If you are in Year 12 and thinking of going on into higher education after sixth form, the coming weeks before the summer holidays are perfect for starting to think about your choices.

We’re running a three-part mini-series to help with your research and in part two this week, we’re looking at Unis: what are they, what should – and shouldn’t – influence your choice(s) of where to study, and why should you start your research before this summer?

But first, what exactly is a Uni?

Uni is the establishment where you study for your degree. It generally refers to a university, but is a term now also used to describe anywhere that delivers higher education (HE) courses – namely colleges and dedicated university centres. In recent years, more and more colleges have started offering higher education, but these courses are generally awarded by a university under an arrangement with the college which enables you to study your chosen degree – and graduate – in a local setting.

What will influence your choice of Uni?

General location – are you interested in a seaside town location such as UCW in Weston, a rural setting such as Strode College or University of Bath, or a central location such as City of Bristol College? Perhaps you are looking for a local Uni because you plan to live at home as an undergraduate or want to stay near your family, friends, social life or near to an important part-time job or sports commitment.

Specialist location – if you have a particular degree in mind, you may be interested in the actual venue. SGS College have specialist campuses located at Bristol Zoo and Bristol School of Art, for example.

Specialist facilities – and you may be considering the department and equipment on offer. For example, Bath College has a brand new state-of-the-art Construction Skills Centre opening in September. And there are specialist colleges locally which include dBs Music with its incredible recording and production studios, and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School which is one of the most successful and well-respected conservatoire drama schools in the UK.

Type of campus – another consideration is the type of campus. Being at a collegiate university, such as Oxford and Cambridge, is like having several mini-universities within the Uni that you apply to. We don’t have any of these locally, but if you are considering studying further afield, this could be of interest. And if you are applying to a Uni with a split-site or several campuses, please check exactly where your course will be based in terms of ease of travel between your accommodation and lectures. In this region it is very common for there to be multiple campuses so worth a detailed look.

Reputation – UWE Bristol has an exceptional reputation for nursing degrees, for example. And the University of Bath website states some very impressive rankings and reputation statistics. It could also be worth investigating those with a reputation for good links between individual students, tutors and student groups as well as a close-knit Students’ Union.

Other Facilities – it may also be important to take a look at the recreational amenities. If you like swimming – perhaps competitively – does the Uni have a pool and swimming / water polo team or will you be near enough to home to continue training and competing at your local club? If you enjoy a good social life, will you be in the heart of things in a city centre or does the Uni itself offer the range of activities you enjoy? What is the accommodation like? Will you be in a hall of residence, a flat on campus or in a privately-owned house sharing with others.

Size – a degree at a college or university centre often means that you get a smaller class and, locally, Yeovil college University Centre promote this as a particular benefit of studying with them. But you may also be influenced by the size of the student population and UWE Bristol, for example, has over 29,000 students.

Graduate prospects – you could also be swayed by the chances of employment at the end of your degree. Where do students go on to? How many take post-graduate degrees to specialise further? What proportion are in employment after six months of graduating?

What might limit your choice of Uni before you start looking?

We’d also recommend that you research the factors which might impact on the options available to you from the outset –

Degree courses – if you have your heart set on studying a subject which is not available at every Uni, your choice of where to study will be limited before you start. Smaller colleges can deliver niche courses at degree level which mainstream Unis may not offer. For example, Access Creative College offers an Artist Development Level 4 course as a way of fine-tuning your journey into the creative industries. But there can also be specialist degrees at a university, such as Contemporary Circus with Physical Theatre at Bath Spa University.

Grants & Bursaries – for most students the opportunity for additional funding might be a luxury, but if securing this finance is a necessity, it could well influence your choice of Uni.

Scholarships – and if the offer of funding and work experience is exceptionally good – or if you plan to apply to a specific employer on graduation – a particular Uni might be part of the application criteria. For example, if you are considering studying Accounting and Finance – or becoming an accountant on graduation – you may be interested in the EY Scholarship. This programme is offered in partnership with selected universities around the country – including the University of Bath – and could, in this example, very understandably influence your choice of where you hope to study.

What not to consider

There are so many things to consider it is easy to overlook those which should not be influencing your decision such as your friends’ choice of Uni, your parents’ choice of Uni, the glossy prospectus or impressive website. Definitely not because someone told you to go there or because the course looks easy or (sorry) because the course fees are cheaper than elsewhere.

So why should you start your research in year 12?

The deadline for most applications is not until January, but there are good reasons why you should not leave this until the last minute and – ideally – even start your research before the summer break …

It’s hectic in the autumn of year 13 – when you come back after the summer break there’s not much time for thorough research as you’ll be expected to get your UCAS application completed and your personal statement written. There will also be a lot of academic distractions ahead of your mocks and then actual exams as well as social distractions such as the final year charity events and drama productions. Think back to what the year 13s were doing last Autumn.

Open days season – another reason to give this your attention now is that we have a lot of Uni open days in June/July. These are fantastic opportunities to find out more about the Uni and the courses you might be considering. You can also get a feel for the campus layout, accommodation and student societies that you might like to join.

Summer work experience – and finally, you should really be giving this some thought now because you still have the summer ahead of you to try to get some recent and relevant work experience to talk about in your personal statement and – hopefully – at interview as well. If life is going to be hectic in Year 13, this summer could be the perfect opportunity to get something really meaningful on your CV to make your application stand out.

And finally, …

You choose – just remember that it is your choice to go to Uni and continue your studies: no-one else’s. From the age of 18 you will be an adult and can opt for work instead of higher education – or a combination of both with an apprenticeship. Relax in the knowledge that – subject to grades and adequate finance – you decide if you study, what you study and where you study.

Get it right – now you know that you’re in charge of the decision, do also remember that you will be studying your chosen course at your chosen Uni for 3 to 4 years and that’s a long time to be in the wrong place if you’ve made the wrong decision so please do give it some careful thought while you have the time.

Careersnearhere: It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started!

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