Choosing a university to attend can be the hardest choice a young (or mature) person can make. Many future undergraduates deliberate for months with no idea as to what they’re looking for. Teachers and family members will provide countless advice regarding education or chances of industry progression. Many mums and dads will be managing their own empty-nest syndrome, so while they will try to help, their advice is going to be emotionally biased!
What about the things that really matter? What about the things that affect students in their day-to-day lives?
Starting with a staple of many students’ careers, the nightlife of a university and the surrounding area is key to considerations. I know this is stereotyping students and possibly unfairly so, but if nightlife matters to you then read on!
The ability to unwind with friends at the pub or club after a week of study is integral to a student’s university experience, and hugely contributes to a positive work-life balance. Additionally, the ability to unwind with friends at the pub or club during a week of study, and sometimes whilst studying, can massively help to get the creative juices flowing, although late nights don’t pair well with a 9 am Equity and Trusts lecture.
Finding a university that fits your course (and you) is brilliant, but, in my view, if the tension of working week in, week out isn’t released, this can lead to a host of problems that may ultimately alienate you from your course, and even university. If nightclubbing isn’t for you, then you might not need to attend a big city to get the full university experience. If you enjoy a gripping novella on a Friday night with a brisk walk early on a Saturday morning, brilliant too. Also take account of how far your campus will be from the nightlife if that’s something you know you will crave. Long taxi rides will be expensive if campus is out in the country!
Choose a university where the local nightlife matches your own interests – where you can do what you actually enjoy and not what you think you ought to enjoy!
Often overlooked in deliberations, the societies of a university can help to mould the complexion of a student’s time in academia.
Whether it be a burning passion for the discussion of historical materialism or the abolition of the commodity form within the Marxist Society, or simply an appreciation for Stinking Bishop within the Cheese Society (as hosted by Bournemouth University), there truly is a society for everyone.
The reasons for joining are many - from deep philosophical interest to a sampling of something new. Each is as important as the last in developing the social side of a work-life balance. Societies aren’t for everyone, but they are a social lubricant, and some initial research with consideration for your hobbies and interests can go a long way to hitting the ground running when starting out at university. Lots of societies will be common in all universities, but some might be specific. If you want to join a hiking society then it might make more sense to be somewhere like Leeds, York, Exeter or Lancaster where there are national parks nearby. If theatre appreciation is more your bag, then perhaps Warwick or a London university might be better for you.
If you’re a Young Student Leave Home (If You Can)
I understand that many may be unable to do this for reasons such as financial restraints or family commitments. These reasons are completely valid and more than enough to justify staying at home whilst studying. However, if you are able, the independence of living away from home whilst starting a new life chapter goes a long way to setting you up for adulthood.
Speaking to many students who didn’t, both within my own family and at university, the consensus is that they wished they had moved into halls for the first year at least.
The primary reason for this? Disconnect. The ability to socialise with other students outside of an academic context allows for greater connections both intra and inter-course, with a large aspect of this removed by living away from the university. This doesn’t mean moving to another city or town entirely and that living within the sphere of your home is entirely incompatible with this advice but living with others within the same circumstances as you allows for greater bonds that cannot be achieved naturally when at home. Moreover, ignoring the social aspect, the experience of making Yorkshire puddings at 4 o’clock in the morning in a university kitchen simply cannot be matched, and is unlikely to come about with parents/family at home – they tend not to appreciate the mess or the noise.
The almost universal experience of students is living within halls or rented accommodation, and so is indispensable in your list of pre-university thoughts. This is the space in which you will spend 90+% of your time, where you will eat most of your meals and where you’ll sleep for the night (or day if I’m honest).
Choosing the best space that fits your personality is crucial, and many aspects must be considered. One of which is the type of surroundings you would like to live in. Much like when weighing up the nightlife there’s lots to consider.
Would you prefer to live within a campus accommodation, or within a city? Does your university in mind even have a campus?
The option of residing on campus affords greater connection, not just with other students, but with the university itself and positively affects travelling for lectures and events. The downside however, and I will emphasise this – YOU WILL GET NO SLEEP. Whatever your flat or house’s preferred night (or nights) of the week for fun and whether this is sensible and, on a weekend, there will be flats all around you that may prefer to party on everything other night.
City living somewhat offsets this, and allows time and space to study, but can sometimes leave a disconnect again. Also, residents of an area don’t particularly admire students that use their free time for means other than studying. Sometimes ‘local’ residents can even be hostile to students. Where you fall on these questions is personal, but cannot be ignored. Finding you need to trek 3 miles for every lecture isn’t often a nice discovery, so think carefully about where you choose to live. Are there clear ‘student’ areas off campus or might pockets of students live all over town?
Short List Time
Consideration of these factors will undoubtedly slim the shortlist of universities in your sights and provide personal insight. They may help prevent the typical ‘yes’ period of freshers week overwhelming you.
These factors are just as important as the academic, guidance of parents and teachers, perhaps more so. Do attend open days as this will give you a great sense of that which isn’t written down in the flyers. The vibe of a university is hugely important. University is a once in a lifetime experience, so make sure that you are somewhere that you want to be!