How to choose the right university and course for you

How to choose the right university and course for you
There are hundreds of degree courses out there. What’s the best way to find the right one at the right university?

Choosing a degree course will be easier if you have a clear idea of the subject you want to study – and easier still if you know what career you want. If you're not certain about these, take a look at our advice on How to choose a career and How to choose your degree subject if you're not sure what career you want.

Questions to ask about courses if you know what career you want

If you know what sort of career you are interested in after university, investigate the following when considering courses.

  • Is the course accredited by the relevant professional body?
  • Which employers have past students gone on to work for?
  • What percentage of graduates find work in the relevant industry each year?
  • What links does the course have to employers? Are there opportunities to meet them/get sponsored by them/do work placements with them?
  • What modules will you study? Do these relate to what you want to do in your career?
  • Have any of the lecturers worked in the relevant industry?

You might not be able to find all of this information on the university’s website. If you can’t, you could try contacting the relevant course admissions tutor to ask, or ask in person when you visit for an open day or interview (see below).

Questions to ask about any course

It’s a good idea to find out the following about any degree course you are considering.

  • What content is covered? Which modules are obligatory and which are optional? Does this match with your interests?
  • Who are the lecturers on the course? What are their backgrounds and research interests? Again, do these tie in with the topics you most want to learn about?
  • How many hours of contact time will you have each week and how is this divided up (eg into lectures, tutorials and lab sessions)?
  • How many hours of study are you recommended to do by yourself each week? If you’re planning to work part time while you study to support yourself, could you fit this in?
  • How will you be assessed (eg by coursework, exams or a combination of the two) and what proportion of your final grade will each element count for?
  • What are the student satisfaction ratings for the course?
  • What jobs have past students have gone on to do?
  • How much are the tuition fees and are there any extra costs?
  • What are the relevant department’s ratings for research and teaching quality?
  • Is the course taught at one of the university’s main locations or would you be based somewhere further afield?

All courses will have their pros and cons, so you’ll have to decide which factors are most important to you.

Questions to ask about universities that interest you

You might also want to find out the following about universities that interest you and the towns/cities where they are located.

  • How highly ranked is the university overall?
  • How employable are its students? What facilities and initiatives does it have to help you become more employable?
  • Where is it located? How much would it cost you to live there and would the university provide accommodation?
  • How long would it take you to get home for a visit, or to commute if you plan to live at home?
  • Does the university have clubs and societies that would allow you to carry on with your outside interests – or if not, could you find these elsewhere locally?
  • Does the local area have the facilities you want?

Again, you’re likely to have to balance out your findings against each other and against what you’ve discovered about the university’s courses.

Researching courses and universities in person

Take every opportunity to visit universities and departments that interest you and to meet or listen to the academics who will be teaching you. Are they welcoming? Do they sound passionate about their subject? Do you get the impression that they are enjoying talking to potential new students or that they’d rather be doing something else?

Open days and taster courses are a good chance to do this, as are interviews (if you have them). Just remember to keep your opinions private! You can find out more about taster courses at the UCAS website.

Also have a good wander round to see the facilities – labs, lecture halls, libraries etc – and what the atmosphere is like. Try heading further afield to explore the local area. Would you feel at home?

Choices that will help you impress graduate recruiters

Looking further ahead, knowing what employers like in their graduate recruits could also help your decision.

  • Some recruiters are more impressed by degrees from some universities than others – typically the most prestigious universities are the most popular. So investigate higher-ranked universities if you are predicted good grades, but aim to find one where you will feel inspired and supported to do your best.
  • Almost all recruiters like to see some experiences outside your degree on your CV. So you might choose a university that has clubs, societies or volunteering opportunities you’d like to get involved with. If you’re planning on living at home you might decide to avoid a university that would require a long daily commute and not give you free time in the evening to pursue other interests.

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