I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic for uni life lately. I don’t know if it’s because the first signs of spring reminds me of trips to the Devon coast or Exeter’s Cathedral green, or because I’m painfully aware that this year brings no three month summer break, or because my younger sister is about to make her final university choices.
Whichever, it seemed like fate that this week I was contacted by a representative for the “Be Part of It” campaign at St Mary’s University, asking me to talk about my own experiences choosing a university (and have also kindly offered me the chance to run my very first giveaway – scroll all the way down!).
I never really had any doubt about what subject I was going to take; as far as I was concerned, it was English or nothing. In some ways this made life easier because I didn’t even have to think about it, but in others it made life harder because pretty much every single uni in the country offers English course(s). Narrowing it down I was not. I remember heading home from a UCAS conference with piles upon piles of prospectuses, and working my way through them was overwhelming to say the least.
I found that a good way was to break the decision down into different parts, and try to prioritise them by which I thought was most important – a sort of checklist of things to consider, if you will.
Now, I had always said that I wanted to go to uni in London and as we all know I ended up in Devon, so perhaps my first tip here is to keep an open mind. Nonetheless, I knew that I wanted to at least be in some sort of city – having grown up in the countryside, it was really important to me that I lived somewhere with a bit more going on.
I also knew that I wanted to be somewhere far from home. I actually discounted any Midlands unis altogether; for me, uni was a chance to explore somewhere completely different. Other than that, I wasn’t really too fussy, and I applied for unis in cities from London to Manchester to Bristol to Exeter in the end.
Overall, I think it’s important to keep your options open, but also bear in mind that a campus university in the middle of nowhere (like Keele) is going to be a hugely different experience to uni in the middle of a big city (Manchester), or even one based just outside of a city (like Hull). Figure out what’s right for you, and go with it.
A lot of people will tell you not to listen to league tables and they’re right to some degree, but also – league tables exist for a reason, and reputation goes a long way. To be honest, it was important to me to go to a uni that would look impressive on my CV, and of course I wanted one that was well-reputed for English. Obviously target your choices towards your grades, but it’s definitely worth giving the league tables a look.
Remember to look at the tables for your subject too, particularly if you’re going for a more niche subject. Exeter for example is pretty broadly top 10 overall and was rated number 4 or so for English when I applied, but it rates much lower for other subjects (I think sciences are not necessarily its strong point).
This doesn’t seem like it would be a big factor, but having spent 1 year in a school of 6000 students (like St Mary’s) where everybody knew everybody, I can tell you that it does make a huge difference. I went for the “mid-size” option and it suited me down to the ground.
Also, size probably also ties into campus/location. A big city uni has a different atmosphere to a big campus uni, and a small campus uni probably feels even smaller than an equally small city uni.
Honestly, when it came down to it atmosphere was what won me over the most. Sure, Oxford was pretty and prestigious and Manchester was big and bustley but it was the laidback, comfortable atmosphere of both Bristol and Exeter that appealed to me more than anything. I remember my head of sixth telling us over and over again that when we visited the uni(s), we would know, and you know what? She was right. As soon as I jumped out of the car at Exeter and we walked past what I now know to be the world’s most luxurious halls and their matching tennis courts, I knew it was where I wanted to be.
Obviously, the best way to assess whether a uni “feels” right is to visit it. But train tickets are expensive, there are A Levels to be done, and visiting every uni that catches your eye just isn’t feasible. In such cases, prospectuses and websites are the way forward – and, lucky for all you freshers-to-be, unis like St Mary’s in Twickenham are getting increasingly clued up on what you want. They have a Facebook and a Twitter, and a series of neat little videos that give you a helpful glimpse into campus life.
This video in particular sums up what I’ve been trying to illustrate about feeling your way around:
I have to say all this has got me wondering where I might have ended up if these kinds of videos had existed when I was choosing my uni – although I like to think I’d have ended up in Exe anyway! As I mentioned, the lovely people at St Mary’s have given me the chance to host my very own giveaway. So please do click below (turns out I can’t embed as I’m not self-hosted…booooo!)
I’d love to hear your own stories from picking your own universities – did you make the right decision? What helped you most?