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Which University and Degree to Choose: Tips from Students

Tips and advice from students about higher education and making choices.
I’m studying psychology and I chose this subject because I found it really interesting at A level and I wanted to learn more about it so I thought that university would be a really good place to do that. When I was choosing my course I went to quite a lot of open days which were really useful because they gave me insight into how the courses might differ between universities, such as the course structure or the modules available to you. They also gave a lot of information about what uni life might be like which is really good to know. I’ve really enjoyed the first year of my course.
I think the best thing for me has been choosing modules that suit your interests to go alongside the compulsory modules. The hardest thing is probably the mathematical side for me because I didn’t do maths A level but I think whatever A levels you do do it probably balances out, the good bits and the bad bits. I would say that anyone looking to apply to university that you can never research your course or your university too much because the more you know the better.
Who better to give you advice than students themselves? Watch the video to hear about one student’s experience.

Top tips:

  • You’ll also find videos featuring students studying different subjects on the UCAS subject guides so check them out.
  • There’s some really useful tips in these videos for international students from advisers and from students.
Now read the article below to get some top tips from students
Whether you can get along to open days, or if you will be relying on much of your research being done online and through emails, here are some tips from students who have been through it all.

It’s really worth visiting

  • “Go to open days and ask plenty of questions about university life, the course, and support services. Go with a list of questions and chat to students – you can get honest first-hand experience of studying there. It may seem a hassle if some of the universities are far from home, but it is worth the train fare, and there is nothing better to get a real ‘feel’ for the place and the people.” Take a look at the Open days checklist which you can download and take with you. It’s a great way to plan your visit, who you need to speak with and key questions to ask.
  • “Interview your tutors – speak to them at the open days. I began inquiring about one course but when I spoke to the course tutors, they advised me I was a good fit for a different degree, and as soon as the lecturer started telling me about some of the modules, it really appealed to me”.

Things to look out for at an open day

  • Does there seem to be a good rapport between staff and students?
  • Do lots of computers seem out of action in the IT suites?
  • For car owners, is there much (if any) student parking and what is the cost?
  • Are the buildings well designed and welcoming with good signage (including ‘you are here’ location maps) to help visitors (and freshers) find their way around the campus?
  • Check out the students’ union and departmental notice boards – are there lots of interesting things going on?
  • For those with special dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian, gluten-free), is there much choice in the cafes and food outlets?
  • Try to read a copy of the latest edition of the student newspaper – what are the important issues on campus?

Apply for pre-uni schemes or tasters to help you make up your mind

  • “During sixth form, I was part of a programme which pairs you with an e-mentor who is studying a similar subject to the one you want to do. It’s all about targeting children who are the first in their family to attend higher education. After that experience, and attending the open day and law taster day, I knew it was the right place for me. Talk to people who are doing your potential degree to see whether the course is right for you – a lot of people come to university and are taken aback by the workload and the extent of independent learning.”

Trust your instincts

  • “You know if a course is right for you when you can talk for ten minutes on the question: ‘So what do you like about that degree?’ And my advice when looking at what university is best for you is to think of the three Cs: city life, course modules and career prospects.”
  • “I fell in love with my chosen uni instantly, so the best tip I can give is to trust your feelings. If you find faults and things you are not comfortable with, like I did when I visited other unis (I thought the halls I saw were not all that nice, I didn’t feel they were for me), then it is not worth going there. If you like the sound of the course and you like the university after visiting it, that’s where you should go.”
  • “When in doubt, make a spreadsheet: make a table with all the universities you have in mind and compare each across a range of different requirements that are important to you, from computer facilities to tuition fees. The university you choose should be the right one for you, not the right one for others. Find out what careers your chosen subject can lead to and think hard about whether you can see yourself doing those options in the future.”

Pick online brains

  • “These days, it’s possible to find out lots of information on websites – for example, is the place to go to compare UK higher education course data. This includes satisfaction scores in the National Student Survey, jobs and salaries after study, and other key information”.
  • “Take the time to research your university online. Look through forums to find out what current students think about their course and ask them questions”.
Campus Society is a social media forum where students share their experiences of study and uni life. Many universities have their own ‘Channel’ and provide the kind of practical information not often found written in prospectuses or guides.
Advice such as accommodation options and costs, popular places to visit e.g. sport, music, and restaurants. It’s a great forum if you’re a disabled student or have specific support needs, and want to chat with, and learn from, students with similar needs to you. Find out about Campus Society here

Don’t believe all the myths

  • “I came from a state school. When it came to applying to Oxbridge, I was hesitant because I had a weird idea that there was a type of person who went to Oxford and that I wasn’t it. Now I feel really daft about believing those stereotypes. The university’s prospectus only asks for people who are keen to learn, there’s no footnote tucked sneakily away also stipulating a knighthood and a country house. Don’t worry about grades too much, either – I got some very dodgy A level grades, including a D in English. But when I came for my interview at Oxford, the professors told me they didn’t always take them too seriously as a way of measuring aptitude.”

Pay attention to course details

  • “Pick something you love – and won’t mind getting up for! You’ll find that you work harder if you’re passionate about your degree. Joint courses are also great because you get the best out of both subjects.”
  • “Make sure your course choices cover modules that are suitable for you – browse through the course outline so you know what to expect. I wish I’d realised that a module title is one thing, but the ‘unit guide’ for each section is really where the information lies.”
  • “Find out more about the lecturers – it’s worth researching the lecturers and unit modules to find out their research interests. See if they’ve got Twitter profiles that can be followed for insight into the course content. And for an arts or design-based course, attend the end of year graduation show. You’ll be able to see students’ work, talk to them, and get a real understanding of what the pros and cons are of the course and university.”
  • “See if the course or uni offers you any internship or placement opportunities. I was particularly drawn to a course with one-year internship programme, which meant I spent a year working. As a result, I know I want to work in education policy when I graduate.”
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