How should I choose which UK university to study at?

Feet on a road, deciding which direction to take

This article was written by the Great British Mag editorial team on 27 January 2021.

So, you’ve chosen to study for your degree in the UK. Great – that’s one decision made but the next step is finding the right university for you out of the 165 higher education institutions in the UK. But having so many to filter through might seem a little overwhelming so we’ve pulled together 10 of the most important things to consider when making that all-important decision of which UK university to study at. 

UK Survival Service for international students

1. Courses 

Most universities in the UK offer a broad selection of courses, but all universities have a reputation for certain disciplines.  so if you’re set on a specific subject, the first thing to do is look for which ones offer it. Then, take a look at the content of the courses, as this can vary hugely between different institutions. Each university should offer a list of modules the course is made up of, some compulsory and some optional, so look for ones that match your interests and that you find intriguing. 

It’s also worth researching how each course is taught and assessed and how much of it is theory and practical application. Think about how you prefer to learn and which types of assessments you excel in – maybe you thrive under the pressure of exams or prefer to take longer perfecting essays or producing work that will be assessed.

2. Rankings

Universities are ranked for their performance each year and organised into league tables. There are a few different versions out there, including The Complete University Guide, The Guardian and Times Higher Education.

You can organise the universities by things like subject or region, which will help you see which are performing the best in your chosen field of study or the area of the UK you want to live in. 

As well as the overall score, take a look at the other columns of the tables like student satisfaction and graduate prospects to help you paint a bit more of a detailed picture of each uni. 

3. Scholarships

Studying in the UK is pretty expensive, with undergraduate fees starting at around £10,000 per year for international students. Luckily, lots of universities offer scholarships for international students that cover these costs to varying degrees – some fully, some in part. 

If securing funding for your studies in the UK is a must, check out which institutions have scholarship opportunities available and what the criteria are for applying – eligibility can vary hugely. And it’s a good idea to do this well in advance if you are going to be relying on securing outside funding, as the application process can be lengthy. 

4. Lifestyle

If you’re coming to the UK for an undergraduate degree, you’ll be living here for at least three years. It’s really important, then, to make sure you love the town or city you’ll be studying in. 

Although the UK is relatively small, each region promises a very different experience. Northern areas, on the whole, have lower temperatures than you’ll find down south, for instance. 

Large, sprawling cities promise the hustle and bustle of urban life and good train and airport links, but you may find yourself having to travel further day-to-day than you would in smaller cities and towns.

Consider what you enjoy doing when you have time to tear yourself away from those books and essays, too. Maybe you’d like the opportunity to travel to more remote regions of Britain or visit the rest of Europe? Perhaps you like to be surrounded by greenery and go hiking in the countryside, or prefer sea air and surfing? While you’re never more than 75 miles away from the sea here, travel isn’t always easy and trains especially can be expensive. 

Some towns and cities are also richer in things like theatres, live music venues and restaurants too, which is something to think about depending on how you spend your evenings – when you’re not in the library, that is. 

5. Cost

If you’ll be funding or part-funding your studies in the UK yourself, cost is likely to be a key part in your decision making process. Tuition fees can vary hugely depending on which course and university you choose, so always make sure you’re keeping an eye on those numbers when looking at potential degrees. 

Outside of those lecture halls, the cost of living fluctuates between different regions, too. Generally speaking, London and other patches of the South East are priciest, while many of the cities associated with more reasonable costs are in the north. So, think about accommodation and research your options to make an educated guess as to how much you’ll be forking out in rent each month. 

Also, if you’re in, say, London, you’re likely to need a much larger budget for travel than in a smaller city, where everything is a lot closer together. 

The Student Living Index 2020 revealed the five most cost-effective cities to be a student are Manchester, Cambridge, Leicester, Durham and Belfast, while London remained the most expensive city. Affordability was assessed by taking into consideration students’ average monthly expenses and their average monthly income.

6. Student culture

Universities in the UK are buzzy places with lots going on and a great social scene, so its worth looking at what certain universities have to offer, for example if you are sporty you might want a university that has clubs for the sports that you like watching or participating in.

First, have a look at how active the Student’s Union (SU) is at your shortlisted universities. A good SU can really help you to get the most out of your student experience while also offering support and opportunities to meet new people. Some of this happens through its societies and sports teams. So, whether you already have a hobby you’d like to continue or fancy taking one up, joining a society will introduce you to new things and help you meet new people.

Another way to check how rich a student culture is at a particular university is by researching how many students go there, and what proportion are international. The bigger the uni and the more the students, the more likely it’ll have a great range of opportunities, venues and events for making the most of your time there.

7. Multiculturalism

The UK is wonderfully multicultural overall, but some towns and cities are more diverse than others.

This can impact everything from the people you’ll meet to how easy it is to find food from back home in the shops. If being close to a community that celebrates the same festivals as you, finding a place of worship or making friends with people from your home country is a priority for you, then definitely put some research time into this.

8. Local accents

Despite the UK being relatively small, there are more than 50 regional accents. These can take time to wrap your head around – even Brits sometimes struggle to understand accents from different regions! – as each is unique and can be very strong in some areas.

Many international students leave the UK using colloquial language, which we love, but local accents are perhaps something to research to make sure you know what you’re in for when you arrive at university.

9. Student testimonials

Often, we don’t even make small decisions like where to eat dinner without reading reviews online and gathering opinions. So, seeing as you’ll be investing a lot of time and money into your studies in the UK, it’s well worth doing the same kind of research before you commit to a university. 

Try and hunt down unbiased views from past students on the university itself as well as the city, accommodation, transport, culture and anything else that’ll be important to you during your studies. You’ll likely have access to some testimonials in universities’ promotional material  that allows you to chat to students, but remember that those are all organised by the university who, of course, want to appear attractive to prospective students. 

Search for uni reviews online and you’ll find a few different platforms that claim to offer unbiased opinions. It might also be worth a look for any student blogs or vlogs to get a better idea about a certain institution or region. 

10. Post-study prospects 

While studying at university should be an enjoyable experience in itself, it’s of course intended to open up career opportunities and help you reach professional success. 

So, it’s important to consider how well each university or courses prepares you for your future career and the world of work. 

Have a look to see what kind of industry connections each university has, how good their careers fairs are and whether they offer any tailored careers counselling for international students. Also, try to find out what previous students went on to do after graduation. 

It might be hard to think that far into the future right now, but when the time comes to graduate and find employment (which will roll around more quickly than you might think!) you’ll be glad you did. 

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