University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Liz Murphy

by Liz Murphy

Higher Education Admissions and Student Recruitment Consultant.

posted on 7 Jan '22

The questions your students should really ask a university or college before they accept their place

Advice you may wish to share with your students making university decisions.

You know it’s a big deal going to university. Make the right choice and it’s a wonderful investment in yourself.

It will last a lifetime in terms of additional self-confidence, an exciting career path, and you’ll probably make some awesome friends too. Get it wrong, and well, lets just say, you perhaps may wish you spent more time thinking about it!

But how do you assess an institution? What should you ask, and where should you direct your questions?

Ideally, I suggest you go and visit the place. Speak in person to people, but the pandemic might make that difficult. If the journey is too far and expensive, you’re likely to feel the same way if you become a student of that uni, so that’s a critical piece of information in itself.

The important thing is to do your homework. No excuses!

Whether you manage to get inside the building or do this via a video call, ask your questions to a member of the academic teaching staff. That’s someone who would be teaching you, if you take the course of interest.

It really is important that you
A – get replies from the right person and
B – the answers are precise, not vague.

An answer such as usually around 75% but it depends on the cohort as the figures change each year would be the sort of thing. A this is a great Uni so you’d be fine is too general and an opinion rather than fact. Most of my suggested questions are measurable, and the person you ask should give mainly numerical answers.

If you cannot speak to a member of academic teaching staff or they don’t give you a straight answer, leave your email address and ask for someone appropriate to get back to you.

An image of a student thinking about their next steps

I think the tough but critical 10 questions are:

1. What were the lowest grades you actually accepted for this course last year, rather than the published grades? Sometimes they are different and it’s helpful to find this out.

2. What percentage of students pass the first year? And what percentage pass the whole course?

3. What do students who pass this course go on to do?

4. How is the course assessed?

5. How many hours would I be studying with a member of teaching staff e.g. lectures, tutorials, practicals etc. - usually called contact hours.

6. What style of teaching is given on this course? Perhaps it’s hands-on, activity led learning or inquiry-based using your own research, often studying on your own. Consider what works best in this subject and what you enjoy most.

7. Would I have a personal tutor, and how often am I allowed to meet them?

8. What makes this course in XYZ different to similar courses at other institutions?

9. What is the student satisfaction score for this course?

10. What else is available to students to support their learning, i.e. field trips, a success coach, internship grants etc.

Please don’t be shy. The answers you receive will help you make an informed choice. So look them in the eyes and get the vital information you need.

Here are a couple of case studies.

I know of one course where only 50% of students pass the first year. That’s sad for all those who fail and could be due to poor teaching. Personally, I wouldn’t take a chance on the course with such a high failure rate.

I also know courses with published grade requirements of AAB or equivalent at A level, but they have sometimes taken enthusiastic students with CCD if the number of applications and acceptances are low. If you don’t initially accept a place at a given institution but find yourself in Clearing, it might be worth reconsidering.

Some arts-based subjects have tiny contact hours. Less than one day a week in year three. If you feel like you need guidance while studying, this might not be the right course, but if you are more self directed, that may suit you just fine.

Finally, why listen to me?

I’ve spent almost two decades in higher education as a Director of Student Recruitment and Marketing as well as part of the senior university leadership team. I see the student world from the inside looking out. I help academic colleagues answer these difficult questions with integrity. I’m now a freelance higher education consultant and often help young people assess their choices as well.

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