University Tips Blog
Image of a student exploring universities and looking at league tables
A headshot image of the author, Chris Hakes

by Chris Hakes

Higher Education Adviser at the University of East Anglia

posted on 8 Jan '24

What are university league tables?

Common questions parents ask me when it comes to university league tables are ‘which ones should I look at’ and ‘how important are they for informing decision-making?’ All parents want their young person to go to a university that will give them the best outcomes and where they will be the happiest. League tables are one of many tools that can be used as part of the research process.

With this in mind, it’s important to understand which league tables are available, what data is used and most importantly, how they align with what the young person is looking for in a university or course. A university might rank highly, but that doesn’t make it the right university for them.

League tables and how they are calculated

When it comes to national league tables, there are three main ones to be aware of: The Complete University Guide, The Times Good University Guide and The Guardian University Guide. Each league table does the same thing in terms of ranking universities, however, each vary in terms of the criteria and weighting used to calculate them. For example, while all three will consider factors such as student satisfaction, graduate prospects and entry grades, the difference in weighting often means the tables look different when put side-by-side.

Understanding criteria and weighting is the first step towards knowing which league table might be most useful to your young person, or whether they need to crosscheck across several to get a better picture of a university’s overall performance.

Overall ranking is useful, but there are league tables available that rank universities in terms of their subject areas too. This is important for students who want to attend a university that specialises in their chosen subject and can be especially useful if they want to study a technical subject or have a career path in mind. For example, if a student wanted to study physiotherapy, subject rankings can help determine which university has the best teaching quality, facilities and graduate outcomes. A university might sit lower on an overall league table, but it could be one of the best in the country for a particular subject.

Points to consider

League tables don’t tell the whole story and will only show a university’s past performance. Most league tables also don’t rank things that are likely to be just as important to a student, such as resources available, module variety or assessment methods. Nor will they consider other aspects such as student life, support or what the location has to offer.

Rather than focusing solely on league tables, encourage your young person to speak to current students, attend open days and book onto a subject taster session. A useful activity would be to determine what their priorities are for the course and their university experience, and then use a variety of ways to research these to help them make a decision that is right for them.

"University is a big commitment in terms of time, energy and finance, so making sure your young person chooses somewhere they feel comfortable and happy is key."

Get email alerts when new blogs are posted

This free newsletter will include information on university events added to UniTasterDays, as well as details about new webinars and blog releases for you and your students.

Recommended blogs

Cookie Policy    X