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Finding and evaluating information

Searching for information about Higher Education and feeling overwhelmed? This article offers advice on how to evaluate the information you find.
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© University of York

So many results…

Do an online search for ‘business degree’ and you can get millions of results back!! How do you narrow these down? How do you know that the websites that you are looking at are providing up-to-date and correct information?

What online information sources are available to help you?

Information sources that you may find useful to investigate your routes into Higher Education are produced by a range of organisations and individuals. These sources of information may include, but are not limited to:

  • University, School and College websites
  • Government websites
  • Company websites
  • Information about the labour market in the location that you are looking to work in Sector information (for example information on social work, nursing, finance)
  • Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn

How do I identify that a resource is useful and accurate?

Think about the motivation of the organisation posting the information online. Why are they sharing this information? Who has checked this information? What does the person who posted the information have to gain from sharing it?

Websites that include the domain, for example, are usually reserved for UK universities or organisations related to universities such as the graduate careers website Prospects.

Similarly, websites that include the domain, for example, National Careers Service are usually reserved for the public sector.

Before information is published on university and government websites it normally undergoes some internal checks for accuracy; however this doesn’t necessarily mean that mistakes can’t happen. If you spot conflicting information, it is always best to double check.

Company websites can use a variety of domains. If the company is international it may have more than one site, so make sure you are on the most relevant site.

Some university websites may immediately give you the option of taking part in an online chat with students where you can ask questions. These students are often being paid by the university in a role known as a ‘student ambassador’. Student ambassadors can be good sources of information, particularly on questions that may not necessarily be covered by information on the universities website. However, if you are ever unsure about an answer, or if you find conflicting sources of information within an institution, it is fine to ask further questions for clarification.

What if it isn’t an ‘official’ website?

Just because a source of information isn’t ‘official’ doesn’t necessarily mean that is inaccurate or misleading. However, just as with official information, the person or organisation sharing the information has an objective. Their objective might be to be helpful, but don’t automatically assume that this is the case.

Social platforms and forums can be good sources of informal information, such as the atmosphere on a university campus or the cheapest places to grab a coffee on a university campus (or they may point out that the cheapest place to grab a coffee is across the road from the University and not from the cafe on the University campus, which isn’t necessarily something the university would want to point out!) However, informal sources of information shouldn’t be relied upon for key data such as closing dates.

Not everyone who claims to be an expert online is actually knowledgeable about their subject matter. Nor are they necessarily independent. Nor are they necessarily posting with good and helpful intentions. There are lots of free, high-quality independent sources available that give information about Higher Education, so you should also exercise caution about accessing information services that charge a fee.

How can I narrow down to find the information that I need?

Several surveys have shown that most people don’t look beyond the first page or first couple of pages of search results. But what appears on the first few pages aren’t necessarily the most useful resources. Using the right search terms and being specific can help. Librarians and careers advisers can offer advice on how to search for information online.

Over to you

What tips can you share with other learners about how to find further information about diverse routes into Higher Education?

Share these in the comments section.

© University of York
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Diverse Routes into Higher Education

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