How to choose the right university

Helps you pick a university that's right for you. Location, environment and prestige are all important.

Christchurch University, Oxford You may have figured out a shortlist of courses that are exactly what you want, but now you must choose the best university to attend.

Different things are important to different people, but you need to find an establishment that you know you will be comfortable in, and enjoy studying at for the next three years or more. Here are some guidelines to consider when choosing which university is for you.

Prestige

The course may look good, so the next step is to find out what kind of prestige the university has in your chosen career sector. Check out league tables to find out if the course you like rates highly.

They may also offer great facilities or a renowned lecturer in your field, so be sure to find out this kind of information. Don't forget to find out if they are IET accredited too - this is a mark of quality and means that you'll be getting a great founding for working towards your own professional accreditation.

Also worth researching are the ties they have with industry. This may lead to some great work experience opportunities as well as good opportunities to move into graduate schemes in a few years time.

"Good university / industry links are critical for internships and placements and students should look out for a professional approach from university staff to help students make these contacts and secure a place - a place that provides real experience and often leads to a job offer in the longer term," highlights Professor Ken Grattan, conjoint dean of the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and the School of Informatics, City University London.

Location, location, location

Of course the academic programme is key to your further education, but if you're somewhere where campus life doesn't suit you, you're not going to get the most from your university experience.

The first thing you need to consider is where do you want to go? Do you want to stay close to, or at home, or are you ready to fly the nest with gusto and head to the other side of the country, or even further afield?

You may want to go away as far as possible from your parents or you may want to visit home at the weekends. Studying in the same area that you've grown up may sound dull, but it does have its advantages, including money (no need to rent a room) and no need to adjust to such a big change.

This is an important aspect of picking a university. For many it's your first time away from home for a long period of time. You want to be the right distance and location to suit your needs, so give it some good thought.

What is there to do?

If you're bursting at the seams to make the big leap, another thing to consider in where the university is. Do you want to be in a rural environment, close to nature, or go urban and pick a city campus location? Look at what's close to the university before you decide, as the social activities you'll have access to may be decided by its location.

Indeed, if you have a great hobby you don't want to give up, it might be worth researching if the university has a group or club you can become involved with. If one isn't available it might be worth finding out how easy it would be to set up an organisation of your own, or if there is one outside the campus itself, but in the vicinity.

Remember, a university's environment can determine much of your happiness. Be sure to pick one with a culture that suits you. You can often get the feel of a place by simply going there, so be sure to take advantage of open days.

Be sure to visit

"Once you have chosen what sector you are looking to study, it is always important to visit the campus of your target universities to see the location, environment and available facilities. The best time to do this is during an open day or a privately arranged visit," says Gillian McArthur, marketing and recruitment coordinator for the department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde.

"When you are at the open day make sure you also get a feel for what life would be like at the university. If you are leaving home check the halls of residence, make sure you will be happy spending the next four to five years in the town or city you will be studying in and what other facilities are available at the university - student support services, IT facilities, careers office, students' union, sport and recreation activities, clubs and societies," she concludes.