Making the decision to go to university is life-changing.
It’s important to ask yourself some questions before you decide if it’s the right choice for you. In this article, I’ll cover five essential questions that you need to ask yourself in order to make an informed decision.
So how do you know if going to university is right for you?
Going to university can be right for you if it lets you meet your goals, offers you the right living and working environment and is affordable. If you’re ready to go to university, and you know you’ll have the right support in place, it can be an ideal way to launch a career or develop an interest.
Figuring out if university is the right step for you can feel daunting. You may be feeling pressure from family and friends, or you may be unsure of what to do next in your life.
You might not be sure you want to spend that much time studying a single subject. Maybe you’re worried about being away from home, or you’re questioning if it’s worth the money.
If that sounds like you, don’t worry.
Here are the 5 questions you need to ask yourself before you go to university…
1. Can University Help me Achieve my Goals?
This is probably the most important question you can ask when it comes to deciding whether university is right for you.
If you don’t have a keen interest in a subject or a goal for self-improvement, then going to university probably isn’t for you.
After all, as Leonardo da Vinci said:
Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.
So, what do you want to do with your life?
What are your goals and dreams? Do you need to go to university to achieve these?
There will always be some professions that require the specialised knowledge only a degree can provide. That makes your decision an easy one.
But if it’s not so clear-cut, you need to think very carefully about your future and not fall into the trap of thinking that university is vital to success.
First, you could think about what you want to do after you graduate. Do you want to go into a specific field? If so, is there a certain course that you need to take in order to get there?
You could also think about what you want to do in the short term. Do you want to travel? Work? Start your own business? There are many options available to you, and university can help you move forwards in ways that just entering the workplace can’t.
Finally, you need to think about the long term. What do you want to do with your life? Do you want to make a difference in the world? Do you want to help others?
Make a list of the activities and elements of academic study you enjoy. Imagine spending a day doing what you love. What would that look like? Then use your research skills to see if there are degree courses that will let you pursue that interest and turn it into a potential career.
Websites like whatuni.com and theuniguide.co.uk are great places to start researching subjects and courses.
Try to discover things like the quality of the faculty’s teaching staff and work out how engaged you will be in your learning experience there. Ask questions such as:
- How much is tuition and is financial aid available?
- What is the faculty’s job placement rate post-graduation?
- Can I get credits for work or life experience?
- What is the student-to-teacher ratio?
- What are the top student satisfaction results?
- What kinds of grades do students with a similar academic background to you receive?
Alternatives to a University Education
I’ll go on to consider other important questions, but before I do, it’s worth mentioning that there are routes to gaining knowledge that don’t involve a traditional university course.
One of these might be a much better fit for you.
You could consider an apprenticeship instead of a degree. This can be an ideal way to learn the skills you need to flourish in a job or industry without the financial and academic demands of completing a university course.
By gaining skills and experience on the job, you build your portfolio, make contacts and improve your chances of employability.
Check out apprenticeships.gov.uk for a wide range of information and opportunities.
Equally, you could opt for a diploma or certificate program, often offered by employers or by smaller local colleges.
Diploma and certificate programs can be a great way to get started in your career. They typically last one to two years, and you can often find programs that are specific to your field of interest.
The great thing about these programs is that they’re usually much cheaper than university, and you can often get started right away.
Taking online courses via sites like udemy.com or thinkific.com is a great way to develop your skills at a fraction of the price of a university education, and of course, you can complete these courses in your own time and from the comfort of your own home.
Similarly, organisations like open.ac.uk offer a huge range of online courses, whilst exploring the options at mooc.org will allow you to access training and qualifications far more easily than committing to university.
Courses like these can be a great way to clarify your interests and can help you decide whether a subsequent university course is right for you.
That’s what makes these shorter, more flexible courses so valuable.
2. Do I Want to Live on or Off Campus?
Some universities are ‘campus’ universities and are the equivalent of a small town. The community mostly lives and works in the same locations, and everything is pretty self-contained. They can have a quieter, slightly more friendly feel to them, which suits some students well.
Universities like Canterbury, Keele, York and Warwick are good examples of this.
On-campus living is often more expensive, but it comes with the convenience of being close to your classes and having all of your meals taken care of.
If you choose to live on campus, make sure to pick a dorm that is in a good location (near the library, for example) and has the amenities that are important to you.
Other universities are known as ‘city’ universities and have buildings and accommodations spread out over many miles, sometimes at quite a distance. They’re a bit more broken up and less intimate than campus universities, which might be what you’re looking for.
Check out universities like Cardiff, Newcastle or Sheffield to see what they’ve got to offer.
Off-campus living is often lauded for its independence – you can come and go as you please, cook your own meals, and have more control over your environment.
That being said, it can also be isolating if you don’t make an effort to get out and about.
If you do want to live off campus, make sure that you pick a location that is close to public transportation (or that you have a car) and has plenty of things to do nearby.
Campus Choice Considerations
If you’re not sure how to decide, use these prompts to help you make some notes about the pros and cons of campus or off-campus living.
- How close do I want to be to my classes?
- Do I want a single or a double room?
- What kind of meals do I want?
- What is the social scene like on campus?
- Do I want to be able to go home on the weekends?
- Do I need space away from my peers or do I want to live in a community?
- What kind of choices can I afford?
- How independent am I ready to be?
University is a big investment, both financially and emotionally, so it’s important that you make the decision that is right for you.
