There are so many factors that make up a university experience that it can be impossible to know where to start- some people I know made full on tables comparing performance statistics whilst others just went on gut feeling. Having now gone through the hell of UCAS and A-levels, I’m equipped with the hindsight of how I landed in York.
1. Course content
If you don’t love your course, it’s likely to seriously undermine your university experience and overall mood. Plus, it’s really hard to feel motivated to work at something you don’t enjoy! If you’ve settled on a subject you love, then considering course structure and content is just as important as a next step, as it can vary a lot.
Different universities have different methods of teaching the same course, for example, some degree programmes may allow greater scope for work experience early on in the course.
I chose to studyEnglish at York because of its distinctive content and its assessment components. Most universities only offer the study of literature originally written in English, but York offers opportunities to study foreign literature both in translation and in its original language. Also, it’s almost entirely coursework based, which is great for anyone that hates exams.
At Open Days, really make use of the current students on hand and ask them as many questions as you can think of about the course, for example, which bits they enjoy and which they don’t, and their own reasons for choosing the course.
2. Campus or city?
You may love the idea of a protective bubble that campus life can provide, or you may want to be completely immersed in city life- both provide very different experiences. When it comes to campus unis, it’s worth considering how far the campus is from civilization. Uni of York is only a 25-minute max bus journey from the city, and the Uni of Leeds campus is a walkable distance from the city centre. In contrast, the Uni of Warwick is about an hour’s bus journey from Warwick…
I’ve found living on campus to be a mixed experience. It’s very handy being able to roll out of bed and get to my lectures in 10 minutes, and the campus has everything you need in one place: both of York’s campuses have reasonably priced student bars, and Nisa’s, for all your overpriced, last-minute junk food binges. On the other hand, it can be too tempting just to stay on campus and not venture into the ‘real world’ and explore.
This is one of those factors which some may look at and scoff- typical students! But for real, if you do intend to party every other night, then you need to factor that in.
I feel like appreciation of nightlife is relative to individual experience. York’s offerings are hardly impressive, but given my home town boasts only two tacky clubs, I was overwhelmed when I first arrived. Having said that, experiencing Leeds and Sheffield has made me realize just how inferior York is in comparison. This is where yet again asking students at open days can really come in handy, or you can check out Which Uni‘s guide to the universities which boast the best nightlife.
Of course, as tempting as it is to place the sesh above all else, at the end of the day you are paying £27k to study, so don’t be tempted to head for somewhere party central if their course sounds completely uninteresting to you.
Equally, if clubbing is your idea of hell, then choosing a city that offers activities that do appeal to you is just as important. For example, is being near the countryside, or the sea important to you? And even if your dream course happens to be in party central, there’s always going to be other people that are there for other reasons and aren’t down for that lifestyle.
4. Living costs
I made the mistake of ignoring this a little when selecting my final UCAS choices. In an insomnia-driven panic at 3am on results day, I found myself googling info about my security choice’s accommodation, which happened to be the University of Bristol. After seeing that a shared room could set me back £180 a week, I realized that I actually couldn’t afford to live there!
My limited knowledge tells me that student rent is generally proportional to general house prices and rent in the area, so tends to be cheaper in the north than the south. Your rent costs should also go down after the first year if you move out of halls, as they are seriously overpriced!
Which Uni have put together a guide to average living costs, all you need to do is put in your desired uni, and low to high spend in the various categories.
5. Home or away?
If you feel like you’re going to want to visit home most weekends, it goes without saying that you’re going to want to live close to home. You may even be lucky enough to live in the same city as your dream university, but this is rarely the case.
It can, however, be easier to settle into independent living if you physically can’t go home that often, as you’re forced to become less reliant on your family. Choosing a destination far from home is also a really exciting opportunity, especially if you’re perhaps a bit bored of where you grew up, or looking to change things up.
Before choosing your firm and security choices, it’s worth checking Trainline to see how much an off-peak return will set you back, and whether this is affordable for you, considering how often you’d ideally like to visit home during term-time.
If you are currently researching unis to apply to, or already have offers, I wish you the best of luck in choosing the right place for you!