My University Application Experience and How To Choose The Perfect Uni

Sunday, October 28, 2018


For A Level students across the country, it's around the time of year where everyone is narrowing down their choices and frantically visiting universities in search of 'the one', hoping that somewhere will be the perfect fit. However, for many it's easy to visit a couple of places and apply there out of convenience, or just choose a university that you've heard is good, rather than actually considering what is best for you. In this post, I thought I'd talk you through various tips in choosing the perfect university for you, which is something I definitely could've done with last year, as it would've saved me making a wrong decision and changing my mind about a month before results day! Keep reading if you want to know all that I recommend for choosing universities and finding the one that is right for you.

This time last year, I'd finished my UCAS application for university, and the ones I'd chosen were Cambridge, Durham, UCL, St Andrews and Leeds. You might be slightly confused by this, considering I got 3 A*s at A Level (hence I got the grades for these unis) yet ended up at The University of Manchester - not one of my original choices! After having an interview at Cambridge and then not receiving an offer, my heart was set on attending Durham, with UCL as my insurance. However, it was only in summer that I really started to consider my options and realised that I didn't want to be that far away from home, and I hadn't even been to visit Durham despite loving it on paper. It was at this point that I started considering other universities, and in my mind more and more negatives were flagged up with my current choices, whereas somewhere like Manchester was a perfect fit. Here's all of the things that I considered:

  • Manchester is a lot closer to home than any of my other choices, and for me this brought a lot of ease. It's far away enough to give me that fresh-start, new city feel, but is close enough that I know I'm not far from home and my family can easily visit
  • There are a lot more opportunities for jobs and work experience within Manchester, compared to a much more insular place like Durham, which would help with industry connections and opportunities for the future
  • Although I loved the sound of Durham's English literature degree, upon reading Manchester's specification I realised that it was actually very suited to me, and I also loved the flexibility in modules
  • The college I was allocated to in Durham was catered, whereas I really wanted to learn how to properly cook for myself and do my own food shopping, and this would likely be cheaper for me aswell, and there was also a risk of not liking the canteen food
  • As I opted for private accommodation, I had freedom in choosing where I lived, whereas in Durham I was allocated to a college that really wasn't up my street, and I couldn't see myself living there, plus there was no flexibility in this as I had to stay there


These were just a few of the many reasons pulling me towards Manchester, and as you can see it's a much better fit for me. A lot of the problems or mismatches with Durham and my other options were just completely ignored, as I was much too busy with A Level revision to even entertain them. However, I really wish that I'd paid more attention to my choices the first time around, saving me from going through UCAS Adjustment on Results Day. Hopefully by making this post, it'll help any of you in the same position right now, so keep reading for my guide on everything you should consider!


T H E   L O C A T I O N

To stay or to go - that is the main question. For many students, one of the primary concerns will be whether you're staying close to home or moving further afield, and there's definitely no right or wrong answer. Moving away has the advantage of having a new city to explore with many opportunities to take hold off, however this can be a big jump and may leave you feeling out of your depth, especially if you struggle from homesickness.

On the other hand, staying close to home is ideal for familiarity and staying within your local area, and it's also a lot more affordable to live at home and commute than to pay rent for student accommodation. However, this may be boring and feel more limited, especially if you're watching all of your college friends across the country having the time of their life in a new city.

Whether you decided to stay close or travel far, the decision is entirely what you're comfortable with. Just don't trick yourself into thinking that something will be good for you if it's the wrong choice. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to live far away and travel a lot in the future, but I'm just not at the right point in my life for that yet. For me, The University of Manchester was the perfect mix of both options - far away enough to give me a sense of independence and new city life, yet close enough to home that my family can easily visit and I don't feel miles away from familiarity.


T H E   C O U R S E

If you're doing a broad degree, such as French or Psychology, this may be offered at many universities across the country and so you really have a wide variety to choose from. However, more niche and specific degrees may be limited and only offered in certain places. It's important to put in a lot of research and find out where actually does your course, before deciding where you want to go.

However, it gets more complex than that. It's not enough to say 'this university does my course, so I'll go here', as it's important that it's actually what you want. Sure English is English no matter where you go, but each university will have a different specification and unique way of teaching, so the syllabus or learning style of one might not suit you or be of interest. That's why I'd highly recommend looking into more detail about your course and what it actually is you'll be studying, as this will help you make a more informed decision.

