A Guide to Choosing a University using UCAS

Feature image on A guide to Choosing a University

Picking a University is a daunting and scary task. Most students will only be 17, so for many, it will be the first time choosing something this big.

I’m not going to lie. It is best if you start this in your first year of college or sixth form. This gives you the chance to go on open days before you apply to a university but I also know that not everyone has this chance. Either, they weren’t interested in University until now or other issues arrived.

So if you’re reading this and you’re in your first year of college, well done for starting early. If you are in your final year, well done for starting your research. Don’t panic.

This blog post is to help any student narrow down their options when you are choosing their university.  Don’t worry if you are not a British citizen, some of these tips might be helpful for you too.

Where to Start


Note: To the people who do not live in the UK, you may have a similar system to ours. 

The best place to start is at the University and College Application Service (UCAS) website. Use the search bar to search for the course or courses you want to do. For this post, let’s say you want to study Media.

Specify that it is for an undergraduate course, and then type in Media and hit enter. If you did the same search as I did, you would see that there are a possible 1620 courses for you to choose. 

Obviously, you cannot search and look at all of those courses, you need to narrow it down. To do this, ask for your predicted grades and then use the tariff points calculator to work out how many UCAS points you will have if you get those grades.

Let’s say you were predicted a BCC as your A-level grades, that’s 104 UCAS points. Add other filter options too. If you are planning to study Full-time, click that. Make sure the Bachelor degrees filter is ticked. Finally, specialise your specific interest in Media. For this exercise, we will say it is Media Production, specifically video.

Now you have 102 courses rather than the scary 1620 but you still need to narrow that down to 5 Universities.

What Next?

On the other hand, the providers are 36 universities. Your next biggest challenge is to decide:

  • How far away from home you will be comfortable studying
  • whether to study in London (it does have higher living costs)

So, lets say you decide not to study anywhere north of the country or in London.

At the filter, it asks where you would like to study, tick all but London and the north filters. This leaves you with 78 courses and 28 providers to choose from. Much more manageable.

Now What?

At the moment, don’t worry about the course itself. Go onto the website of the remaining 28 universities and spend a good five or ten minutes navigating each one. If you find it confusing or it puts you off in any way, this is another way you can narrow the course.

Odd I know, but you have 28 unis and 78 courses to choose from, if you struggle with the site then use it as an excuse to exclude that uni. It’s what employers do when they look at your CV after all.

If the layout just isn’t right, the grammar not right, your CV goes in the bin because they don’t have time or energy to struggle when they have another 150 CVs to read. Treat the website as the university’s CV.

As you choose which ones you like, use the heart in the corner to add them to your favourites, including each of their courses.

So, lets say you have done this exercise and you’re really picky. You didn’t like a good 14 of those websites. that leaves you with 14 universities to consider. Imagine these 14 universities add up to 31 courses, a massive drop from where you once were.

Now we begin to look at the courses.

Looking at the Courses

We’re still using our imagination here, but that’s ok. 31 courses, all now neatly saved on your dashboard.

First, you need to make a spreadsheet either by using Google Sheets or by using Microsoft Excel. 

In Cell A1 put the title”university” and in B1 put the title “course” then return to UCAS

Go through them one at a time. Look at the modules, do they have the module YOU are specifically interested in? If they do, add the university AND the course into the relevant cells on the google sheet, if they don’t then remove the course from your favourites.

Narrowing it down

Imagine you have done that, now you have 16 courses and 7 universities to choose from.

Add the following titles in your C1-J1 cells.

  • hall prices
  • hall faculties
  • societies
  • sports
  • employability
  • Modules
  • Exams VS coursework
  • Total

In the modules section, rate each course modules on a more detailed consideration between 1 for not very interested, to 5 for very interested. Then research the prices of the halls, what faculties are included, societies, sports, employability and the ratio of exams to coursework (you can also add the league table if you wish). Rate each aspect in the same way, 1-5 worse to best.

Once you have done that, create another tab on your sheet. Take the top 8 rated courses and paste them there. This time the headings are:

  • University
  • Course title
  • accommodation
  • campus
  • course (open day)

Start planning open days and narrow the list down, but if you cannot visit the top 8 of your list or do an open day at all, then go online. Look for virtual tours of the accommodation and campus, it won’t be exactly the same but it will give you a point of reference and an idea on how to rate the uni.

Once you have your top 5, put them onto UCAS.

Thanks for Reading

I hope this helps you narrow down your uni choices to your top five (or the equivalent for other countries) and that you find this post helpful.

I am currently searching for names for my student half of the blog I am aiming to give them names that are related to bears.

Looking at connotations of bears, so far I have Brass Students, Brawny Students, Bold Students.

What are your favourite names or do you have a suggestion? Let me know in comments and feel free to vote in this poll.

If you have enjoyed this post, why not read some others? There are plenty on here: My Experience Choosing a University and Manchester just to name a few. And please do follow me on here, Facebook or Twitter.



This is not an official UCAS guide and is in no association with UCAS.


Categories: Shannon, Student, University

Tagged as: , ,

Leave a Reply

One response to “A Guide to Choosing a University using UCAS”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.