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Choosing a university

Choosing a university can seem like an overwhelming task. Find out how to make it more manageable.

Where to start

With so many universities to choose from and only five spaces on your UCAS form, it can be hard to know how to start whittling it down.

You can get started by thinking about a few key areas that you won't compromise on, such as:

  • The subject you want to study
  • Where in the country you want to study
  • The entry requirements

Which areas you start with will depend on your priorities: for example, if you're especially interested in sport or acting, you might look at universities that have good reputations in these areas before you start thinking about location.

You can simplify this process using tools like the Push Uni Chooser, so that you don't have to check each university individually.

The size of the list you're left with will depend your course choice and your priorities: for example, there are only 18 dental schools in the UK, so dentists can expect a shorter list than those studying more common subjects like maths or English.

More research

Once you have a more manageable shortlist, you can start to look into those universities in more detail.

The more research you do, the more confident you can be about your decision. Try to use a variety of sources to make sure you're getting a balanced view of the universities you are interested in. Sources you can consult include:

Prospectuses and university websites

Prospectuses and university websites are a great place to get specific, reliable details about things like course content, entry requirements, bursaries and scholarships.

However, remember that each university will be trying to promote its own course to potential students, meaning that they don’t always provide a balanced view of what studying there will really be like.

Open days

Open days let you experience a university first-hand, but they can take up a lot of time and involve transport costs. It's a good idea to attend open days at the universities you are most interested in, but do plenty of research first to make sure you're not wasting your time. If you can't make it to an open day, try these alternatives.

Find out how to make the most out of open days.

University guides

Independent university guides can give you a more balanced overview, including some of the downsides you won't find in a prospectus.

Guides you could use include:


League tables

Many organizations produce rankings of universities, which can give you a rough idea of their strengths and weaknesses. League tables can be useful for checking that you haven't missed universities with a good reputation, or chosen a university without realising its downsides. However, it's important to make sure that you check how the rankings were decided, and don't rely on league tables to make your decision for you.

Find out more about how to use league tables.

Current and former students

Talking to students and alumni can be a good way to get information from people who know exactly what it's like to study at the universities you're thinking about. You might get the chance to do this at open days, or through websites like The Student Room.

Keep in mind that most students will only have experience of their own university, which will affect what they can tell you.

Making a decision

Once you've done your research and attended some open days, you should have a good idea of which universities you want to go to. When it comes to applying, however, you won't necessarily want to apply to your top five. For example, if your top five all have very high entry requirements, you might choose to apply to a university you're slightly less keen on as a backup.

Remember that you don't have to make all your choices at once: if you're sure of one or two universities that you want to apply to, you can put in your application for those and then make your other choices later.

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