As June fades into July, the start of the new academic year is rapidly approaching...
For many first-year students, university can seem a bit mythical. Where are you going to live? Who are you going to meet? What kind of mishaps are you going to get up to? Okay, so you might not be headed to Hogwarts...but we've put together a list of quick tips to help you make your time at university just as magical.
From your subjects to your Saturday nights, there are a lot of things to consider before accepting your university offers, but our list will help you feel much more at home with your decision.
1. The subjects on offer
Probably the most important factor for picking out your new home for the next 3-4 years is the range of subjects. If you're applying to university, you're doing so because you have a special interest in a particular subject. To pick out the best place for you, it's important to look at all the courses that are available - as well as what you'll actually be doing on each course. For example, if you're looking to build a career in broadcast journalism, then a course that teaches lots of print journalism isn't really going to interest you.
Take time to consider all your options, and go for the university that's going to make you the happiest and most comfortable.
2. The location
The next thing to consider is where you'll actually be studying. Lots of students use university as a time to spread their wings. You might be looking at universities in another part of the country, or even weighing up the possibility of studying aboard. Whatever you choose, it's still important to have a back-up plan in case of emergencies: What will you do if you're homesick? How quickly can you get home if your cat is ill? Are you going to be close enough to meet up with your hometown friends?
Ideally, you'll want somewhere that you can have your own freedom, but that's also not too far away that you'll be completely stuck if the worst should happen. And if you're a homebody, then there's sure to be a number of uni options right in the comfort of your own back garden.
3. Its ranking and student satisfaction scores
When you feel like you have a good idea of your options, the best thing to do is to look into their university rankings and student satisfaction scores. Every year The Guardian publish their annual League Table which ranks the top 100 universities in the UK, including the level of satisfaction felt by their students. This will help you get a good idea of their level of academic prestige as well as how happy you're likely to be with the uni's course material, teaching methods, and overall experience.
In 2021, Oxford University took the top spot, followed by Scotland's St. Andrews University, and then Cambridge University. Surprised? Neither are we.
4. Its links to other areas
Okay, so you've decided to go a little further afield. Great. But there's a little more to it than that. Regardless as to where your campus is, you'll want to be able to explore more of the city. That's why it's important to check out the university's transport links and proximity to local hotspots. You're not really going to want to sit in the university library during your two-hour break between lecturers - and if you do, then you'll want some non-campus brewed coffee to go with it.
Making sure you have easy access to things like restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and cinemas can make all the difference to your social life at uni. If you're too far away from these "hub spots" then you'll have to take the price of travel into consideration when budgeting for your stay.
5. Clubs and societies to join
While we're on the subject of your social life, it's important to look into any university clubs or societies that you can join. This is a great way to make new friends and connections during your first few months at uni, and it also lets you take a more active role in the activities you enjoy - or you can decide to try something completely new!
A list of active clubs and societies can usually be found on the university's website or via their Student Union, so make sure you give both sites a once-over before you accept your place.
6. The student life
Even if clubs and societies aren't you thing, the overall student lifestyle can be extremely important when picking out your university. This encompasses everything from social events, your class schedule and timetable, student support and advice, accommodation...all of it.
While you might not have a good grasp of the student experience until you're actually there, you can still find out what life is like from speaking to past/current students, browsing student forums, or just following the university on social media to get a glimpse of what you're in for.
7. Any additional assistance
University can be expensive. Do we really need to remind you? But your chosen university might offer a few additional incentives to make the process of applying a bit easier. For example, many universities offer campus-based accommodation which can be cheaper and less stressful than securing your own flat/house share. You'll also be sharing with student who are in the same position as you are, so it can be easier for shyer students to make friends.
Some universities' also offer independent bursaries or scholarships to students with strong academic records, as well as emergency financial aid if you find yourself in a difficult financial situation. Make sure you look into every avenue to help makes your stay as easy as possible.
8. The cost of living
On a similar note, it's important to tally up the cost of living before you enter into university. If you're planning to live alone or in student halls, then it's a good idea to come up with a budget for rent and utilities before you jump ahead with your plans. You should consider your monthly rent cost, the price of your weekly food shop, electricity and gas bills, and the cost of your Wi-fi. This will help give you an idea of how much you'll be spending each month, and if you can even afford to.
You might find it cheaper to stay at home and commute to class, or you might decide to split the cost between friends in a shared flat. Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is that you have the freedom to enjoy yourself and your time at uni.