Thinking about university

Making your choices

Understanding league tables

When it comes to choosing a university you and your parents are likely to check out the main league tables but what are they really telling you and how much will they be able to help?

It is important to look at league tables alongside different sources of information so that you can get the full picture about what an institution can offer you whether it is going to be a good fit.

University league tables allow you to see the overall ranking of institutions and how well they are doing in specific subject areas. Before you can make a judgement you need to know what all the numbers represent and the difference between how the main league tables are compiled.

The main ones are The Guardian, published in June, the Complete University Guide, published in April, The Times and The Sunday Times, published in September. They all rank institutions using different criteria and although they are all trying to rank universities from best to worst, they all come to different conclusions.

Core measures:

  • Student satisfaction scores – how students rate their university experience
  • Graduate prospects – how those in graduate level employment or further study are getting on six months after leaving university
  • Entry grades – what grades are required for courses
  • Student to staff ratio – how much a university invests it its staffing (not necessarily how many hours of teaching you’ll get)

Our advice would be to cross-reference the main league tables to get a better picture. The Guardian’s league table relies heavily on student experiences and uses NSS (National Student Survey) data in their ranking calculations. It doesn’t measure research output whereas The Times and the Complete University Guide do.

It is also worth checking subject areas, the overall rankings are the institutional average, which doesn’t tell you if they are excelling in specific subject groups.

You can then look to other sources such as course content, modules, methods of assessment, facilities and life on campus to help you make your five choices.

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