As a first-generation student from a non-selective state school, I was slightly overwhelmed when it came to choosing a university that was the right fit for me. However, by making the experience a reflective process, I was able to manage the stress of handling all the information I received on Open Days. Checking in regularly with myself meant I could identify my priorities when choosing a university. And, as a final year Literature student here at York, I can happily say I made the right decision.
Before the Open Day
Although controversial and a sticking point for many, league tables are useful for building up a rough outline of what you can expect from an institution. You can see whereabouts the university you’re considering is in relation to others. You can target specific institutions if you’re aiming for academic pedigree. And you can see students’ overall satisfaction with their course. Make sure to pair this with a good sweep through of the university’s website though. Look at the structure of the course you’re interested in (is it all exam-based or is the focus on coursework? How many hours of contact time will there be each week? Is there flexibility to specialise later on?) and make notes.
Discuss with parents, teachers, and your school’s careers department. Get a realistic idea of the A-Level grades you’re able to achieve so you can match your search to the university’s entry requirements. Make this initial research fun: put on your favourite playlist, search whether there are any student-friendly cafés near the university (York excels at this!), and whip out your best highlighters to colour-code your findings.
On the Open Day
Whether it’s online or in-person, do your best to attend one of the university’s open days. There are often freebies to be had, and you get a real sense of the campus and student life whilst you’re there. Use a 5-star rating guide to score the university’s access to academic resources, the quality and affordability of accommodation, the specific department you’re interested in, the availability of scholarships and bursaries, and the nightlife on offer. Societies will often have stalls on open days, so go and check out the hobbies and interests represented. From tea to Taekwondo, York has over 200 societies for you to get stuck into!
Amidst all the flurry, make sure to visit your department and say hello to your professors. They’re lovely people and are best equipped to tell you the finer details about the course you’re interested in. Finally, make sure to take in the city itself: check out transport links, average prices in shops, and whether it’s easy to get a part-time job in a bar or restaurant to support your student loan.
After the Open Day
This is where serious self-reflection comes in. Look at your 5-star rating guide for each university you visited, and tally up who comes out on top. How did you feel walking around campus? Could you see yourself there, grabbing a coffee after a lecture with friends? Did you feel welcomed and at ease? Gut instincts are just as important as statistics. University is at least a three-year investment in yourself, so you want to feel comfortable there.
Think about your own priorities: do you want the challenge and prestige that comes with a Russell Group university? Do you think, actually, I just want the opportunity for a placement year in industry? Is there good financial, mental health, and academic support? If you don’t want to live on campus, is the university within a reasonable distance for commuting? There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to these decisions. Everyone is on their own path, with their own ambitions, so place yourself at the centre of your journey.
I hope this helps you when deciding on your dream university. Use sites like The Student Room to get real students’ opinions about their time at university, and trust your heart, as well as your head.
Read more student stories about choosing uni