How UK Students choose a University

Location, nightlife or academic excellence? Research on how to choose a university & most important factors that draw students to choose where to study.

Knowing how to choose a university course is tough, and students often need advice at this time. Parents lend a helping ear, but your university can too by providing free online resource and videos advising prospective students how they can best choose a university course that suits them.

With over 30,000 university courses in the UK, narrowing down course topics and university facilities is a big quest that can take a long time. When advising your undergraduates on course choice it is recommended that they consider the following:


Ranking Factors – How Students Choose a University

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.

Rank Factor Mean score
1 The course on offer: its curriculum, assessment type and structure 8.4
2 The reputation of the university 7.7
3 The university’s perceived ability to boost later career opportunities 7.1
4 How accessible the university is by major transport links 6.7
5 The university’s facilities: gym, library, IT and science labs 6.3
6 The university’s distance from my family home 6.1
7 Affordability: how cheap or expensive the town/city is 6.1
8 The student accommodation available: halls and private rentals 5.9
9 The support services: counselling, enrichment and diversity programs 5.8
10 Culture of the university or region: arts, food and attractions 5.7
11 The size of the town or city that the university is located in or near 5.6
12 The nightlife on offer in the area 4.6
13 The sports you can play or watch either at the university or in the area 3.9
14 Having family or friends at the university or previously attended it 3.9
15 The weather in the region 3.6


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.”

Do university rankings matter

Do university rankings matter?

When you ask yourself ‘do university rankings matter‘, reflect on how your university ranks can impact the quality of the student you can attract for the following reasons:

Status Symbol
Their is a status symbol attached to saying that you studied at a particular institution similar to owning designer clothing. Particularly when reflecting back on your university study, there are some universities that are like big brand names…Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews. As soon as you hear someone went their your opinion of them cannot help but shift into thinking they are a success.

This status symbol is an import part of your culture ad as a educational institution. You must ask yourself what you want to be famous for and take proactive steps into communicating this to to the outside world of employers and industries.

Hierarchy of quality
A hierarchy of quality exists in the education system, and like any business, the more your university business earns, the more profit can be used to improve the institution further and attract not only the highest calibre of student but also the highest calibre of lecturer and teacher.

More can be invested into technology and strategy behind the learning, such as the sue of blended learning versus basic note taking.

University versus other forms of study
Due to the increasing costs associated with studying at university and the every growing ability to study online at a far cheaper cost, university remains a pedigree on the landscape of study. Those that ‘went to uni’ are considered well educated and often those that studied online are considered as ‘not fully qualified’, despite the course being fully certified.

This perception proves as an advantage for uni’s looking to recruit students to their campuses.

Reasons to go to university

Reasons to go to university

Besides the obvious, there are many reasons why a student may choose to go to university and understanding these can help you plan your marketing strategy and choose which facilities to develop within your institution.


  1. Doing something you love
    The satisfaction of doing what you love sets a student up for long lasting happiness and interest in their every day life. Happiness is an invaluable part of success and impacts on student overall well being.
  2. Students make lifelong friends
    University is one of the first touch points for young people where they begin to find themselves around peers with similar interests and goals. The social aspect of university is as important as the study and as students settle and learn to live on their own, this shared experience creates strong bonds among each other.Juggling study with part time work and discovering yourself happens in sync with other students, and as students develop their passion for different lifestyles, they meet other students also going through the same transition.Whether fashion, music, sports or other hobbies of interest, every student will experience this discovery around other peers.
  3. Improving life skills
    There are many essential skills that will help you through life, such as the ability to communicate effectively. As a university leader it is your job to ensure that staff are properly trained and equipped to aid in the development of students mentally and physically as they learn these skills.University courses should include developing these skills at even an unaware level to the student.Two of the most common skills developed at university are confidence and critical thinking. These skills have a major impact on a students well being and ability to transition into adult life. They are also traits of success businessmen/woman and entrepreneurs. They are needed in interviews and when negotiating. Without them, a student is at a disadvantage which is why many universities also offer extra curricular courses to students to recognise and develop these skills.
  4. Gaining independence
    For many of your students, going to university is the first time that they have lived away from home, cooked for themselves and managed their own finances.This is a big transition and university life offers a secure and safe place for a student to take a step towards Independence. It also proves to be one of the many reasons that students choose to go to university.
  5. Opportunity
    Having the right recognised qualification can open doors, and it is up to the university in question to ensure that their course is recognised in the job sectors relating to their study on offer.Many graduate programmes at large companies select potential recruits from a closed group of universities because they recognise the quality of the study and selection process that each student has experienced and it sets a level in their mind of the quality of recruit they may find.Therefore universities need to have strong relationships with brands and organisations that take on students post graduation.

Bite size psych have produced a great video all about why a student might choose to go to university, which can be watched here:


How to choose a university course

How to choose a university course

It’s important for all institutions to understand how students choose a university. This enables them to alter their student offering and educational service inline with their customers (the students). Use our top 5 tips to help advise students select a university course that is right for them!

1. Choosing a university course subject

Knowing how to choose a university course subject is paramount to their success since they need to have an interest in the subject or feel like it is a topic that they can pick up and grasp easily

2. Choosing a university course qualification

Finding the qualification that you want to pursue can be confusing as many students do not know what they mean and what each type of qualification can do to help their career. Below is a list of the study options on offer to help when you decide how to choose a university course:

  • Bachelor Degree Courses
  • Diploma in Foundation Studies (art & design)
  • Foundation Year Courses
  • Foundation Degree Courses
  • Access Course
  • Integrated Masters
  • Placement year
  • Year abroad
  • HND, HNC and incremental route university courses
  • Degree or graduate level apprenticeships

3. Choosing how to study your university course

How to study plays a big part in the debt that you accumulate and your options for working in a part time job whilst studying, so often choosing how you study your university course will relate directly to your finances once you finish study. You can choose from:

  • Full time degree
  • Accelerated degrees
  • Part-time study
  • Distance learning
  • Blended learning
  • Degree apprenticeships
  • Work based learning

4. Choosing a university course by location

Choosing where to study is just as important as choosing the course. For example some students want to stay near to family or have responsibilities outside of work that they need to be around for, and for that reason many students are opting now to study in UK higher education colleges instead of the mainstream universities.

Students are advised by UCAS to attend an open day when choosing a uni course to see if they get a good feel about the institution, like the teachers and campus, and think that the facilities on offer are what they are looking for.

It is always worth reminding potential students of all entry requirements and deadlines for making applications as many students miss out each year on their chosen university due to this.

5. Choosing a university course by career opportunities

Another great help to students is creating handouts for different careers to help students assess whether or not they think they will enjoy the course topics involved.  UCAS offer students great subject guides to support their decision making on how to choose a university course.

As a rule of thumb many universities are now opting to advise students to choose their top 5 university courses by ranking each course on the above factors to see which appeal the most.

Jack Edwards and Unjaded Jade (2 student lifestyle vloggers) teamed up to discuss how students choose a university. It makes for a great perspective on what matters to your students and how you can improve your campus.

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