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If you think you want to go to university, but you’re not sure what you need to consider, or where you should find your information, don’t worry. Knowing where to start, or how to get the most from your research can be daunting, so we’ve put together this handy guide to help you along the way.

1. Start with UCAS

UCAS is the place where you will submit your application, but it is so much more than that. It has lots of resources to help guide you through your research and application, addressing specific circumstances and queries. Most useful is their comprehensive search function which lists all of the universities in the UK and all of their courses, including the various types of degree on offer. There are tens of thousands of different choices and combinations, which can feel overwhelming. That’s why the search function allows you to filter by location, distance, course type, and institution, so you can narrow down the results to what suits you.

Not only is UCAS a great place to start your course search, but it also has a Browse Jobs function if you’re not yet at the stage of knowing what you’d like to study. You can search by subject family, which means it’s a good place for inspiration.

2. Attend Events

Every year, there are many events you can attend and participate in that are designed to give you more information about university. UniTasterDays is a good resource to find out what’s happening at the universities you’re interested in.

You might be able to attend outreach events such as a residential or Summer School event at a university, which gives you a taste of what real university life might be life, as well as a chance to meet new people. There may be criteria for eligibility on these events, so check university websites for more information.

UCAS exhibitions are held across the country, which bring together many of the UK universities in one place so that you can sign up for more information, and gather prospectuses or other marketing materials to help you with your decision-making process. Each university’s stand will be operated by a member of their staff who can answer any questions you might have.

Smaller-scale Careers or Higher Education fairs will also be taking place in schools and colleges. These will be attended by a variety of university, college and apprenticeship providers, usually determined by the local partnerships of the school or college who are hosting them. Although on a smaller scale to UCAS exhibitions, they still give you the opportunity to talk to university staff and gather information about their institution, courses, and facilities without having to travel to a larger venue. Ask your careers team if one is scheduled at your school or college soon.

Attending these events with lots of universities present can feel a bit strange, especially if it’s the first time you’ve attended something like it. You can use these questions to help you get the most out of your time, but remember there is no such thing as a silly question, so if you want to know something, just ask!

  • Do you offer courses around (subject area you are interested in)?
  • I’m unsure what I want to study, can you help me?
  • How long is the course?
  • What support is available for students?
  • What types of accommodation are available?
  • What is the social life like at your university?

3. Open Days and Applicant Days

Universities have lots of information available to you online that you can access from the click of a button, whether through their website, or through social media channels, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. These are great information tools and ways to connect, however you can’t really replicate experiencing a place for yourself, so visit if you are able to.

Attending Open Day or Applicant Day events will allow you to ask questions of current students and staff, as well as see the facilities and surrounding areas, meaning that you can get a real feel for what it might be like to study at that place. You can book online for open days to ensure you get all the relevant information before you arrive, allowing you to plan your day and get the most out of what is on offer.

Applicant Days are designed for people who are holding an offer at the university to come and have another look, and to meet more staff from the relevant academic and support departments. They are a great way for you to experience what studying there might be like, and will help you decide whether it’s the right place for you.

If you are unable to attend these days, you can also contact universities to see if they would be able to offer you a guided tour on a day suitable to you, as many have this option.

4. Websites

We have already mentioned UCAS, which is the fountain of knowledge when it comes to applying to university, and in addition to this, every university has their own website with vast amounts of information too. However, they are not the only useful places you can (and should) look. Here are some other helpful websites; we have split them into themes to help you decide which might suit your needs best.

University search and statistics

The Complete University Guide – a website that collates university statistics and league tables.

What Uni? – a course comparison website with student reviews.

Discover Uni – a comparison website using official statistics from national surveys and data collected from universities and colleges about all their students.

The Uni Guide – a course comparison site that includes information, advice and guidance.

Student Finance

Save the Student – a free, impartial website providing students with information about how to make money go further at university.

Student perspectives

The Student Room – a forum site that boasts to being the UK’s largest online student community.

5. League Tables

League Tables are produced every year for all educational institutions - from nurseries to universities. They can be a useful source of information, but it is important to know what that information is telling you. Unlike the league tables produced for schools by the government, university league tables are produced by many different sources, and so they organise and prioritise information in different ways.

It is therefore important to find one that aligns with your own priorities for your own university experience. For example, some people most highly value the research reputation of their institution, while others might prioritise student satisfaction, or career outcomes of students. Whatever is most important to you, make sure you find one that matches your own priorities, and remember that knowing data about an institution can be a valuable way to get a picture of a place, but really knowing whether it will suit you is down to how you feel when you are there. 

University is a big decision, and your research is important to make sure that you feel comfortable with your choices and that they are right for you. Taking time to do your research and get the most from it will help you embark on this next adventure… Good luck!

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