Finding the right university to suit your studies
In a perfect world every student would be able to study their preferred subject wherever they wanted, regardless of budget, location, or socioeconomic constraints.
The truth is, though, that some universities are simply better than others in particular subjects, or more accessible, and it’s up to you to determine where your studies will be best supported. This is going to be one of the most important decisions you make during your academic career, so choose wisely…
Choosing a university: Where is right for you?
When it comes to choosing a university, and subject course, there are several things you should consider before you even begin to look at universities. The first is the subject you’d like to study for the next three, or more, years, followed by the content of the courses on offer, the types of learning style promoted, the kind of environment you’d ideally like to find yourself in and, of course, the cost.
You see, it’s no good deciding upon your dream university only to find the subject’s content isn’t quite what you wanted, or that you’ll spend far more of your time in an exam room than you were hoping for.
Next, look at the universities that are excelling in your chosen field; you may as well start with the best, after all. The universities of Cambridge and Oxford, for example, are listed as being the best UK establishments for maths, while Imperial College London is ranked highly for its Mechanical Engineering courses, Stanford University excels in psychology, and the University of Glasgow has a successful veterinary sciences degree. League tables can be a good place to start, but it’s important to remember that they don’t consider every factor as you might; which university is best in terms of life experience? Where will your learning styles be best supported?
Factors affecting your choice of university
The process of choosing the right university will start during your school or college career, and include the results you gain in particular subjects, your performance on career tests, and your general attitude to study. Perhaps there’s a particular subject you excel in, or you’ve set your heart on a career that demands a particular course be taken much further; your teachers or tutors may even be able to recommend further studies based on their experiences of teaching you. It’s important to listen to advice, though, as we often spend so long considering what we want that we don’t see what we really need.
Other factors that may affect your choice of university include your background, the cost of a course, or the expense of living in a particular area. You see, as much as universities insist upon it, there just isn’t the social mobility amongst students that was promised several years ago, despite more people than ever heading into further education.
Professor George Holmes, the vice chancellor at the University of Bolton, is concerned that university league tables are damaging the opportunities of many students before they’ve even applied; “The league tables, as constructed, are more a reflection of socio economic determinants as resource privilege than about the real quality and value added that a university can bring to its students. Regrettably they say more about the society than they do about the university itself and this then becomes not only worrying but indeed sinister.”
His argument is that universities are still ranked regarding reputation and wealth, rather than students’ experiences or their quality of learning, and this is reflecting very negatively on prospective students. The kinds of establishments that top such league tables often ask for more qualifications than others, and expect larger tuition fees. The kinds of elitism demonstrated during attacks such as Prof. Holmes on discriminatory tables are hampering students’ choices. However, aside from a complete overhaul of the current system, is there anything to be done?
The most important thing to consider as you begin you search for the right university is yourself; how will your choice of institution affect your studies and career prospects? Where will you be happiest? While some universities are, undoubtedly, better than others in particular subjects, not all league tables designed to rank overall establishments should be given such weight.
Think carefully about the areas in which you succeed, the types of experience you’re hoping to have at university, and the goal you’re working towards. Only then will you be informed enough to decide.