How To: choose your university (and my personal story)

This post expands on some brief words I contributed to a wider piece on choosing universities on The Lawyer Portal here. I am well aware that many prospective students will be furiously perfecting and submitting their UCAS applications during these colder months, so I felt it was important to write a more comprehensive piece. This is a slightly more personal post than I normally write as I discuss exactly how and why I picked my university, but it also has a neat summary of things to look out for as a student.

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What I looked for in a university:

I realised quite quickly that I did not want to attend a campus-based university. I much preferred the idea of studying in a city that had the hubbub of real life close to hand, and where I could feel less in a student ‘bubble’. This decision was partly because I applied for my first undergraduate degree as a mature student, and I was concerned about how I would fit in with a few hundred 18-year-olds fresh from school!

On top of a good academic team and reputation, I was looking for a sense of community, the likelihood of a higher proportion of mature students, good extra-curricular opportunities, support systems (having only recently recovered from a long-term condition) and alternative funding options (e.g. bursaries and scholarships) from my university.

I also wanted to go to a university where I was excited to learn and spend three years; a place that would stretch me and would allow me to achieve my goals while making friends and good memories. As a student who only had four GCSEs and an Access to Higher Education Diploma, I was worried (aka convinced) that some of the better-rated and more prestigious universities would not consider me. Therefore, my choices ranged from top-of-the-league-table universities to ones lower down, as I was unsure of the response. In essence, I hedged my bets! However, I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I was lucky enough to receive four unconditional offers, so it was just the case of picking my home for the next few years.

Why/how I chose my university:

I decided to study at King’s College London for many reasons – some of which were the incredible wealth of knowledge the teaching staff have, the prestigious history of the university and the excellent reputation the law school holds; not only as a place of research/study, but as a hub for all things law.

However, all of those were ‘head’ reasons – it wasn’t until I came to one of the Offer Holder Open Days that I became utterly certain King’s was ‘my’ place. The warm welcome, smiling faces and open minds of the staff and students convinced me that, not only would I have the opportunity to excel and be pushed academically, but also that there was a genuine community to be part of at King’s – beyond the lecture hall.

I was also lucky enough to be awarded a Dickson Poon Undergraduate Law Scholarship; something that has not only helped make my university years less of a financial worry but boosted my confidence enormously. The award told me that King’s recognised something in me that maybe I had not – a big help ahead of the myriad of new and nerve-wracking experiences university holds for a first-timer.

I could not be more pleased with my choice, and I picked the right home. I would strongly recommend students from all backgrounds to apply to King’s. I have been working on building a strong undergraduate mature student community (you can find more information here). We, at the Dickson Poon School of Law, have just launched an exciting pilot project to facilitate and encourage applications from more diverse, disadvantaged and under-represented sections of society; something I have personally been involved in and am very proud of. I have also had no difficulty fitting in with the younger students – and we have a fantastically supportive, fun, successful and close year-group.

I would recommend students visit all their choices and think about not only the course, but the environment and the feeling they get when visiting and talking to staff and students.

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Things to consider if you are applying to university:

  • Do you prefer campus universities or not?
  • Does the make-up of the student community matter to you?
  • Are you keen to move far away from home or stay nearby?
  • It’s not just about the league tables and the academic side – visit the university and get a sense of the atmosphere, the extra-curricular activities and people.
  • Hedge your bets and apply to universities across the board – you have five choices after all! Why not aim high, but ensure you have a solid backstop?
  • Make use of Open Days and Offer Holder Days – they provide a golden opportunity to mix and meet with current students, academics and ask any burning questions you may have. Think of this as a chance to ‘try before you buy’.
  • Do your research – what modules/mode of examination/format/opportunities does the course you’re applying for offer? Do they have a range of societies and extra-curricular activities to get involved with?
  • Money a worry? Look up university bursaries and scholarships – with fees sky high and grants being cut it can be a big financial commitment and stress to go to university, so there is no harm factoring in possible other sources of funds.
  • The UCAS website has a great section on applying and choosing the right course and university.

(Don’t be shy…click ‘Leave a comment’, share this post if you like it; email, tweet and generally pester me if you want to hear more/share your stories/say hi)

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