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Choosing a University

Planning your future
Exploring higher education
Student finance
Choosing a course
Choosing a university
Your application

Choosing a university goes hand in hand with choosing a course. Most course subjects offer a myriad of choices of where to study however, so it may be a good idea to look at universities separately from course choice. When you start exploring courses on the Ucas website or elsewhere you will be presented with a lot of university choices and it can be difficult to choose, or even know where they are and ‘what’ they are.

On the Ucas website you can find a map with all the universities in the UK, which could help you find your way. Apart from location, a lot of other aspects come into play as well, whether you are a postgraduate student or undergraduate.

You may need to consider:

  •  Do you want to be in a city, or in a small town or even almost in the countryside?
  •  Is money a deciding factor in where you can go? 
  •  How important is the social life attached to studying? London can be an attractive proposition, but can you afford it?? 
  •  Are you in favour of a smaller university or is bigger better when it comes to where you study? 
  •  How important is the status of the place you would like to study? 
  •  Do you fancy studying where there is a lovely beach? Or do you prefer mountains? Or a beautiful city? 
  •  A lot of universities are also known for their sports facilities…
  •  Don’t forget the travelling when you go back home for Christmas…

To get a real idea of the universities you are interested in a visit is essential. Only then can you get round the sunny pictures in the prospectuses and on university websites.

Different university types

We all know the famous universities of Oxford and Cambridge and since Prince Andrew studied there, St Andrews. Maybe we also know the universities of Durham and Edinburgh. This may be for a reason; they have been around long enough to both build up a great reputation and an almost mythical status all over the world.

These are only few of the many universities and college in the UK offering higher education courses however. Many of the other universities offer courses which are of equal or even higher quality (depending on the subject and what you are looking for). Many have an excellent name for their research and teaching.

In general, universities in the UK can be divided up as:

Ancient universities

These are the universities mentioned above and a couple more, who have been offering higher education sometimes since the middle ages. They are generally highly respected and open doors (sometimes for the wrong reasons!) but they are equally difficult to get into. Because of their attractiveness to almost everyone, they can pick and choose who they accept. Contrary to what people generally believe, when it comes to choosing their students they are not elitist and try to attract and accept those students who benefit most from what they have to offer. If you aspire to apply, do your research and try… 

 Red Brick universities

(as opposed to the almost buttery yellow of the Portland stone of the ancient universities). These are generally universities who achieved charter status in the first half of the 20th century. They mainly include universities in cities which saw a massive growth as the result of the industrial revolution. Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield are examples. They also include quite a few other universities such as Exeter, Bangor and Reading. Both of the categories above offer most of the universities part of the Russel Group, which I’m sure will come up once you start exploring and talking to students and universities themselves. 

Plate Glass universities

These are generally universities which achieved their status in the 1960s. If you were to visit Sussex Univesity for instance, you will notice immediately from the architecture that this is a university from that era. Stirling University, in Scotland, is another example. You can see that this will offer a very different student experience than you would have in one of the colleges of Oxford or Cambridge, but this doesn’t mean their courses are of lower quality however! 

New universities

New universities are universities which have become since approximately the 1990s. They are often equally dynamic institutions some with a lot of new infrastructure. Just like some of the plate glass universities, some of these have been upgraded to university status to reflect the standard of teaching and courses they offer. Examples are Nottingham Trent and Bournmouth, as well as Napier University in Edinburgh. 

Other Universities

There are many universities that don’t fit into any of these categories, not least of all the Open University (started in the late 1960s) and the University of London. 

Colleges and University Centres

A lot of colleges and University centres across the country now also offer higher education courses. 

The Open University

The OU is worth looking into too. It’s generally cheaper than studying in England expecially, but you need a lot of discipline and you may be missing out on (some of) the social life… 

Campus Universities

Some of the universities you come across will be campus universities. This means that all the university buildings will be within a campus, often outside a city, rather than spread all over a city or location.


You can see that all of these universities will offer you a very different student experience (and social life!). You need to decide where you would fit in best!

Other websites that may be useful when choosing a university:
  • Ucas: a full A-Z of universities in the UK with further information on open days, cost of university accommodation etc… as well as contact details
  • Ucas: Normally for international students, but still very useful for UK applicants.
  • The complete university guide: league tables of universities. I am not sure if every university is on here. They also have an A-Z of universities with lots of extra information.