How NOT to Choose A University

Just as there are many excellent ways to help you choose where you might want to study, there are a few that are abjectly, objectively terrible that I highly recommend you avoid.

1. League Tables

Let’s get this one out of the way first, league tables are a waste of mine, yours and everyone else’s time. They are inconsistent with each other, all use different metrics and the positions jump around so much year to year that you’d think these departments were in constant flux. This is obviously true to a very small extent given that staff and module content might change in their minutiae, but newspapers are writing them to sell newspapers and websites are writing them for clicks and ad revenue.

If you are going to insist on doing this, then just avoid choosing somewhere that’s right at the bottom of the list across multiple lists, but other than that I really don’t think it matters. Employers don’t care, I don’t care, and you shouldn’t care either. If you’ve found somewhere you want to go, then go there and don’t let anyone give you sh*t for it.

2. It’s close to home

This is admittedly a very tough one, and will be contentious - but ultimately it comes down to being somewhere where you can live away from home. I think that one of the great aspects of university living is that it gives you control and makes you responsible for your own life.

I went to Newcastle University, approximately 2-3 hours by car away from where I live, which was close enough for me that I could still get back urgently if necessary, but crucially still allowed me to shape my own existence. Being somewhere else, even if it’s just student accommodation, even for just the first year of the course is an experience that I think everyone should have.

In that time you’ll learn by necessity to cook, clean, socialise and fundamentally become a more rounded member of society (or at least in theory). This won’t be for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine, but living in the sheltered bubble of home will I think deprive you of certain things.

"Being somewhere else, even if it’s just student accommodation, even for just the first year of the course is an experience that I think everyone should have"

3. The Minimum Grade Offer

I will examine this topic in more depth in the future, but remember that the minimum UCAS or grade requirements for a course DO NOT indicate how good that course will be for you.

These requirements indicate two things at best: Firstly, they reflect how competitive entry is, because if they have a fixed number of places but a ton of applicants, they need to be more selective by definition and raising boundaries is a good way of eliminating a large number of people very quickly. Of course it does stand to reason that better courses will have more applicants, but that does not necessarily have to based on quality of teaching - there are more than likely a multitude of factors at play that warrant further investigation.

Secondly, universities are playing a game with the UCAS system that plays on the above point. Schools want to fill all their degree places because that means more money, so it is reasonable from their perspective to inflate the entry requirements. More students will then assume that it’s a better course, apply for it, subsequently fail to make the grades, but the university will take them anyway. It’s a devious game but it’s easy to see how unwilling students can be preyed upon like this.

4. Your Parents Said So

The absolute worst reason of all, and something I’ve noticed multiple times when giving tours of Newcastle. Your parents, while they love you very deeply and I have no doubt want the absolute best for you, do not share your mind. They do not know as well as you do where it is you want to go and study, and if you are not able to stand up to them and tell them that, realise that it’s probably a good indicator of worse problems to come later on in life.

This is usually a particular type of parent, and it can lead to uncomfortable standoffs, but it’s far better to get it out the way - I myself have taken parents aside while doing tours and tried to recommend that they back off and allow the student to ask me questions. In cases where it’s plainly obvious that the applicant doesn’t want to be here, I’ll tell them that too, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Go where makes YOU happy, not your parents. If at all possible, go to open days without them, and then have a second visit with them in tow if you’re still interested.