When we were small, Cambridge and Oxford used to seem not so huge. It’s once you receive your predicted scores that you realise they’re not so easy to get into. Alternatively, you could have grades far above their requirements, but you don’t want to just apply to Oxbridge when you have five choices anyway. So how do you find universities that are right for you?
Rankings are a good place to start. Bear in mind that rankings can vary significantly between different sites, so browse through different ones. If you have a course in mind, look for rankings for your particular course as well. Check certain factors that matter more to you, whether it’s student satisfaction or average income after graduation.
Now that you have a general sense of how certain universities sit in rankings, look through their grade requirements to check whereabouts your predicted grades sit. Find a range of universities: some with higher requirements than your grades, some with lower – but make sure they’re all reasonable and realistic. Don’t just pick 5 at this stage, keep more in mind.
You can then consider what you want to get from your university life. Think about location – do you want to be in the city or somewhere quiet? Do they offer scholarships you could apply to? How much are their course fees? How’s their nightlife and student union? Find universities that offer the lifestyle you want. Most universities will include everything you need to know in their websites, but it’s also a good idea to look through their brochures or attend university open days.
Courses can vary between different universities as well. Some offer year abroad and placement years, and some may have more opportunities to study in Asia, for example. It is also a good idea to look through modules for your course to compare topics you can study in each university. Some may seem more interesting than others.
Another thing to keep in mind is the different admission procedures. If you’re thinking about applying to Oxbridge, you will need to prepare for their entrance exams. Certain courses, such as Law, may have exams such as LNAT required by only certain universities. Be strategic in choosing your universities with regards to admissions as well as the types of prospective students they are looking for.
Alternatively, you may want to consider other paths, like taking a year off to really think about your future. You could take a gap year, travel, or work to gain more experiences rather than starting university right away.
There is never a right answer. Every student has something different they are looking for after finishing school. Think about what excites you and what you want to gain from the years following school. You want to find a right place to start your adulthood.