How do UK students choose their university?

Location, nightlife or academic excellence? New research reveals the most important factors that draw students towards their preferred uni

A new survey among more than 2,000 people across the UK has revealed the most important factors for prospective students when choosing which university to attend.

SPCE Labs, the research arm of student lettings app SPCE, commissioned the independent research in March 2018. The respondents – current undergraduate students at UK universities, or people who have graduated in the past decade – were asked to score a range of factors from one to ten, with one being not important at all and 10 being extremely important.

RankFactorMean score
1The course on offer: its curriculum, assessment type and structure8.4
2The reputation of the university7.7
3The university’s perceived ability to boost later career opportunities7.1
4How accessible the university is by major transport links6.7
5The university’s facilities: gym, library, IT and science labs6.3
6The university’s distance from my family home6.1
7Affordability: how cheap or expensive the town/city is6.1
8The student accommodation available: halls and private rentals5.9
9The support services: counselling, enrichment and diversity programs5.8
10Culture of the university or region: arts, food and attractions5.7
11The size of the town or city that the university is located in or near5.6
12The nightlife on offer in the area4.6
13The sports you can play or watch either at the university or in the area3.9
14Having family or friends at the university or previously attended it3.9
15The weather in the region3.6


SPCE Labs’ research demonstrates that students’ choices mainly centre on the academic appeal of a university. The course it offers for a particular subject was the most important factor, with an average score of 8.4 out of ten among the respondents. This was followed by the uni’s overall reputation (7.7) and its ability to boost future career prospects (7.1).

Interestingly, the survey found that nightlife was not deemed important to students – with an average score of 4.6, it ranked 12th on the list. Sports (3.9), having friends or family at the same uni (3.9) and the weather (3.6) were also largely dismissed as insignificant.

With a score of 5.8, the support infrastructure offered by a university was deemed an important consideration in students’ decisions. Moreover, when comparing scores from current students (5.9) with past graduates (4.9), the research illustrates how much more important this factor has become. It comes as a separate study shows that 87% of students find it difficult to cope with the social or academic aspects of university life.

Leon Ifayemi, CEO and co-founder of SPCE, commented on the findings: “Today’s research dispels several myths about student culture in the UK. Young people are not making decisions based on a university’s nightlife, nor whether they have friends going to the same place – clearly the importance of social factors pales in comparison to the academic merits of their decision.

“Of course, a uni’s reputation and the curriculum it offers are key; however, we are also seeing the growing value of support services within educational establishments. Evidently, students are increasingly looking for places to turn to for help while undergoing stresses at uni. And with almost nine in ten students saying they struggle to cope with the social or academic aspects of university life, it’s likely we will see support systems become an even more important consideration for prospective students in the years ahead.”