Crafting Your Journey: How to Choose a University for Success

Graduates throwing caps in air

Going to university is a big step: you may live somewhere you’ve potentially never been before, stay for three or four years – and even after your time there is over, wherever you choose will likely have a huge influence on what happens next. On top of that, there are over 20,000 universities worldwide. Even if you know you want to study in the UK, there are still over 150 universities to choose from. To say that figuring out how to choose a university is overwhelming is an understatement!

Your years at university can be some of the best of your life – but beyond browsing the carefully curated photos and comparing endless lists of stats, it is hard to know how to pick a university.

As with so many situations in life, the best way of taking the stress out of things is to break it down into small steps. In this blog post, we’ve done the hard work for you, outlining all the things to consider when choosing a university. Read on for our thorough guide on how to choose a university that will be right for you.

Defining your priorities

The first thing to consider when asking how to choose a university is that everyone is different, so what’s going to be most important to each person applying to university will be different. As a starting point, we suggest taking some time to figure out which things are most important to you about your time spent studying.

Instead of starting your search by looking at lists of universities, begin with some self-assessment: what are you looking for in a university? Some questions you might want to ask yourself to help with this include: What am I most interested in academically? What are my strongest subjects? What are my career goals?

These questions will help you shortlist what you should be looking for academically from a university. The other questions to ask yourself relate to the wider university experience – as your university will be somewhere you live as well as study. In particular, it is worth thinking hard about location.

How close to home do you want to be? Do you want to live in a big city or somewhere closer to the countryside? Do you want to go somewhere where other friends or family are going to study? What kind of cultural opportunities are you looking for? Is the climate important to you?

Once you have a clear idea of what is most important to you, you’ll know what things to consider when choosing a university shortlisting.

Academic programs and reputation

You are going to university to study, so the first thing to consider when choosing a university is the range of programmes available. In particular, make sure that your chosen subject is offered by the university. If there is a specific area you want to learn about, make sure that’s covered on the programme you’re looking at, too – you can usually find information on course content on university websites.

Second, take a look at university rankings to see what prestige will be attached to your degree. Why second? Because what you study on your programme is more important than a university’s ranking. If you really want to specialise in marine biology, a less-well-ranked university that offers a module in that area may be a better choice for you than a better-ranked university with no option to study marine life. Similarly, if you want to specialise in environmental law, then opt for universities whose research staff have expertise in that area.

Finally, you’ll also want to consider whether a university’s values align with yours.

Financial considerations

Another consideration that is important to how to choose a university is finance. Whatever your budget, it is important to make sure you’re aware of what costs are going to be associated with your choice of university.

First, you should research the direct costs linked to your studies – like tuition fees and any field trips, residencies, or essential textbooks. It’s also worth researching what the university offers in terms of scholarships, grants, and financial aid, as well as any paid opportunities – like internships or part-time work on campus – that will offer further opportunities to earn while you study.

Second, you’ll want to consider the cost of living in the university’s location. As a starting point, we recommend taking a look at student housing costs, which are likely to make up a large proportion of your outgoings. But you should also do some research into the affordability of living in your university town or campus, as costs of food, rent (if you live off-campus at any point during your degree), and social activities can vary hugely between locations.

Campus life

As well as the overall location of your university, another important consideration is your university campus. It’s always worth checking whether a university fosters a diverse and inclusive environment for its students. Beyond that, look at what the university offers in terms of day-to-day life.

You won’t spend your entire time at university in lectures – so what will your life look like outside of the lecture hall? Think back to the question you asked yourself earlier: what are you looking for in a university?

Do some research into the city or town the university is based in, and assess whether it will meet your expectations about cultural activities, leisure opportunities, places to eat, access to greenspace, and whatever else is important to you. These are all important things to consider when choosing a university.

Extracurricular activities and student support

The next important step in how to choose a university is to research extracurricular activities and student support. Whatever you’re studying and wherever you’re based, you’ll want a supportive, friendly community around you.

Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to make new friends at university. Take a look at the student clubs and societies available and check that they match your interests. Whether you’re looking for amateur sports clubs, board games groups, or film nights, you want to know that there are spaces where you’ll meet like-minded people.

This might not be the first thing you think of when considering how to pick a university, but it’s also worth looking at what support is available for students. Having a supportive structure around you can make all the difference if you’re unexpectedly having a tough time, so take a look at what counselling services, academic support, and health facilities will be available on campus.

Career services

An important part of going to university is its role in preparing you for life after your studies. Knowing what support and opportunities will be available to help you achieve your career goals is hugely important to how to choose a university, so take the time to explore the resources available to help students with job placements and other career-oriented opportunities.

As well as researching what kinds of careers former students on your chosen course of study have gone into, also take a look at what other services are offered by the university – for example, is there a careers team who can help you with job applications and interview skills, or help you identify employment opportunities? Internships or placement opportunities? Are there networking events for graduates?

Asking these questions now will give you the best chance of success when you’ve completed your degree.

Why study at Royal Holloway, University of London?

If you’ve read through this guidance and think that what you’re looking for is a world-class campus university with easy access to the city of London, Royal Holloway, University of London, has lots to offer. The university is just 40 minutes from Central London – and all the career, networking and internship opportunities a capital city has to offer – while simultaneously offering students a quiet, safe study space on a beautiful 135-acre campus.

Royal Hollway is also in the top 25% of UK universities for research rated “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” (Research Excellence Framework 2021, the latest ranking), and it’s ranked 36th in the UK for international outlook (Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023). Combining innovative education with a rich cultural history, the university has a long history of “firsts”, including being one of the first women’s colleges in the UK in 1886.

Studying with Royal Holloway, University of London allows you the opportunity to become a multi-talented professional, earning a degree from a prestigious university known around the world.


What are the top three reasons for choosing a university?

It can be difficult to know how to choose a university, but the top three things to consider when choosing a university are the reputation of its academic programmes, its location and campus environment, and the costs that will be associated with studying. Before you begin shortlisting universities, it’s also worth asking yourself: what are you looking for in a university?

Is it easier for international students to get into UK universities?

UK universities often have welcoming policies and streamlined processes for international students, making it relatively easier for them to gain admission. However, acceptance to a university is determined by various factors including course choice, qualifications, and English language proficiency.

Which part of the UK is best for international students?

Many international students find that London is their top choice for studying in the UK. Which part of the UK is best for you depends on how you answer the question “what are you looking for in a university?”, but London offers a rich history and cultural opportunities, the buzz of living in a capital city, and some of the most sought-after job opportunities.