Then there are also other variations, such as doing a joint honours degree. If you're struggling to narrow down your subject choices, such as if you're a fan of both Spanish and Business Studies, then you could always consider doing both as a joint honours degree, thus keeping your options open. Again, you'd have to check that this is something considered by the university.


T H E   A C A D E M I C S

When choosing universities, you should strike a perfect balance of realistic and ambitious. Ambitious in a sense that you should strive for the best possible results and aim for a prestigious university that reflects your hard work, yet still being realistic by choosing something that is within reach and that you're capable of.

For example, if you're a straight A/B student at A Level, then you should be looking at universities that require these grades, perhaps pushing yourself to one that might even ask for an A*. However, don't big up or undermine your abilities and be silly in your choices - it's important to weigh up what you're actually capable of.

However, remember that no matter where you're going, academics aren't the only factor you should base it on. From my A Level results, it would've been incredibly easy just to go somewhere like Durham, which is the top university in the country for my subject. However, my English language teacher told me that in reality, no matter what university I went to I'd put in the work to hopefully do well, so all of the other factors are just as important.


T H E   L O C A L   A R E A

No matter how good the university is, there are other important factors to consider, with the surrounding area being just one of them. It doesn't matter if your course is the best in the country, but if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere when you're a person who loves a busy environment, then perhaps it's not for you. If you're struggling to find a shop that's local or choosing an area that's perhaps out of your budget, then maybe you need to reconsider.

It's also important to check out what else the university has on offer, as this may be make or break. If you're an active person then somewhere with a gym, sports facilities and a swimming pool may be essential, whereas if you're into dance then you might want to look for somewhere with studios nearby. University isn't just work 24-7, you need to find somewhere that offers enjoyment and recreational activities for you too.

Also consider the student life and atmosphere if this is something that appeals to you, as you might prefer a city that's known for its nightlife and student events, or maybe you'd prefer somewhere enriched in culture and history. It's all about figuring out what you want from a university and tailoring your choices to that.


T H E   A C C O M M O D A T I O N

If you do decide to live away from home, then the accommodation with play a huge part in where you choose. This will become a home and study area for the next year, or perhaps longer, so it's important to choose somewhere you feel comfortable with. Whether that's halls of residence or private accommodation, I'd highly recommend looking at various places and also the surrounding area, as chances are this won't be right next to the university and you'll have to either walk or get public transport depending on how far away it is. It doesn't matter if your university is full of shops and restaurants if your accommodation is half an hour away from this and appears to be in the middle of nowhere!

Hand in hand with this is the food - is your accommodation catered or self-catered? This can be an important factor for many, depending on whether you want your food sorted for you without having to worry about it, or having more freedom and flexibility in your meals. Some halls of residence are regimented in this so it's worth looking into it. When I applied to Durham, I didn't have this choice and ended up being allocated to a catered college, when in actuality I'd much prefer the freedom of being able to cook myself, so I'd definitely check this before it's too late.


W H E R E   Y O U ' R E   H A P P I E S T

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter which university is the best in the world with a gorgeous local area and 5* accommodation - it matters where you're happy. It's a lot of money and time to be wasted, so you should follow your heart and choose the place that really is perfect for you.

Extra things that'll help you decide:
- Online research - look at the league tables, and read more about the university online, as this will help to make a more informed choice
- Visit the university - you may love the university on paper, but in person it might not be your cup of tea, so visiting is incredibly important. If you can then get down to an open day, but if not at least have a little browse and walk around yourself to get a feel for it. I visited Manchester a few times before Results Day and instantly fell in love with it
- Ask others for advice - it's worth asking if you know anyone who's been to the uni, lives in the area, or even a teacher who's had past students apply there, as this will help to give you a realistic view of what to expect



I hope that these tips were helpful and have assisted you in choosing your universities. I'd recommend trying to keep your options open if you're uncertain, and definitely visit if you get the chance to. If you're applying to university this year then let me know where you're going down in the comments, as I'd love to hear. Thanks for reading and I'll see you soon with another new blog post on Tuesday!

Love from Daisy x

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