Begin your research into the universities on your list. The official literature is often the best place to start as it will be well put together and readily available. Browse university websites, read through prospectuses in your school’s career library, or else contact the universities to request a prospectus be sent to you. Some HE (Higher Education) websites provide an excellent service for requesting prospecti for you—you just need to select from a long list the ones you are interested in.
You will need to bear in mind, though, that all this material is prepared by the university itself, and so will obviously only be presenting its best face. It’s therefore a very good idea to get hold of an “unofficial” or “alternative” guide as well. These are written by independent reviewers, and can provide a more balanced opinion on a university. Try your school’s career library, any largeish bookshop or Amazon.co.uk. The Virgin Alternative Guide to British Universities is highly recommended. There are also online guides both official and otherwise, but some of the write-ups from “unofficial” sources are uselessly short. It is worth checking web based official guidance such as the Unistats website which provides a comparison of all UK higher education courses. For a more casual and light-hearted approach to investigating which university meets your needs there are sites, such as the Telegraph UCAS Calculator, which can give a little inspiration when required.
Questions to think about
This is undoubtedly an important consideration when choosing a university. Every university requires particular A-level (or equivalent) grades before accepting a student onto a degree. Your tactics will be slightly different depending on whether you already know your A-level results or have yet to sit all of your exams and are applying with predicted grades.
If you already have your A-levels you need to do is match them to universities that require those grades, or lower. If, on the other hand, you are applying through UCAS with predicted grades it is advisable to hedge your bets a little bit: choose some courses with entry requirements a little above and a little below your predictions. That way you are covered if you get slightly disappointing results, but you can still take advantage of the situation if you perform even better than you thought you would.
How far away is the University from home? Of course, everyone wants to stretch their wings after school, but you may still want to live close to your family. There are purely logistical considerations as well. Halls of Residence are usually fairly strict on when you must move in and out around term time, and you don’t want to be lugging your worldly possessions across the length and breadth of the country in a car boot six times a year.
Also, although you shouldn’t base all of your decisions on what everybody else is doing, you might want to choose a university city near your close friends. You should bear in mind, though, that University is an excellent opportunity to make new life-long friends. It is very scary starting out in a new city, but you will soon meet more people. Just remember that everybody will be in exactly the same position. You can always catch up with all your mates during the holidays or take a train to visit one another.
Expense. London, and other large cities, can be extremely expensive. Even if you stay in student digs as much as possible, and eat and drink in the subsidised canteens and bars, travel on public transport and going out quickly adds up.
Are most of the university buildings in the same compound, or are they dispersed throughout the city? Do you want to be right in the centre of a big city, or would you prefer a quieter, more rural setting?
You may like the convenience of having your accommodation, lecture theatres, sports fields, and student unions all within easy walking distance, but this tight clustering might become claustrophobic after three years. This can become especially true if the campus is a little way out of the main town and you face a long walk after shopping or going out in the evening.
If the accommodation is far from your lecture theatres, will you need a car? Is there adequate parking space? Warwick and Bath are both examples of universities with a good campus ethos.
In contrast, the different parts of the London universities can be widely dispersed, and you might find yourself facing a half-hour (or more…) commute on the tube or bus every morning to get in for early lectures.
Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham are collegiate universities, and so you could spend most of your time sleeping, eating and socialising within the College grounds, but cycle to lectures or to meet other friends within 15 minutes.
Visiting a university and its surrounding area for an Open Day before you apply is something that cannot be recommended enough. See below.
Many universities nowadays have their own gyms, theatre, student unions for cheaper food and drink, stationary shops, etc, etc. At the Open Day you might want to ask about the variety of student-run clubs and societies, and how much financial support the university gives to them. If your particular passion is not represented you can always set up your own club once you arrive. It is quite hard to get a feel for the social life during an Open Day, but within the hordes of people at any university you will soon find like-minded people to spend time with.
If you’re very sporty or musical you might look into how much of a reputation the university has. Bear in mind that although the main campus of the university may be nice and central, the sports facilities might be further out of town where there is more space.
The quality of libraries is also crucial, as is the availability of computing resources, even if you have your own PC. You may need to use specialised software that is only licensed on the public computers, and probably won’t fancy a mad dash across a whole city when your printer breaks the night before a project is due in (they invariably do…). Check if the rooms in accommodation have their own Internet access port or phone line.
University and higher education – Direct.gov.uk
The Government’s webpage on universities and higher education.
This guide to Higher Education in the UK offers advice on choosing a course and university, applications, student finances, etc. Free registration allows you to take an excellent questionnaire to help find a suitable course. You answer multiple choice questions on your interests, expected A-level grades and preferred university location, and it then suggests a list of courses that are most likely to appeal to you, which you can then click on to find which universities offer them. Full contact details are provided for each institution, so you can easily request a prospectus once you’ve found your dream course. Alternatively, you can browse through a list of all the Mathematics-related courses available, or search for a university by name or location.
Telegraph UCAS Calculator
The tool enables the student to input their A/AS Level grades then calculate how many UCAS points they will need to get in order to go to university and study a course. The tool then has some quirky features whereby you can either select sensible courses or go for a hit on random which will then show some brave and fun courses that they could potentially be studying.
All UK maths departments
Heriot-Watt University provides an extensive list of every Mathematics department in the country, ordered alphabetically.
Bursaries, scholarships and awards – Direct.gov.uk
If you’re doing a full-time higher education course in England, you may be entitled to extra support from your university or college in the form of a bursary. Some universities also offer scholarships – and there are some charities and educational trusts which may be willing to award you extra financial help.
Includes official data on each university and college’s satisfaction scores in the National Student Survey, jobs and salaries after study and other key information for prospective students.