rankings of the top universities in the UK don’t just measure teaching quality. They show data on student satisfaction, post-graduation employment rates and staff-to-student ratios.
The best universities in the UK and courses with higher rankings will be more competitive to gain entry to. You can apply for up to five courses on your UCAS form, so choosing a range of courses and universities is a good idea. Include an ambitious choice which you may or may not get the grades for and safe choices that you know will accept you.
You can check the Guardian university rankings, or the Times Higher Education rankings to see which universities are the most highly rated.
That being said, student life in the UK is about balance. You need to consider both rankings and what’s right for you. It’s no use going to a top-ranking UK university in a location you hate, studying things that don’t interest you and where the culture on campus doesn’t appeal to you.
Sometimes it might be better to consider a lower university ranking if it can offer you plenty of chances to thrive and achieve your personal goals.
Remember, the reason that there are so many different kinds of universities is because everyone is unique. If you’re applying to somewhere you know matches your values and interests, you’ll be much more likely to succeed in your university career.
Research the teaching style
It’s a good idea to look at the style of teaching and assessment at your chosen university. Some courses focus more on final exams, others on coursework, projects, dissertations and independent research.
See whether your university’s exams are open book or closed book. If they’re closed you have to remember a lot more, but if they’re open you will probably have to give more detailed answers in your exams.
If you can attend open days and chat with other students and potential professors, do so. But if you can’t, remember that each university course website will tell you about the course content and how it is assessed. You need to make a choice based on what type of assessment will suit you best.
Some courses are taught in large lectures and seminars; others, such as many Oxbridge colleges, will teach you in small groups or one-to-one with a tutor. The teaching style that works best for you will be crucial in your choice.
Consider your hobbies
Every university has its own culture and social life based around the student unions and societies. For local and international students, university life is about more than studying.
You will have a more balanced student experience if you make time for your hobbies. You can look on the university website to learn about student societies and clubs and see which activities are available. But don’t worry if you don’t see anything that appeals - you can always be proactive and start your own society.
Do you have a sport that you love to do? If you do and are really good at it, you may be eligible for a scholarship. There are all sorts of funding and awards available, so even if you think you won’t get anything, it’s a good idea to check.
Make sure you meet the English language requirements
You’ll need to pass a test of English for your UK student visa requirements. You can take any Secure English Language Test (SELT) approved by the Home Office, the UK government department responsible for immigration.
PTE Academic can be used for UK student visas for degree-level courses, and to access 99% of universities in the country. The test takes two hours, covers reading, speaking, listening and writing, and is done on a computer. Results usually come back within 48 hours, making it convenient and reliable.
Choosing a university requires a lot of thought. Luckily, choosing an English test to get a visa is easy.