Choosing the best university course for you

With so many different institutions and courses out there, it's almost impossible to know exactly where you want to go without doing more research. Hopefully these useful tips will help you make your choices and narrow all the options down to your preferred course.

At a glance

  • Take your time
  • Do your research
  • Visit your shortlist of universities
  • Think about what’s important to you – course facilities, leisure facilities, location?
  • Think positive

How early do I need to start thinking about all of this?

Soon, says Wendy March, director of sixth form and deputy head at Congleton high school in Cheshire. “Don’t leave it until the last minute. There’s always a correlation between those who suddenly decide to apply at the last minute with those who receive rejections.”

How can I narrow down the subject I want to study?

Judah Chandra, who’s just finished the second year of his social policy degree at Birmingham, used his A-levels as a starting point.

“I thought about what A-levels I’d done and what would be possible,” he says. “I did English language and literature, economics and media studies. Social policy was a very good fit.”

Many students can get caught up in the idea of going to a particular university rather than focusing on a particular course. Look at it the other way round, suggests Joanna Labudek, head of undergraduate admissions at the University of Birmingham.

“How do you want to study? Joint honours, single honours? Look for detailed course information – a BA in English at three different institutions can be very different. Think whether you want time out on a work placement, or to study abroad.”

I have a course in mind, but so many universities offer it!

Georgie Linton-Smart, Assistant Student Recruitment Officer at the University of Birmingham, suggests that you “consider what you want to get out of the experience. Maybe you’re really interested in sports or music facilities, for example.” Plus there’s the location to think about – leafy suburb, rural campus, inner city, or simply close to home?

You can apply to up to five universities, and it’s wise to try and visit as many as you can on your shortlist. As Dr Craig Blunt, lecturer in French studies at the University of Birmingham, says: “Actually going along and experiencing a day there can really shift your priorities. It’s not like buying a car – data and glossy brochures can only tell you so much.”

Ok, so I've made my application, but I've not heard anything for ages...

After the application deadline, it’s a matter of waiting for offers. Don’t panic if they don’t all arrive at once, advises Patel. “An offer can come in within a week, or it can take two months. But if your application is on time, you’ll get equal consideration.” 

There are three kinds of offer: conditional offers, which depend on grades; unconditional offers, which are usually given to people who already have their results; and unconditional change offers, where a university will accept an applicant if he or she changes to another course. Some universities will also offer unconditional offers to outstanding students.