Preparing for University: The First Steps

Getting ready to go to university is a daunting task: the questions, responsibilities and to-do lists are never-ending, and it’s unexplored territory for many people. Chartering your way through lists of courses, league tables and requirements can make the whole experience seem like too much for one person to do, especially when you’re already under the stresses of A-level exam preparation and coursework.

We know how hard it is to get your brain functioning on something as important as picking the right course and establishment when you’re snowed under with essays, assignments and revision, so we’ve put together our top tips for all prospective graduates, when you first start the university search.

The Course

Picking the right course is the most important thing at this stage – no matter how great the university is, if you hate your degree, the results won’t be pretty. If you’re struggling on how to decide what subject to read, check out our blog post on this subject – see here.

If you’re one of the lucky people who knows exactly what subject you want to study at university – slow down. Nearly all universities have different ideas about what constitutes a course, so choosing to study Psychology at one university may have a very different focus from the same course title at another. Be careful to thoroughly read the syllabus and module choices all the way through the degree duration: they may be subject to change, but you’ll get a good idea of what’s on offer and what the most lecturers specialise in.

While you’re looking at courses, remember to keep in mind what your favourite parts of the subject are: if you love English Literature but hate Dickens, a course that has 50% of its modules on the novelist won’t be the one for you! Many departments have interviews with students on their websites, so listen to these, and understand the reasoning behind their decision-making.

Think about where your strengths like academically – do you do better in coursework and essays, or during exams? Look at courses that weight their assignments more favourably towards your strengths, or you might find yourself beginning to struggle adapting to a new course, a new university and a new way of being tested.

The Place

There’s no point beginning to judge a university by its prospectus and website. The only way you’ll ever get a feel of the atmosphere and the environment is by going to visit and taking part in an open day. These are crucial to making the right decision, and not just picking the establishment that has the best media department! Open days allow you to wander around the campus, like you’ll be doing in a year or two’s time, and make the decision from your heart: you’ll know instantly whether it’s the place for you or not, just by being there.

However, it’s almost impossible to visit every university in the country, so start making a list of essential features you want your university to have. Do you want an enclosed or city campus? In a busy, buzzing city, or somewhere quieter? Does it have to be topping the university sports’ leagues, or would you prefer a vibrant arts culture? Once you’ve taken on board what courses are offered, and how these sit with you, you can start delving deeper into the more specialist requirements you want it to have.

When you go on open days, go to as many talks as you can, especially subject related ones. Many universities put on mock lectures for prospective undergraduates to attend – and these are vital. This is where you’ll have your first taste of university academia, as well as meeting lecturers for the first time. Ask as many questions to current students as you can. They’re helping on open days because they love their university, and want other people to love it too, so they’ll be candid with you – there’s no tiptoeing around at university!


It’s a tough decision to make, and only you can decide what’s the right path to take. Don’t let other people – especially your friends – sway you on this: it’s going to determine the shape your academic and social life takes over the next three or four years, so never be afraid to ask questions, visit as many places as you like, and be ruthlessly honest with yourself.

Written by JC (Guest Blogger)

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