Three years ago I applied to the University of Derby, but it wasn’t something I spent ten minutes deciding. I probably spent well over a year at looking at universities, starting in the winter of my AS year at college.
I have Cerebral Palsy – so not only did I have to look for a university that was right for my chosen subject, but one that was right for my disability.
Choosing a University
Here’s what I suggest. If you are still in your first year at College or Sixth Form, start looking at universities now. Log onto the UCAS website (or your country equivalent), browse the universities that do your course and narrow it down to around 5-7 choices.
By choices, I mean different universities, not the courses if you’re thinking of doing joint honours or a course that is similar to another. E.g Media and Film studies are closely linked.
There are thousands of courses and so it’s not uncommon for results to be in the hundreds. That means there will be a lot of narrowing down.
Here are a few suggestions on how to narrow your selection down before you go on an open day.
- This one sounds odd, but one that I think should be taken into consideration. The Website. Universities often use the same or similar theme for their student resources as they do on their website, so if you struggle with it and it annoys you, see what universities have a better one.
- Is it easy to navigate?
- easy to use?
- visually appealing
- Class size: Are you going to be in a class of 30-60 people, or are you going to be in a lecture hall of 100-250 students? Which one will you feel more comfortable with?
- Exams or no exams?
- Study in London (and pay a fortune for food and rent) or study outside London
- The entry requirements: What do you expect to achieve? What’s the lowest entry grade you’d accept? What’s the highest you think you can achieve?
When you have narrowed the hundreds down to a possible 10-15, start looking at what the course offers.
- The modules you have to take and the optional modules are probably one of the most important considerations when choosing a university course.
- Distance – how far would you need to travel to get to university and home?
- Accommodation – how far is it from everything?
Once you have your 5-7 Universities, start visiting them. Look at the atmosphere, how the open day is thought out. The city itself.
On my list, University of Derby and Bangor University were the best when it came to the Open Day event. They were friendly, welcoming and informative. Stands were placed on the main campus that had clear headings, including student wellbeing. An inventory of talks for your course was clearly laid out in the little booklet they gave you. I didn’t like the narrowed pavement of Bangor’s city, but Derby’s City is small, mostly pedestrianised with a shopping centre placed in the middle of it.
On the other hand, Portsmouth University was the complete opposite, prior to the day, they gave me a map of available car parks around the city but none of them seemed to exist. When we finally did find a car park, there was no one around to direct us to the university and the locals weren’t interested in helping either.
We finally got to the campus, and one of the staff seemed annoyed because we were registering after the registration time, then we had to rush to the first talk. Creative Writing. Now here was Portsmouth’s only plus side. The teacher was friendly and cheerful. I could see myself enjoying the course, but I wasn’t too keen on the atmosphere of the university as a whole.
We then went to see the accommodation, and they stunk. Literally stunk. The student showing us around felt obliged to apologise.
Finally, we went to the Media Studies talk, and the lecture kept ranting about how much of a privilege it would be if we, the prospective students, were considered by the university. It works both ways. The university you choose needs you just as much as you need them, but the Media teacher saw it as a one-way street. I also found it hard to find any information on disabled students and accessibility.
Choose a university that gives the right atmosphere, that makes you feel comfortable and gives you all the information you need. If you hit problems with their organisation skills, it speaks volume (in my opinion), and if the attitude is that YOU, the prospective student, are lucky to be considered, run.
You need a University that sees you as an individual, has your needs in its interests and feels privileged just by you visiting them. One you can see yourself visiting on a daily basis, not just a place of learning but as an equal.