So you have a list of universities/colleges that you like the look of - how do you narrow it down?

  • Firstly make sure that every institution on your list does the subject that you want to study.

  • Read up on each institution - there are many resources that you can use to obtain different viewpoints:

    • For the 'official view' read the institution's prospectus or go to their website- here you can get the 'hard-facts' and statistics, but beware that these purely show what the university/college wants to show - they're hardly likely to tell you that the food is rubbish or that the central heating in one of the Halls doesn't work!

    • For an independent view try reading an 'unofficial' guide. Books such as the Times Good University Guide 2013 and the The Virgin Guide to British Universities are well worth a read.

  • Don't forget though, that these guides are other people's opinions. To make the best decision, you need to see the place for yourself, so try to visit every institution on your list (you can find out open day information at If you can't make the open days, contact the institution and see if a private visit is possible (it usually is). (See the guide to visiting universities/colleges for more information

    What will the place be like?


Find out what sort of location each university/college on your list is in. There are four major categories that you can put them in to:

  1. Civic Universities - sited within a city centre usually with halls outside of the city in the suburbs

  2. City-campus Universities - usually within a major city, but sited on parkland campus(es) outside of the city centre

  3. Campus Universities - all sited on one campus - usually in a rural setting

  4. Collegiate - life and learning based in colleges, usually in a rural setting (except for Cambridge, Durham, London and Oxford)

  5. Do you like the area and what it has to offer?


You will be in the place for at least three years and the friends you make will be with you for life, so, apart from bars and night-clubs (which are usually in great abundance anyway) find out the student-mix (male:female ratio) and what clubs/societies are available.

  • STUDENT UNIONS operate bars, clubs, shops and societies. Find out what is available and where it is based - is social life based in the town/city or within halls of residence or on the main campus?

  • MUSIC in the form of orchestras, choirs, bands and individual tuition is usually available. Find out how frequently it is run and how much it costs.

  • SPORT provision is important. Find out what sports are available, how many teams there are and what the facilities are like. The BUSA (British Universities' Sports Association) ranks all institutions. Find out how good the university team really is!


Learning resources are very important as you will need them for research and further reading. How good are the libraries? What is the ratio of number of students to computers? Is wireless internet provided? and is it free?


Accommodation is generally the most expensive part of going into higher education. See if you are guaranteed a place in university/college owned accommodation in your first year. Decide whether you want to be catered for or cook for yourself and then see what the quality of accommodation is. This is best done first hand so try to visit a hall of residence when you visit on an open day. If you do visit a hall of residence, find out if it is for first years, and if it's nice, ask them if all halls are like it (they may have just shown you a really expensive hall reserved for post-graduates - not much help!). You will probably have to find you own accommodation in the second year, so ask how easy it is to find, and generally how expensive it is. Remember that you will have to buy food, electricity, water, gas, internet, mobile phone....


How far is it from halls to the main campus - will you need a car (and if so, where can you park it) or can you walk or bike it? If you need to use public transport, find how much it costs. Remember, a few journeys every day over the period of a year can really add up!


Find out what sort of grades students get at the university/college, especially in the subject that you want to study. See what the destinations of the graduates in your subject are too.

Also, find out what sort of non-curricular support the university/college offers (such as health + welfare - counselling etc.). When at the university/college you will be assigned a personal tutor to look after things as this, so find how many students there are per tutor and find out how regular tutorials are.


You are definitely going to have fun and enjoy yourself, wherever you go. But remember, the better a place suits you the more fun and more enjoyment you're going to have. Decide your priorities before you begin and then look for those institutions which meet them. Make sure you choose a university for the right reasons for yourself, as you are the one who will spend the time there. They all seem to have good points, so an open day is the best way to get a gut feeling about how you would like it; all students will tell you that their university is the best, simply because everyone has a great time and so will you!

Best of Luck!

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