Which university should I apply to?

There are many different variables to consider when selecting your university, such as location, subjects offered and style of teaching. In order to find the right one for you, your research must be as extensive as possible, ensuring that all of these variables have been taken into consideration before sending off any applications.

The first consideration should be the academic reputation of the institution. If you have achieved very good or excellent grades at school/college, then it is worth looking at the most reputable universities with regards to their standing in university league tables and their graduate employment rate. These elite universities provide a strong foundation for later life and often deliver the greatest depth of study for your chosen course, and are often renown for their research excellence.

Elite universities are often categorised country by country. For example, in Britain, there is the Russell Group, which comprises 24 universities that “are committed to the highest levels of academic excellence in both teaching and research”. In America, there are 8 Ivy League universities, which are considered the most academically rigorous and well respected. Within these elite groups, certain universities stand out yet further, with Oxford University and Cambridge University within the Russell Group and Harvard University within the Ivy League. It’s also worthwhile considering the various league tables published on an annual basis – but do be careful to consider these carefully; often the league tables will be weighted towards a particular criteria, and whether that be criteria such as ‘student satisfaction’ or ‘research excellence’ or ‘location’, you should ensure that you consider the criteria that are most relevant to your own wants and needs.

The second consideration should be location. Your search should not be limited to your country or even to your continent. International applications can be extremely worthwhile and give you the opportunity to explore another culture and style of education. International students’ fees can be significantly higher at certain universities but there are numerous grants and scholarships available if necessary.

The third consideration should be the subjects offered at each university. The academic status of the university you select is, of course, extremely important in making your decision. However, a balance must be found between academic rigour and the suitability of the courses offered. The subjects available at elite universities often exclude a wide range of subjects that may be a better fit for your skillset. A balance must be struck though between a course that is well respected and one that suits your passions.

The final consideration should be the teaching style offered at different universities. The tutor-student ratio should give you a fair idea of the sort of teaching style you are likely to encounter but there are plenty of other online resources that will tell you whether the learning experience is based on lectures, tutorials, practical experience etc. Often at the very best universities, there is a tutorial system, offering one-on-one tuition and encouraging debate and independent thought, and stimulating academic enquiry into the discipline. Yet other universities offer more practical ‘hands on’ experience – it’s all about finding the right university and course that suits you. 

If you’re thinking about what it might be like to study in England, take a look at our Cambridge Immerse summer programme. We offer courses in subjects that are not typically offered at secondary or high school, including our Engineering Summer Programme, which provides a perfect taster of what it might be like to study Engineering at university.

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