Whether you’re an international student with no knowledge of the UK university system or a home student simply looking for additional guidance, this article suggests some questions to ask when choosing which UK universities to apply to for undergraduate studies.
1. Do they offer the course I want to study?
UCAS has a good search feature to find out which universities are offering the course you are interested in. It’s all very well wanting to apply for Oxbridge, but if your heart is set on dentistry you’re going to have to rethink…
First pick your course then investigate which universities offer it, rather than settling for a course you don’t really like at your ‘ideal’ university – if you enjoy the course, it will be much easier to get good grades and you’re more likely to end up in an industry you are interested in.
2. What core modules/ optional modules are there.
Are there opportunities to take modules outside of your main course of study – e.g. in another STEM subject/ business/ languages? How much flexibility is there in these modules, and are some competitive to get on to? Generally this flexibility is a good thing since extra modules can improve your employability and make your studies more varied, but some students may prefer a more structured course focusing just on their subject of interest.
3. Is the course accredited by the relevant professional organisation?
Accreditation demonstrates that the course has met strict standards set by the professional body, providing an indication that it is a well structured and complete program of study.
This can also give you an advantage when applying for jobs after graduation or achieving professional status. For some careers, e.g. pharmacy, this is essential in order to practice as a pharmacist. In other industries, studying an accredited degree course can give you a boost in your future career, for example if you wish to become a Chartered Engineer.
4. Are there any unique opportunities in the course, e.g. a year abroad or industrial placement?
These can be fantastic experiences as well as being great for your CV. Doing a year abroad or industrial placement will help you develop a broader range of skills, meet new people, build your professional network and gain fantastic experience to help you with future job applications.
However, you should also consider whether these opportunities are competitive to get or guaranteed to all students, and what support is provided by the university to assist with organising it. Some universities will liaise with local employers to arrange exclusive placement opportunities or will have direct links with universities abroad, whereas others will require you to organise everything yourself.
5. What do other students think about the course?
Have a look at the student satisfaction figures and if possible try and get in touch with current students, e.g. by emailing the department or through websites such as the student room. Some universities even offer mentoring programs to support applicants applying to their courses, which will link you with a current undergraduate student studying your chosen degree course.
Bear in mind though that students may be biased towards or against their universities, so if possible get in touch with several students to hear different points of view.
6. What percentage of graduates are employed after graduation?
This data should be advertised on the course website, or if not it can be found on unistats. A high graduate employment rate suggests that employers trust the university and course to produce excellent graduates.
However, be aware that this figure usually also includes those students working in non-graduate level roles, so have a look through the course website to find out more about graduate employment destinations.
7. Do I like the university campus/ environment/ location?
Is it in a rural location or big city? What kind of accommodation options are there? What are the university societies/ social opportunities like? After the first year, where do most students live (e.g. near campus, the other side of London, etc.)?
Visiting the university as part of an open day program is one of the best ways to get a feel for the campus atmosphere and decide whether or not it is the best place for you.
8. How much does it all cost?
Are there scholarships/ grants available? How much are the accommodation and living costs on average? Do students find it easy to get part time jobs and balance them with their studies?
This point is particularly relevant to international or self-funded students – home students are generally eligible for government support, and remember that all universities will offer some forms of hardship grants if you get into severe financial difficulties.
9. How does the university rank on league tables?
Bear in mind that this fluctuates significantly every year, and Oxbridge isn’t necessarily the best for every course nor the best fit for you! League tables can give you a rough guide on how well respected a university might be, but take them with a large pinch of salt and DON’T base your entire decision on them.
Generally, higher ranked universities will be asking for higher entrance requirements – so entrance requirements will also be an important factor in determining which universities you are able to apply to.