UMASS Blog

How I chose what and where to study

Picking your course and university choices can be an incredibly daunting task. With over 130 universities across the country (and almost the same number again of colleges and higher education institutions offering foundation and bachelor degrees, usually in more vocational and hands-on subject areas), the search to find the perfect place of study for you can seem impossible. Have a look below at how Adam decided what and where he was going to study. 

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There are a ton of different options available, making it difficult to know exactly what type of institution you are looking for. One of the main things you should consider is what kind of environment you would feel most comfortable in. Universities come in a range of different sizes; some have a small student populous of 1000, whereas bigger institutions, such as The University of Manchester, have almost 40,000. I knew before researching my potential options that I wanted to live in the heart of a busy city that had a whole array of facilities outside of the university site to enjoy. For me, living and studying in the city seemed most attractive; there are a wealth of shops, food outlets and pubs all around the city, making it easy to meet up with friends to both study and socialise. On the other hand, many of my friends decided that they would rather go to campus universities, such as Birmingham, Warwick, and Lancaster, which are located in more rural areas where the student accommodation, teaching services and social spaces are all located together.

The best way to get a sense of what institutions and courses are like is to visit the universities on campus and talk to members of academic staff about the courses that they offer. Almost all academic institutions offer open days throughout the year, providing potential students with tours of their campus and accommodation facilities (such as their halls of residence), information about societal activities that can be undertaken, and talks tailored around the structure of your specific course which usually cover the modules that can be picked and any features that are uniquely offered by the place you’re visiting. When I was choosing my options, I decided to visit a number of universities in order to get a sense of what it would be like to study there. Through doing this, I found that one or two of the options that I had initially wanted to apply to weren’t as good for me as I had thought. On the other hand, I also found that certain institutions that didn’t appeal to me at first were much better suited to my social and academic requirements.

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Making sure that you look at in detail at the course specification for the universities that you want to apply to is also incredibly important. Even though the title of the courses may be the same (e.g., English Literature; History; Politics) the actual content may differ considerably. For example, at The University of Manchester, the English literature side of my degree focusses on specific historical periods and the effects that they had upon writing in these times. On other universities’ literature courses, however, individual authors, such as having whole modules dedicated to Shakespeare, may take centrality within their syllabus. It is important to take note of these subtle differences in order to ensure that the course you’re looking to study focusses on your interests, and doesn’t emphasis areas that you aren’t particularly interested in.

One of the best places to research degree programmes is the UCAS website. The site has all sorts of useful information about what requirements certain universities set for their courses and the modules that they offer.

Teachers are also fantastic people to ask about university. The English teachers that I had in college helped me go through prospectuses and websites to find a course that they thought I’d enjoy the most and have the best chance of gaining a place on. Initially, I had doubts about the grades that I’d be able to obtain in my A-levels. To ensure that I would definitely get into a university that I liked, I applied to a range of universities that desired different grades; I chose one university that wanted higher grades than I expected, two that I thought I’d have a good chance of gaining a place at, and two others that asked for lower grades than I had been predicted. After I had been given offers, I was able to select both a firm and an insurance choice. As Manchester was the university that I most wanted to attend, this became my firm choice. To make sure that I could definitely go to university if I didn’t attain the grades that Manchester wanted, I selected an institution that asked for significantly lower grades as my insurance.

If you are currently looking at university courses, I would definitely recommend the following websites. Each offers profiles of the establishment, and information on the courses that they offer. Apart from each university’s website, the following links may be useful in determining what options you may want to study in the future!

UCAS course search is the best way to find the universities that offer a course you are interested in.

Push is an independent guide to UK universities

Which? Uni is a website that allows you to search for institutions based on what is important to you.

The Complete University Guide is a website that offers detailed, independent information of all the universities within the UK.