Choosing a university

Choosing a university can be a daunting process, with hundreds of universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, offering thousands of vibrant and varied courses, it can seem impossible to know where to begin.


Perhaps the most obvious, and the most stressful decision, is choosing a course to study. This decision can only be made be you – you’re the one whose future will be dictated by it! Choose something you are truly passionate about, and can see yourself doing for the next three to four years. Ask yourself where the course may take you, and what career options it opens up for graduates. Some degrees have a very narrow focus and a seemingly obvious outcome, for example Accountancy or Law. However, don’t think that your degree will limit your choices in the future. Higher education is there to provide you with versatile skills that will make you a great deal more employable, even if you change your career path later down the line.

When researching, keep in mind that, even courses which seem straight forward can vary at different universities. Consider whether you want to take a year abroad (and if so, where), the assessment type used, the size of the faculty and number of current researchers, and the modules on offer. For example, a History faculty at one university, might specialise in Medieval History, while at another, the majority of researchers may focus on Modern or Early Modern.


For some, the choice of subject and type of course will narrow down the number of possible universities to apply to. For example, if you want to study veterinary science, there are less than ten places you can go in the UK. Major subjects such as English, Mathematics or Law are taught at a lot of universities, so do your research and compare courses.

One of the best ways to check the quality of the course is the Times Higher Education World University Rankings – filter the universities by course and faculty to get an idea, not only of their overall world ranking, but of how strong your chosen faculty is. The Complete University Guide (CUG) Course Chooser also serves as a useful tool for narrowing down. Perfect for researching which universities offer your desired course, the Course Chooser can provide you with information on CUG subject table rankings, employment prospects and student satisfaction!

Remember, there is the possibility to change faculty once within your university, but this is a complex procedure and not all universities are open minded about students changing their chosen path – are you ready to commit to your subject and university for the next three or more years?

Location, Location, Location! Once you have an idea of what universities offer, make sure to research the universities themselves and the city or town they are in. Are you a countryside person, dreaming of the Scottish Highlands? Or do you need city hustle and bustle? Check the distance of the campus from the nearest city or town. If possible, visit the university. Universities hold open days throughout the year. If you have the opportunity to visit – do it. Speaking to tutors and walking around the campus will provide an incomparable insight into university life.

Failing a visit, the admissions team may be able to put you in touch with current students or alumni, who may provide you with first-hand knowledge of what the university, and maybe even your chosen course, is really like.

Funding never goes amiss. Many UK universities offer scholarships for international students. These have to be researched on a university by university basis, as the eligibility criteria vary. Applications may need to be submitted early, so better to research and submit early!

If you’re still overwhelmed by choice, research the social life offered by the universities. Cambridge and Oxford have the notorious Boat Race, Manchester has a lively music scene you could become a part of, and the University of Leeds has a vast range of very successful theatre and dance societies!