Finding a university course

Thinking of reading a subject at university?  10 factors to consider are…..

  1. Entry requirements.  Higher entry requirements don’t always indicate a better department or university; sometimes, competition for places causes grade elevation.  You need to look at the wider picture before making a choice such as the university location, campus or non-campus, student accommodation, number of lectures per week etc, not just grade requirements.
  2. Teaching and learning. University departments are assessed by the government and are rated from ‘excellent’ to ‘unsatisfactory’.  You should also look at the style of teaching used, the number of lectures given,       access to tutors and pastoral support.  Feedback from QEGS students indicates a wide variation in the amount of contact time given. Many students struggle with low levels of contact e.g. 5 to 6 hours per week. This might initially sound appealing but such a course will demand high levels of self-supported study. The National Student Survey reports on student (i.e. consumer!) experiences. This at least gives you another view on how effective the department is.  Look at; survey results for different subject areas are listed.
  3. League tables. The Guardian University Guide, The Times Good University Guide and The Complete University Guide are all excellent.  Look at the department you are interested in, rather than the overall university       position.  There are sometimes key differences.  Don’t just apply to the universities in the top 20!  The league tables take a lot into account and not all the factors may be important to your chosen course.
  4. Degree courses.  See how much choice you are given.  Can you study more than one subject?  Are the courses modular?  What specialisations are on offer?  How much fieldwork is there and what will the costs be?  Can you study another subject to keep your options open? Do you have to pass end of year exams to advance to the next year? Is there a continuous assessment element?
  5. Reputation When potential employers are looking at your c.v, they will look at the institution too.  You should talk to your teachers, as some universities have particularly good research reputations.  The quality of research is graded by the government, using a scale of 1-5, (5 being the highest). 
  6. Links to other universities.  Some universities have exchange schemes or links with universities abroad.  The Erasmus Programme (an EU initiative) allows students to study in another EU country for part of their course.  If travel interests you, look out for these options.
  7. Facilities.  University life should offer you the chance to involve yourself in wider activities so look for music, sports and a breadth of clubs and societies.
  8. Location & campuses.  You will spend the next 3 – 4 years of your life here, so look carefully to decide whether or not you want to be on a self contained campus or whether you prefer the option of living out.  Do you prefer to be in a small place of in a large city?  You may also want to be within reasonable travelling distance of home so look at access by road and rail.
  9. Accommodation.  Universities have different levels of student accommodation so look at what they offer in the second and third years as well as the first.  Cost will be important and you should investigate this.  Oxford and Cambridge, for example, claim to be the cheapest universities for living costs; they do subsidise living accommodation costs extensively. It’s certainly more expensive for Oxford based students attending Oxford Brookes University, as they don’t have access to university halls of residence after the first year.  The message is, don’t assume!

Atmosphere.  It’s no good attending a university with a  good reputation if the atmosphere doesn’t suit you.  You need to visit the places.  If you can, talk to other students.  Even within an institution, there are  variations.  The different colleges at  Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, for example, all have very different settings and  the respective ambiences are distinct.   So, spend time walking round.  What is your gut feeling?  Are  academic staff friendly and approachable?   Go to Open Days but avoid missing school if you can; there is not much  point finding the ideal course if you end up missing so much work, you don’t  meet the grade criteria!  Open Days  should not be seen as a day off school.   Don’t go if there are no students around to talk to.  Past experience has shown that such occasions  give a false impression of what the department delivers.


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