Choosing the Right University for You

confused figure on arrow pointing in many directions

Three years ago, I applied to the University of Derby. It wasn’t something I did in 10 minutes, it was one of the toughest decisions I had to make. I wanted to make sure I chose the right university for me and so took a year or more to look.

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.

How to choose the right 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 chosen 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.

Suggestions and Tips

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?
  • clear?
  • 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?

If you are like me, then exams are not the best way to go. I always got lower grades in my exams than I did in my coursework. Depending on the course you have chosen, you might be able to do a coursework only course. However, if you can’t, you can have a look at what percentage of the grade is marked against exams.


London means you will have more living expense than outside of London. If you study inside of London, then you will get more student finance to help you with the extra living cost but it would probably still mean trying to find cheaper shops.

Have a look at the average cost of living in the city that the universities are located in.

Accommodation rent

Accommodation is another thing to look at. Some universities charge £4000-6000 a year for halls. That is roughly the average. However, others can charge £6000 for the cheap, standard room. So it is always good to look.

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?

If you are predicted BCC in your A-levels (or whatever the equivalent is in your country) then it is no good looking at somewhere like Oxford that wants A*AA. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to choose a Uni that is too low, offering grades far below your predicted grade. But do choose some universities that are slightly lower or higher, just in case.

Narrowing the last 20 unis


Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a massive, massive fan of spreadsheets. I do prefer Google Sheets to Excel but use whatever you feel comfortable with. You’re going to need it.

Create a spreadsheet and copy and paste the remaining 20 Uni’s and their courses onto the sheet. Ideally, column A starting at cell 2.

There may be more than one course that intrigues you at that uni, make sure you add them all. Ideally, you should have between 20-35 entries on the sheet.

Next, go back to the suggested tips and add across cell 1. A1 will be University name.

Rate the Universities between 1 and 5 in each category. More detail on this method can be found here.

Looking at the course

When considering the right university course, have a look at the following:

  1. The modules you have to take and the optional modules are probably one of the most important considerations when choosing a university course.
  2. Distance – how far would you need to travel to get to university and home?
  3. Accommodation – how far is it from everything?

Remove the ones you gave the lowest rating

Open days

Once you have your 5-7 Universities,  start visiting them. Look at the atmosphere, how the open day is thought out. The city itself.

What made a good open day for me:

On my list, the 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. It was Perfect

First impressions are everything

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. No one was around to direct us when we eventually found a car park. The locals weren’t particularly interested to help either.

One of the staff seemed annoyed when we arrived, just after the registration time. We rushed 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. The lecturer ranted about how much of a privilege it would be if we, the prospective students, were considered by the university. This put me off. It works both ways and I didn’t want to study at a university that felt it wasn’t a privilege if I chose them.

After all, 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 the right university with 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.

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Categories: Shannon, Student

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