A comprehensive guide to finding your ideal university: how to start your journey, what factors to research, where to look for information, and whom to consult.
By now, you might have realised that your school years aren’t the best times. However, the three to six years at university could be because it opens a new door to freedom and independence, fascinating knowledge to digest, interesting people to meet and head-splitting hangovers to experience. No wonder university is the rite of passage for many youngsters.
But how to choose the right university for you? In this article, we’ll take you through seven tips for finding your perfect match.
1. Online research
There are thousands of institutions offering different opportunities and experiences around the globe and at least ten in your local state in Australia. Besides, one subject may be taught as courses with different names at different universities. So, it’s a daunting task to find someplace suitable for your own interests, objectives, and personal situation.
Researching universities is critical! As you do, you can make judgements on how compatible you and the university are. Pick the right university for you right from the start, so you don’t need to transfer midway. Research the university in two steps:
- focus your research on the factors described later in this article
- refer to what you’ve found back to your chosen subject and areas of interest within that subject.
Sources of information:
Website/social media of the university or students’ union, blogs written by the alumni or current students, recent news about the university, administrative officers, your school’s educational consultants.
2. Course structure and course content
Academia should be the priority in your overall decision. Once decided on the course and career goals, look at the following criteria:
Which modules are in line with your interests and career aspiration? How flexible is the curriculum? Can you experiment with different subjects during the year?
Methods of teaching
Are there many lectures, individual student tutorials, problem-based seminars, or laboratory sessions? Is the programme more theory-based or hands-on? Does it have more emphasis on group or individual projects? Does it suit your learning style?
Types of assessment
Are there written exams, practical exams, presentations, essays, coursework, or a combination of those?
Look beyond the first year
Does the degree offer work placements, internships, study abroad opportunities?
3. Location and area of the university
Where you study is where you’ll live for at least three years, so many features come into play. Distance from home, weather, cost of living, atmosphere, culture, and safety vary from place to place.
So, don’t underestimate the importance of researching and visiting the area. Your education might suffer if you hate the surroundings.
How far you’re willing to be away from your family is a key consideration. Sure, you’ll meet and befriend new people at university. But after some months, weekends and holidays at home could become increasingly appealing and comforting.
Perhaps you’re keen to spread your wings and experience a different culture and history? Whether you wish to study in your country or abroad, always factor in the time living there and cost of returning home.
Another significant consideration is living on-campus or in the city.
Universities with a big campus and on-campus accommodation facilities such as Macquarie University, the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Monash University and the University of Melbourne in Melbourne have self-contained towns which are perfect for ensconcing in an academic community. However, it might feel isolating, even claustrophobic! Everything you may need is provided on-site, from accommodation and shops to teaching and leisure facilities.
A city university such as UTS and RMIT, however, is better for part-time jobs and work experience opportunities. You won’t be constantly surrounded by students, especially when you live outside the university’s accommodation. You may have a more diverse eatery and nightlife experience, too.
4. Look at the extras
University life isn’t just about studying! You can make it fun, stress-free, and meaningful.
Make sure your prospective institution caters a diversity of enthusiasts and pastimes. Check out the available sports teams, societies, clubs, sororities and fraternities. And the past events hosted by the university or students’ union.
If you don’t fancy anything among the dozens (or hundreds) of activities on offer, or it’s a tie between two universities, look to societies and recreation in the area for your deciding factor. After all, casual participation in extracurriculars is fulfilling, CV-friendly, and great for personal development.
You’ll spend a decent amount of your university life in the library, so look up in advance. Is the studying environment comfortable? How plentiful are the book and online resources? Is there a 24/7 café for night owls and early birds?
Also research the gym, medical and mental health centres, 24/7 support team for emergencies and emotional crisis. They may come in handy during stressful times.
Many universities have been sustaining their own unique identity and culture since their founding. It may be technology-focused, faith-based, traditional and conservative, or a reputation only for nightlife.
Find out what the university is renowned for and see if it suits your principles and values. You don’t want to feel unaccustomed, or worse, feel left out at university.
5. Explore the rankings
To get an overview of how an institution is performing across various measures, consult the university rankings and subject rankings. We recommend using this site to check out QS Australian Universities World Rankings and ATAR entry scores for universities in Australia.
Interactive rankings let you apply filters for country or subject, and sort the universities by the standard of teaching, research/innovation, employment rate, facilities, or staff-to-student ratio, student gender ratio, student satisfaction, academics’ view about the university.
Rankings don’t tell the whole story, but they’re good indicators of the university’s standing and reputation. So, it’s worthwhile to research designated lists of elite institutions like the Group Eight (Australia), Russel Group (UK), Ivy League (US). A degree from such universities could make your CV stand out!
Studying in your city tends to cost you less than somewhere farther away or abroad. However, certain countries may offer lower tuition fees and better financial aid for international students. Some could also have a lower cost of living than in your hometown.
Many universities offer scholarships, grants, loans, or financial assistance via the work-study scheme, but their eligibility criteria vary. If your deciding factor is funding opportunities, then you should do research and apply well in advance. Competition is often intense!
Expense is an important issue for many undergraduates. Some top up their fund with part-time work, but outgoings can still sum up quite fast in certain cities.
Do you prefer life in the heart of a big city with its hustling and bustling metropolis, but paying expensive rents? Or an affordable city with student-friendly cafes and restaurants? It could be in an isolated and intimate setting, but with fewer work opportunities?
Weigh up the tuition fees, expenditures, your preferences of a place to live. Then refer to the percentage of students landing a job right after graduation from the university, and estimate on how long it takes you to get a return of the investment. Basically, you’re asking whether going to that university is worth it.
7. Visit the university
Extensive online research and sorting them based on your priorities are helpful. However, after you’ve narrowed it down to a few universities, the best thing to do is attending open days and university fairs at these universities.
You’ll get a feel of the environment and a sense of whether it’s for you. These events are good opportunities for you to see the campus and facilities first-hand, talk to the current students and staff. You can ask about what’s the university is doing well (and not so well), about life beyond the university and the kinds of support available.