Image of a student thinking about their university choices

 by Lydia Mansell
, posted On 25 Jan '21
 Regional Schools and Colleges Recruitment Coordinator at the University of Portsmouth

A school and college guide to supporting students when they are choosing courses and universities

With so many courses to choose from, students can often feel overwhelmed when they start their university research. Advising these four essential steps will help them to get started with the all- important decisions they are making for their future.

Step 1: Choose the university course first and the university later

Students can get carried away with looking at the aesthetics of a university, the reputation of its social scene, the location and so on. However, enjoying and thriving in their studies is the most important factor they need to consider to help them to succeed. Start by asking your students to shortlist university courses which interest them based on module content alone. This will provide them with a shortlist of open days to attend which will in turn, give them a ‘feel’ of the university during their visit.

Step 2: Look at university entry requirements when making choices

You will want your students to be aspirational with their choices, but being realistic in terms of university entry requirements will give them a greater chance of receiving offers. Based on their predicted grades or mock results, encourage them to pitch their choices in line with how they’re performing academically. However, it’s good to have a couple of choices to aim a little higher for and to spur their ambition.

Step 3: Research and comparison is key

University degree titles often confuse students as they look similar at first glance. But this is where your students will need to focus their research. Once the student has shortlisted their courses, it is then a case of comparing them to see how they differ and which one will best align with their interests.

For example, a Business and Management degree at one university might include compulsory modules in Years 1 & 2 but a course with the same title, at another university, might allow the student to be flexible with their module choices throughout their degree.

Encourage your students to look at the mode of assessment in each year of study as well – how is the degree weighted? Some students excel through coursework assessment and others will perform better in exams. They should also consider how practical or theoretical the course is, depending on how they like to learn. University course webpages should provide them with this information.

Step 4: Use league tables for further university research

League tables are a great way to compare universities, but do promote them with a disclaimer.

Firstly, there are numerous league tables, each with different assessment criteria. Therefore, students will find that a university’s ranking will change depending on which league table they are looking at.

Secondly, and most importantly, make sure your students are comparing universities according to the subject they want to study and not to its overall ranking as an institution. Each university has specialist disciplines so they shouldn’t assume that a university will be highly ranked for all subjects, even if it is positioned well in the main league table.

Along with these tips, encourage students to speak to academic staff and students at open days, as well as signposting them to university course pages and websites such as UCAS, UniTasterDays and DiscoverUni. Doing this research will guide them to make well-considered decisions and will equip them to approach these decisions with confidence.



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The Teachers’ Guide has been produced by UniTasterDays.com in collaboration with HELOA - to support the university guidance that is provided in secondary schools and colleges.

Editorial has been provided by over 30 colleagues at universities throughout the UK, on topics including booking online university events, the Gatsby benchmarks, university CPD opportunities, arranging subject specific events and more.


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