How to research potential universities

Picking a university is a daunting task.

What exactly are league tables, why is student satisfaction so important and do I really need to go and visit? Hopefully, after reading this it will all seem a little bit clearer – but the tough decision is still down to you!

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League tables

Once you’ve picked what subject you want to study, the first place to research the best university for you is league tables. League tables bring together large volumes of information about universities and rank them according to things like student satisfaction, graduate prospects and research quality. You can view all universities as a whole or can look specifically for your course, to see which universities are best in your interest area. However, please remember that just because a university is high on a league table it does not mean it is definitely the one for you.

Picking a university is about finding a balance of a good university (academically) and also one that you will feel at home at. You need to enjoy living in the area, have a commute home that is suitable to your needs and you need to like the university campus/city. There are so many more aspects of going to university than just the studying and, although the studying is the most important part, if you aren’t happy there it will directly influence your learning.

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Student satisfaction

A key part of league tables is student satisfaction. Student satisfaction scores tell you how happy current students at that university are with their course and the university in general. Every year there is a national survey (the NSS) which asks final year undergraduate students to rate how satisfied they were in a broad spectrum of academic areas. This information is important as it is anonymous and therefore students give their true feeling of their university and their experiences. This year the University of Essex was rated 2nd out of the whole of the UK for student satisfaction!

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Module outlines

Look at the module outline of the course you want to study at any potential universities. Some courses are similar across most universities,  for example I study Psychology and in order for the course to be BPS accredited, all universities have to offer certain modules. However, I did look at the lecturers’ research topics at the University of Essex in order to help my decision and found that their topics really interested me. Yet, for some courses the modules can range hugely from university to university and therefore I really advise having a good look at the topics you would be studying.

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The Student Room

Another method of researching what students think of a university is going on The Student Room. The Student Room is a forum based website where students can discuss anything from whether they are enjoying their course, to what they should cook for dinner! It’s a great place to get honest answers from current students and ask questions that you perhaps wouldn’t want to ask at an open day.

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Open Days

This brings me on to Open Days…I cannot stress enough the importance of these! Open Days are a great way to find out more about your course’s department, the university’s campus and the local area. Open Days vary depending on the university, but generally you get the opportunity to view the facilities of the university, ask questions to the lecturers and also get shown around by a current student. They are a chance to see whether you feel like the university is right for you and to visit the town or city that the university is in. I think a lot of students forget that they will be moving to this new place for at least 3 years, so you need to have lots of things that interest you to do in this new area. Overall, an Open Day is a great way to view the university, learn about your course and discover the local area all in one day!

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I know that is a lot of information to take in but my main point is: pick a university that is right for you. Of course you want one that is high on the league tables, but you also want to make sure it suits your needs. Your degree will be one of the hardest things you do, so you want to be happy whilst your studying!

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