Finding the right course

Top things to look for when comparing uni courses

By Andy Gardner (Careers Adviser) - 01 June 2014

Girl with coffee and lapton

So, you’ve decided on the subject you want to study at university. The next job is working out which courses are the right ones for you and narrowing your options down - sometimes from hundreds of possibles! – to five choices to put on your UCAS form. Here are some pointers.

If you’re not sure what you want to study at uni yet, our advice on choosing a subject will help you get started, otherwise keep on reading to find out what to look for when comparing courses.

If you’re keen on a niche course only offered by a handful of universities, your decision could be relatively straightforward - take an orthoptics degree offered at just three universities compared with almost 500 courses on offer for a popular subject like history.

Something else you might want to consider is your chance of getting an offer. Our exclusive stat on the number of applicants receiving offers will give you some idea of how competitive or popular a course is. 

What to look for:

You can compare around 30,000 courses here on Which? University. Here’s a checklist of what you can find out about most courses – and why that piece of info may be important to your decision.

1. Entry requirements

Match the course entry requirements to your predicted grades to ensure you’re making realistic choices, based on what you’re likely to achieve - plus a back-up option in case you don’t quite get the grades you’re predicted.

Why it’s useful: according to UCAS, 42% of applicants hold an insurance choice with conditions which are harder or equal to the conditions for their first choice. This means that if you miss your grades, you won’t have an offer to fall back on.

2. Type of university

Universities are clustered into groups – including the Russell Group and University Alliance – which tell you something about the overarching ambitions of the university, but there are also much more obvious cultural differences between institutions that may sway your decision.

Some universities may have a particularly active political scene or reputation for sport, for instance, while others may have a really strong student union offering lots of societies and nightlife options. When you’re looking at universities on Which? University, you’ll see that we’ve tagged them with specific characteristics, based on the location and what current students told us in our student survey.

Why it’s useful: you could be spending three or four years at this university. It’s about finding the best fit for you, based on your interests and values.

3. Location

Universities and colleges offering degrees differ hugely – from self-contained campuses where you can study, rest and play to urban settings where you’re slap bang in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city and have to travel in to lectures.

You should also think about your location right now. Do you plan to live at home and commute or have you set your search radius 50, 100 or 200+ miles away? What will the travelling be like (and the cost?)?

Why it’s useful: if you’re looking for buzzing nightlife and end up on a sleepy self-contained campus (or vice versa), you may not get the experience you’re looking for. Go to an open day to get a feel for where you could be located.

4. Student satisfaction scores

All final-year students are asked to rate their course and university experience in the National Student Survey. The findings are often quoted as an overall satisfaction score but you can also find specific ratings such as teaching, feedback from staff and learning resources.

Why it’s useful: it can give you a glimpse into what students on the ground think about the course. Look for student scores on Which? University course pages – we’ve analysed the levels of overall student satisfaction against other universities offering the same subject to be able to say whether the figure is high, typical or low.

5. How you’ll spend your time

Will you have a very structured timetable with lectures, seminars or practical work – or will you be expected to work independently in the library? What about placement year opportunities?

Teaching hours will vary depending on the subject you’re applying for. For example there will probably be fewer timetabled hours on a history course than an engineering one, but you’ll be expected to study ‘self-guided’ the rest of the time.

Why it’s useful: comparing teaching hours between similar courses at different universities should help you to find the best fit for you - you can do this using our contact hours comparison tool

6. Course content

Don’t skim read this! Look through the course information offered by the university and ask yourself if you can happily spend the next few years of your life committed to this course. Similar-sounding courses can actually end up covering very different areas, so it’s good point of comparison.

There will be core subjects that you have to do and optional subjects that you have a choice over – how flexible are these? Can you find lots of modules that sound appealing?

Why it’s useful: If you don’t like the course content, you will not like the course.  If you do not like the course content you face a very high chance of dropping out – do your research!

7. How you’ll be assessed

Your degree could be assessed in lots of different ways – coursework, exams, practicals, presentations and group work. When comparing courses, take a look in detail at this to try and find the course that best plays to your academic strengths.

Why it’s useful: if your courses up until now have had a specific leaning towards one method of assessment – BTEC Nationals often have a high coursework element to them, for instance - you may face a steep learning curve if you choose a course that heavily leans another way.

8. Graduate prospects

Find out what students are up to after they graduate from studying a subject at a particular university - including the percentage who are now in work or further study, the types of professions they’re working in and how much they’re earning.

On Which? University course pages we’ve analysed these figures so you can see at a glance whether salaries and employment rates are high, typical or low compared to graduates of the same subject from other universities.

Why it’s useful: the numbers are only measured six months after graduation, so see them as a short-term snapshot. However if you do notice a big difference in these figures when comparing similar courses at different universities, it could be worth asking the university why this might be.

9. Fees

These can vary course by course between and within unis and colleges so make sure you’re aware of it – but don’t choose a course just because it’s got a cheaper price-tag.

Why it’s useful: take control of your finances from the start. How much will you need in student loans, and what will your repayments look like? Could you get a bursary, scholarship or grant to help with living costs?

10. Professional accreditation

For certain subjects, such as acting or psychology, choosing a course that’s been accredited by a relevant body will ensure you’re ‘work-ready’ or able to progress straight into the appropriate postgraduate course – giving you a headstart when it comes to getting into a specific profession.

Why it’s useful: you don’t want to end up on a course which could make it more difficult to achieve your career goals.

11. Competition

When you’re looking at courses on Which? University you’ll be able to see how many applicants received an offer for the course last year. A lower number can indicate that it’s a competitive course to get on to (though there may be other factors at play affecting this). Your application will be judged on its individual merit, of course – so even a high percentage of offers per applicant doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get one, and vice versa.

Why it’s useful: it’s a useful measure to look at for each of your five UCAS course choices – if all of your courses have a significantly low number of applicants receiving offers, you may want to balance out your options with at least one course choice offering higher chances.
 

Next:


© Which? 2014. All rights reserved