How to choose a course and university

When it comes to Higher Education the range of courses and institutions to choose from is vast.

In order for students to maximise the opportunities that are available to them it is imperative that they begin to plan for their future well before the beginning of Year 13, arguably starting to formulate plans as early as Year 10. Ensuring that they have the correct suite of subjects selected for their FE choices and the strongest portfolio of GCSE grades possible will allow students to pursue their chosen path.


For most students their immediate research surrounds choosing the right degree programme, one that will satisfy their academic curiosity and lead into their desired profession. As teachers and Careers Advisors sign posting to relevant information at this stage can be crucial.

Students should be encouraged to closely examine the modules included in each of the potential programmes and reminded that even though courses may have the same title their content can vary significantly. Consideration should also be given to the way in which the individual prefers to learn and be assessed; playing to academic strengths and selecting a degree that is structured in a complementary manner will result in the best possible match.

Researching courses

  • What modules are there to choose from?
  • What facilities are available?
  • Is there a placement year?
  • Is there a chance to study or work abroad?
  • How is the course assessed?
  • How is the course taught?
  • Is it single or joint honours?
  • Is it professionally accredited?
  • What are the entry requirements?
  • What is the length of the course?

Researching universities

  • How far is it from home?
  • Do you want a city or rural campus?
  • How many sites/campuses does it have?
  • Are there good transport links?
  • What are the local attractions like?
  • What clubs and societies are available?
  • What is the accommodation like?
  • Are there strong links with industry?
  • What is the league table position?
  • What are the student satisfaction (NSS) results?

Attend Open Days

Visiting a university during an Open Day will allow students to assess first-hand the facilities on offer, applicants should make sure they have everything they would need to maximise their learning potential and that any equipment or software is industry standard so that they graduate with the most relevant skills.

Understandably, students and their families are concerned about employability, enquiring as to whether the university and/or course has links with industry and can facilitate placements is one way in which this can be addressed.

Higher Education can not only offer an extended academic experience, the activities organised through the Students’ Union provide exciting opportunities to engage in new hobbies and sports, volunteering and a platform for meeting even more people.

For those hoping to move away from home university accommodation can be an excellent way of making new friends fast and to learn a host of invaluable life skills.

It is important that university is viewed as a complete package, students should review all elements of what is on offer to enhance both their academic and social experience and factor these into their decision making process.

HE Fairs and UCAS Conventions

During Year 12 many students have an opportunity to attend events to meet with staff from universities and ask them questions about their institution. These may be local events organised by schools or colleges or large, national exhibitions hosted by UCAS. For a full list of this year’s UCAS events please visit the UCAS website.

Whichever type of event a student chooses to attend they will find them to be a great way of beginning their research and a chance to ask lots of questions. This is also an opportunity to gather literature such as prospectuses for future reference.

Preparing for UCAS fairs

Important notes

  • Wear comfy shoes and clothing... it's a long day!
  • Take your barcoded ticket.
  • Don't walk around with a large group, use the time to speak to the universities I'm interested in.
  • Don't be scared to ask questions!
  • Don't just take the freebies, gather the literature that you need.
  • Take a strong bag. Prospectuses are very heavy!

How to prepare

  • Identify in advance the universities that offer the course(s) that you are hoping to study.
  • Highlight the ones that you are most interested in and visit these stands first.
  • Plan your route in advance – UCAS fairs are set out in alphabetical order, but not all stands are in the same room.
  • Draft questions in advance that you would like to ask the university representative.
  • Take note of any answers you receive so you don't forget anything when you get home.
  • If you have time remaining, browse other stands that you hadn't previously considered or attend seminars that may be running.

Potential questions to ask

  • What are the entry requirements?
  • How is the course structured?
  • What modules are taught?
  • Are there opportunities to study abroad or undertake a placement year?
  • Are there strong links with industry?
  • Can you tell me about the campus and university location?
  • What extracurricular opportunities are there?
  • What types of accomodation are available?

Next steps