Browse a university’s marketing materials and they will all say the same “world-leading research”, “cutting-edge facilities”, “outstanding teaching”, “vibrant and diverse community” etc. And it’s all true – universities in the UK do offer all of this and more but beyond the marketing speak, how do you know which one is right for you?
The answer is simple. Go there. At UK Study Options we always recommend that people visit their shortlisted universities before making their final decisions. No website or prospectus can tell you how a place is going to make you feel, if you’re going to connect with it and enjoy your time there. For somewhere where you are going to spend 3-4 years of your life, possibly longer, it needs to be right – your studies will prosper all the more for it.
When to visit
The logical time to visit is the summer holidays before you apply (the year before you start uni). Universities are more likely to have planned tours and open day activities for school years 12 and 13 which means you will have more access to facilities, academics and students to get a real insight into what it’s like studying there.
Earlier than this and universities may only give you basic access to their campus facilities. Later than this, you will have already had to make your Firm and Insurance offer decisions in UCAS (May deadline) – decisions that will be made much easier by visiting the universities.
Check what events the universities have on and when, and create a plan for the day so you know you’re not missing out on anything. Make sure you book on to all the tours and talks that you want to go to, as they may fill up and this way you’ll receive all the pre-arrival information. If none of the dates they have are convenient, you can get in touch directly and they may arrange something personally for you. If you’re unable to arrange anything specific, it’s still worth going to have a look around, you can wander around most university campuses even if you can’t access all the facilities.
What to ask/find out/see
If it’s one of your shortlisted universities then you’ll probably know a lot about them already and the courses they offer. When you visit, go armed with a list of what you want to find out when you are there – preferably things that you couldn’t find out from the website. Here are some suggestions:
- What facilities would I use on the course and can I see them?
- How many students are in a lecture/class/seminar?
- What’s a typical week on the course like?
- How do you score on the Student Satisfaction Survey?
- How far is the accommodation from the classroom?
- What transport is available to help me get around? (If relevant)
You may also want to see the accommodation you’ll be staying in, the student union or other social areas, food outlets and supermarkets, the sporting and fitness facilities.
You will come into contact with students, alumni, academic and admissions staff at open days, so direct your questions to the right person and take advantage of them being available to speak with as you might not get another chance to talk to them. Students and alumni are arguably the best people to ask questions as they will give you real insight into what life is like to study there and can be franker and more open than staff members.
Don’t forget to plan a walk around the nearby city/town which might be away from the university itself, to make sure you also get a feel for the place where you might spend some of your time socialising or working.
At UK Study options we spend time getting to know our students to help them find the right course and university for them. See our University Application Support page for more information on how we can help you.