5 things you must consider when choosing a university

So… you’ve more or less decided WHAT you want to study but aren’t sure WHERE to study. Unless you’ve chosen something REALLY obscure, chances are there will be a few unis offering similar degrees. Choosing a university is about weighing up the pros and cons. Here are some important things to to consider when your deciding where to study.


Subject diversity

Many students make decision based on the title of the course and the prestige of the university. It’s an easy mistake to make. Universities don’t always make it easy to figure out more details. University courses are complex products. In fact, it’s perhaps easier to think of them as many products that are bundled together. I say this because all degrees are made up of subjects.

Two degrees that have similar names might be made up of quite different subjects. It’s important to drill down and find out more about what these subjects are and what you will learn.

In some university faculties, the number of subjects available has been drastically reduced. For example, in 2014 La Trobe University in Victoria restructured its faculties. The restructure meant the School of Economics was effectively abolished. This resulted in many subjects disappearing due to the abolition of the School of Economics. As a result, the subjects available to people studying commerce and business degrees was significantly reduced. Similar restructures have happened at other universities.


Contact hours & class sizes

It’s important to find out how many contact hours you will have with your tutors. Tutorials, in case you didn’t know, are small classes (15-25 people) in which you discuss the topics you are being taught. This is classroom-based learning – the place where you can ask questions about assignments and engage in exercises that will help important con things really stick in your head. However, if class sizes are large and/or the time you get in each tutorial is too short, your learning could be affected.

I was once a sessional journalism teacher who taught tutorial classes. At the start of the semester, I was told that I was not begin paid to provide lengthy answers to questions students posed via email. I was also told that most, if not all, of my interaction with students should be within the otutorial I taught per week. In other words, if a student didn’t get what they need form me during class hours, bad luck. This is why class sizes are important – if the classes are big, you may struggle to get the support you need from your teachers.

The best thing to do is to ask what the university’s policy on class sizes is. Also ask about the length of classes and how much access you will get to you tutors and lecturers out of class hours.


Practical experience

Employers want “work-ready graduates”. This means graduates who have practical skills. Now… all university courses have theoretical components. This means reading, analysing and thinking critically about your chosen discipline. Theory is VERY important – it’s what distinguishes university courses from other types of education and training. But your course should provide ways you can apply your knowledge and learn practical skills.

Here are some things to look out for when choosing a university course:

  • Practical classes where you will apply your knowledge and critical thinking skills to real tasks
  • Teachers with industry connections (or teachers who still work in the industry) – they will have their finger on the pulse and know the most up to date practices in your chosen profession
  • Internship opportunities – does your chosen uni support and encourage you to go out and get work experience while you’re still studying?

This is the sort of stuff that gives people an edge in the job market. How will your university help and support you to be a work-ready graduate? Ask them. Then compare it with other universities you are thinking of attending.


Personal happiness

The happier you are, the better your marks will be. Besides, life’s too short to spend 3-5 years of your life unhappy. Considering your personal happiness is something students constantly overlook when choosing a university, but it’s very important.

You should look forward to going to uni. If you like the environment, you’ll feel at home there. Does it have nice study spaces? Are there good places for you and your new friends to hang out? Are there social events and activities you can get involved in to help you get into he swing of things? Would choosing a university that’s interstate give you a clean break and a fresh start? Give it some thought.


Teaching quality

Universities love lectures because they’re a cheap way to teach people: put 300 students in a big room and pay someone to talk at them. It’s not the most sophisticated or effective way to teach people.

Ask what the university is doing to effectively teach and engage its students.  Are they stuck in th middle ages? Or do they have cutting edge learning and engagement systems? www.QILT.edu.au publishes the results of student surveys on things like teaching quality and student engagement. Check it out.

Some universities are employing innovative ‘problem-based’ and ‘project-based’ learning. For example, students are given a problem on day one that have to solve during the course of the semester, using the things they will learn along the way. This method of teaching won’t work for all disciplines. The point  is that some unis are more determined to engage their students than others. Suss it out.

All unis have online learning platforms that you will be expected to use, but some are better than others. Is there a way you can test drive it?

Want to find out more about university teaching quality? Read this post.


What more advice on choosing a university?