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Where to start with applying to uni

A beginner’s guide to choosing where to go to university and what you’d like to study

If you’re in year 12, you might be starting to think about university. Maybe you vaguely know where you want to go or what you want to study, but you could be feeling lost when it comes making a shortlist.  

Here are some ideas to help you take those first steps in thinking about the whole process.

Think about what you might want to study

If you’re unsure where to begin with choosing a degree course, our A-level explorer tool could help you narrow down your options. Pop in the A-levels you’re taking and the tool will give you a list of subjects that students with a similar combination of A-levels typically take at degree level.

Once you have an idea of the subjects you might be interested in – whether they’re recommended by the explorer tool or not – you can get an overview of the sort of thing you’d be studying on our course category pages.

These subject guides are not specific to universities, but will give you a general idea of things like the kind of modules you might take on the course, what sort of entry requirements the course could have (although these will be specific to the university), how many teaching hours you might expect and what your career options could be after graduating.

Whatever course you’re considering, you’ll need at least a grade 5 (or equivalent) in GCSE English and maths. However, some universities in Scotland don't have this requirement – it’s worth checking their website to find out.

Not sure what you’d like to study at university? This article is packed with advice and practical steps you can take to help you figure it out.

Start thinking about where you want to study

Alongside what you want to study, the other big choice you’ll need to make is where you want to study.

If you’ve settled on the course you might want to take, you can use that subject’s category page on The Uni Guide to search for all courses.

This will bring up a list of universities that offer that particular course, which you can click through to find out more information such as its entry requirements and statistics showing how students rate the course or uni.

Read more: which university is right for you?

Research your choices using a combination of official and unofficial information

Once you have an idea of the sort of course you might want to take, and a few options for where you’d like to take it, it’s time to delve into a bit more detail.

Most university courses will have web pages with loads of information about the specifics of the course and the university, as well as brochures for you to look at.

Open days are another way you can learn more about the universities and courses you’re most interested in, by going along to take a look for yourself.

You could also go to university fairs – these exhibitions take place in a large venue where each uni has a booth with a representative who you can talk to about your university plans.

Read more: what are university fairs and how can you squeeze the most out of them?

While university websites, brochures, open days and fairs are all useful for weighing up where to apply, it is worth bearing in mind that they exist to sell you the university.

There are also other, less official sources of information you can use to get a well-rounded picture of what a particular course or uni will really be like. These include our sister site The Student Room’s forums, student satisfaction scores and speaking to existing students at open days outside the official talks.

So, what are the best ways to use all of this different information?

University websites and brochures are great for getting a good idea of exactly what you can expect from a course. They will show you the modules you’ll take and which modules are optional, how it’s taught (e.g. with lectures or in a more hands-on way), how you’re assessed and how many teaching hours you will have.

Open days will give you a sense of what it’s like to actually go to that university. You’ll be able to explore the campus and surrounding town or city, as well as getting a feel for the student accommodation and extracurriculars such as the students’ union and societies.

You’ll probably be able to go to subject talks or tours of the department you’re interested in, where you’ll be able to ask any questions you might have about the course content or department set-up. You could also take the opportunity to speak to current students and get their views on what the course and university is really like and whether they’d recommend it.

This article shares tips on making the most of a university open day.

Outside of open days, you can take a look at the dedicated university forums on The Student Room to see what current students are actually saying about student life there – and ask any burning questions you might have.

As well as being able to answer questions about the academic side of things, current students will be able to fill you in on other aspects of life at a particular university like how good the nightlife is and what the societies are like.

Student satisfaction scores give an indication of how happy students are with the academic side of things at a particular university. Every year, an independent student satisfaction survey called the National Student Survey takes place.

It asks undergraduate students in their final year to rate how satisfied they are across a number of different academic areas. Each university is then given a mean average percentage score – the higher the score, the greater the student satisfaction.

You can find out more about the National Student Survey on the Office for Students’ website here.  

Finally, on The Uni Guide, you can take a look at university profiles, and see how students rate the university across different non-academic categories such as how sporty it is, how varied the union activities are and how diverse the local nightlife is.

Read more: I want to go to uni but I don’t know what to study

What are the next steps with applying to university?

Once you’ve decided where to go and what to study, you’ll need to write your Ucas application.

For most UK courses for 2024 entry, the deadline to submit your application is 6pm on 31 January 2024, and you’ll be able to submit from 5 September 2023.

If you’re applying to Oxford or Cambridge or for a medicine, veterinary medicine/science or dentistry degree though, you have an earlier submission deadline. For 2024 entry, you’ll need to send your application off by 16 October 2023.

This article covers what you need to know about writing your university application

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