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Opinion : What should you look for when choosing a University?

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The publication of the A-Level results marks an important day for many young people especially those looking to further their studies.

The other lunchtime my good self happened to bump into an old friend who knows all about education, indeed we started talking about what to look for when applying to a University.

So it seemed like a good idea to write a blog to give others the benefits of my friends thinking. The list of points contained in this blog should be considered as a starting point rather than a definitive list but hopefully you will find the points raised in this blog useful.

No doubt many young people will make their application through what is called ‘clearing’ when Universities try to empty fill places.

Even if someone has a confirmed place at Uni they can still apply through ‘clearing’ to other Universities to try to get a place at a better one then reject their original place so ‘clearing’ is not just for those who failed to get the required A-Level grades.

Going to University is a big step and an expensive one too. Indeed students can end up with debts of many tens of thousands of pounds. Therefore you need to find a good University that you will be happy at.

When buying a second hand car you will probably get a report on the vehicle to find out if it’s an old banger so why just accept a place on a Degree course at the last minute without checking the Uni out too?

Here are, in no specific order, some points you may like to check before/after you apply :

Who is the ‘Chancellor’ of the University? : The ‘Chancellor’ is usually a notable/famous person who gives leadership and promotes a University in a ceremonial capacity – don’t get confused with the ‘Vice-Chancellor’ who is usually the person who leads, oversees and provides day-to-day management of the University. Most credible Universities have a Chancellor. If the Uni you have chosen does not have one then ask serious questions as to why. A list of the current Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of British Universities can be found here.

Is the University you have chosen laying off staff in mass redundancy campaigns? : With student fees so high the last thing you want is to go to a University that is laying off staff due to financial difficulties. Indeed the fees you pay should go to providing you with education and top-class facilities and not to fund huge redundancy payments for the staff who are leaving. Why not do a search on Google by putting the name of your chosen Uni followed by the word ‘redundancy’ or the word ‘severance’ to see?

Where is your chosen Uni in the league tables? : While not perfect ‘League tables’ give a general idea of the Uni. If your chosen Uni is loitering at the bottom end of the league tables and has been there for years then maybe you should consider going through ‘clearing’ to find a better one?

Who are the notable alumni? : Over the years a University will have taught many people some of whom have become famous. Try to find out the notable past students (or alumni) and see who they are and what they have done. If you want to be a scientist and the most notable person your chosen Uni has produced is a fashion model, criminal or jester then maybe you should think long and hard if it’s the right one for you?

What important research have they done? : The whole point of a University is to undertake an element of research. So what important discoveries have been made at your chosen University? Any credible University should be able to answer this simple question and provide you with a long list of key discoveries made there over the years.

Who are the buildings named after? : Go to many universities and you will find the halls of residence, teaching buildings and possibly even individual rooms are named after famous professors and students who have studied and taught there. Would you be happy to tell your friends that you were being taught particle physics in the ‘Green and pink tower’ or perhaps your accommodation is in the ‘Square block’? The use of colours, shapes and sounds to name buildings shows a dreadful lack of imagination.

Does your Uni offer student car parking? : It’s likely that one day you may need to go to Uni by private motor vehicle. So do they offer students on site parking or subsidised parking at local car parks if there are not enough spaces on the campus?

Are there staff on hand to help you if you have a problem? : Why not turn up and try to visit the admissions office? You should be able to meet admissions staff face-to-face and ask them questions indeed they should be only too pleased to help you. If you find the front facing admissions and student administration workers are locked away behind closed doors then ask if the place is for you.

Is it busy? : If you are applying before clearing when the Uni is operational why not turn up one day and stand outside? Is the place busy? It should be if there are tens of thousand of students there. Turn up on a November evening at about 4.00pm and all the lights should be on in the buildings. If there are only a few students to be seen then you may feel lonely and end up leaving.

What is the ‘drop out’ rate? : Are lots of students leaving their courses? Why not look at the link here and search for ‘First Year’, ‘Full Time’, First Degree’ then change ‘First Year’ to ‘Other Years’. The total for ‘Other Years’ should be several times the total for ‘First Year’ if it’s not that much higher then it shows that possibly a large number of students are leaving at the end of the ‘First Year’ of their course.

How many of your lecturers will be ‘hired hands’? : Ask if you will be taught by lecturers who are on the permanent staff of the Uni who have years of experience in their specialist subject and how many will be ‘hired hands’ brought in at the last minute just to teach a couple of lectures and then disappear off somewhere else for the rest of the week.

How long have the high level management team been there? : Why not look on the Uni website and find the names of those in high-level positions running the University? Then try and find them on a site such as Linkedin. If many of the top people have joined recently in the past few months/years then perhaps it could indicate a fast turnover amongst those in those in charge – if the big cheeses are leaving after a short time then perhaps it could point to underlying problems?

So there it is, a quick guide to a few of the questions that you might wish to ask when choosing a Uni.

Remember it’s your money, or rather your student loan, and you will be the one who will end up in debt so it’s best to make sure that you get value for money and above all find the experience useful for your future career.

A good University will set you up for life but a bad one will saddle you with debt for years to come and may even ruin your life.

What do you think?

*Many thanks to my friend who advised me on this blog, her help was greatly appreciated.

My blogs are published every Tuesday and Friday evening around 8.00pm here on the WycombeToday.com website.

You can also follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ivor.wycombe or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Ivor_Wycombe.

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