Advice for looking at different universities

Looking at a list of 106 UK universities to choose from when you are doing your A-Levels is a bit daunting and can be very scary.

By Jess Palmer

My biggest tip to all students is to thoroughly research, check and compare. Don’t leave it until the last minute! My biggest mistake when I was applying to uni was that I thought I wanted to go to a big city university, hours and hours away from home (I live in Wiltshire and was looking at universities like Lincoln, Aberystwyth and even Aberdeen. So, I wasn’t looking at some great universities that were right on my doorstep, like Bristol, Bath, Gloucester, Reading and the RAU.

1. Be realistic with how far away from home you want to be

Three hours might sound very do-able, but if you end up wanting to go home every weekend, or get homesick, this may end up being too far to travel. Driving six hours every weekend might not be ideal depending on your situation. And consider transportation! At some universities, especially those in cities, you may not be able to take your car due to lack of parking – luckily the RAU has 2 huge carparks! – so you may end up having to use trains or buses to get back home. This can end up super expensive and take much longer than you thought. When I first moved to a city, the train tickets were £70 each way (even with a railcard), so I realised very quickly that I would have to save my money hard if I wanted to be able to go home.

2. Compare the courses

Take a look at the different courses associated with the subject you want to study. You may find that you want to do Agribusiness more than you wanted to do straight Agri! And it is very important to look at the modules you will do on the course. Even though you may like the title of the course, and the sound of the university, the modules may not be what you want, and when you have to study something you don’t like for three years, it can be very taxing. Some courses have compulsory student work experience modules. Truthfully, I skipped over this bit when applying, even though all universities had it in their courses. I had worked a full year as a gap year before starting uni. If I’d had my own choice, I’d have rather had a course that did not have work experience.

3. Check out the bursaries and scholarships offered

Unbeknownst to me, I actually qualified for a bursary or two from the RAU, but was under the assumption that I wouldn’t meet the criteria, so it’s important to look at them all. Did you know at the RAU you can get a great bursary if you live in Wales, or if someone from your family is Welsh?

4. Go to an Open Day

When you’re checking out universities and narrowing down where you want to go, you really should go to an open day, because when you finally move in this is going to be your home away from home, so it has to feel comfortable. In my experience with the first university I went to, I did not go to an open day because I got onto the High Achievers Scheme, so I thought that was that for me. When I actually got to move-in day, I was uncomfortable and homesick, I didn’t get on with my flat mates and the accommodation was not good. If I’d gone to an open day, I’d have seen the accommodation, the campus and met the types of people that would be on my course, so I’d have known then that I didn’t want to go there.

5. How are you realistically going to fund uni?

Not all students have the honour of being a shareholder of The Bank of Mum & Dad Ltd, so we have to be real how we are going to afford the next three years. Don’t pick accommodation based on how it looks, unless you know you can afford it. Think about how much you will spend on food, going out, trips, transport and other things, and if you need to get a job what salary you would need and how many hours you would need to do. Add up your maintenance loan, bursaries and income minus your total expenses. This should help you narrow what area you can afford to live in. Don’t force yourself to live on the breadline otherwise you will create a miserable life for yourself. You need to have plenty of money (if you need it) to socialise!

6. If you want a job, check out if you can work for the university

Universities tend to pay better wages for their student employees than most surrounding employers, so check out what roles they have open to students. This will make life much easier for yourself, and if you live on campus, you may only have a 5-minute walk to your job! The RAU has several roles open to students, such as the Student Ambassadors in Recruitment and Marketing, Admin, Café, Dining Room and Housekeeping.

7. Check out university reviews

Websites such as WhatUni provides real student reviews about the university. Check out the overall satisfaction and what students liked and disliked about the university. These reviews aren’t vetted by the uni, so they are very truthful and representative of how students feel.

8. What social life is there?

You aren’t going to spend all your time in a lecture theatre, so check out what is nearby that interests you, such as shopping, food outlets, clubs, museums and parks, and if they aren’t within walking distance, what the commute to those places is like. Have a look at the sports and societies on offer as well and have a think about trying something that you haven’t done before!

And finally …

9. Trust what your gut is telling you

The brain does not always make the right choice, so listen to what your gut is telling you. If you find something you are uncomfortable with or faults with the uni, then perhaps you shouldn’t go there. University isn’t a choice to be rushed, so think carefully and find your perfect home away from home!