Talk to your family and friends, tour the campus, and do your research before making your final choice.
3. Can I Afford to go to University?
This is an important question to consider because University is expensive!
It’s critical that you plan your budget and factor in the expenses you’re likely to incur before you even start the application process. That way, you’ll know if it’s affordable right from the start.
At the time of writing, UK universities can charge up to £9250 a year in tuition fees. That might mean a student loan of up to £27,750 in tuition fees alone. That doesn’t cover accommodation, living expenses, travel and resources.
International students might be faced with a tuition bill of up to £32,081 for a three-year course, so it’s vital that you consider your financial options at the start of the process.
However, as Kate Morgan from Unbiased points out:
Studies by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that working-age graduates earn £10,000 more per year than non-graduates, with this ‘graduate premium’ only increasing as you pursue further education.
That means that even though fees are eye-watering, they’re likely to be a sound investment over time.
Some people are able to get scholarships or financial aid, which can help offset the cost of tuition, but this is not always the case. As a result, it’s important to consider how much money you will have to spend on university every year and whether or not you’re comfortable with that amount.
The amount of debt you’re willing to take on will likely depend on your personal circumstances. However, it’s important to consider the long-term implications of taking on student loan debt before making a decision about whether or not university is right for you.
How to Decide if you can Afford University
If you’re not sure, there are a few things you can do to get an estimate of what your costs might be.
First, research the average cost of tuition at the universities you’re interested in. Look at related expenses too, like clubs, trips, memberships and contributions to research projects.
Second, consider other expenses like accommodation, books, travel and living expenses. How much support will you be able to get from family, and what can you do to reduce the amount you need to spend?
You might need to base your decision on geography rather than course content. A university closer to home would cut down on travel and accommodation expenses. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right choice from an academic perspective!
Finally, think about how you will pay for these costs – will you need to take out loans, work during school, or rely on financial aid? Do you have a sound plan in place that covers repayment?
Once you have a good understanding of the costs associated with attending university, you can start to make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you.
4. Am I Ready for University?
If you’re looking at starting an undergraduate degree, then you’re probably just coming to the end of full-time education.
The chances are that you’ve spent the vast majority of your life in class, and your life has been defined by academic structures and timetables.
For many people, the idea of another three or four years in academia is a challenge. After all, you might be really passionate about studying a subject you love, but you’ve just had enough of ‘school’.
You’re not alone.
According to Foundry10, 20% of students took a gap year in the 2020-2021 academic year. Whilst more recent statistics are likely to show a drop to pre-COVID levels, it’s a good indicator that going straight to university is becoming less common.
In fact, many students who do take a gap year before starting their degree are far more successful, having ‘seen the world’ a little.
If you’re interested in taking a gap year, prospects.ac.uk has some great options for you to explore, as does gooverseas.com.
Try to make sure that aspects of the gap year are of value to your subsequent application. If you can use the opportunity to build transferable skills or develop your subject knowledge, it puts you at a significant advantage when it comes to writing a personal statement.
If you’re just getting started with a personal statement, check out my article on how to begin writing one here.
Leaving Home can be Hard
A lot of people simply feel anxious about the idea of leaving everything and everyone they know behind to start a new chapter in a completely unfamiliar place.
That’s totally normal, and it’s important to consider whether or not you would be able to cope with living away from home for several years. If the thought of it is too overwhelming, university might not be the right choice for you.
That’s not to say that you can’t go to university later in life – the option to read for a degree will always be there.
There are other options available, such as staying at home and commuting to college or taking online classes.
There’s no shame in admitting that university isn’t the right fit for you – everyone is different, and there is no “correct” path to follow. The most important thing is that you make the decision that is best for you and will allow you to succeed in your studies.
Scape have a fantastic article about managing anxiety when moving away from home. It offers lots of practical advice and guidance to manage your worries, so do check it out.
5. What Kind of Support System will I Have at University?
It is important to have a solid support system in place when you’re starting at university.
Your academic experiences, learning needs and personal preferences will all play a part in your success, and you must make sure the university and course you pick will meet your needs.
Consider the academic support system in place. Every school has professors and academic advisors, but some have better systems in place than others.
If you’re struggling in a certain subject, is there someone at the campus who can help you? Are there tutoring programs available? What about office hours?
Research the student support options available, the organisations that are set up on campus, and the online support networks on offer. Research the comments made in online groups and see what kind of rating alums give for the courses they studied.
You could also chat with your current advisors, counsellors and teachers.
Gather their advice about the kinds of academic or emotional support that you’re likely to need, and research the range of options available based on their recommendations.
It’s Alright to Need Emotional Support at University
It’s important to think about your emotional support system, especially if you’re going away to university.
Who will be there for you when you’re homesick or struggling with classes? It’s important to have people in your life who can understand and support you, especially during tough times.
Think about how far away from home your potential school is. If it’s far away, is that something you’re comfortable with? Are you the type of person who would thrive in an environment like that or do you prefer to be close to home?
Again, check out the range of emotional support available, and make sure it’s likely to provide you with the services you might need. Check out the resources available at Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity. They’ve got a wealth of information about where to get support and what effective on-site support actually looks like.
If you’re constantly feeling out of place or like you don’t quite fit in, university may not be the best choice for you. There’s nothing wrong with that – it just means that you might prefer a different learning environment.
Are you Ready to Make a Decision about University?
In conclusion, deciding whether or not to attend university is a big decision that requires careful consideration.
It’s your future and your decision. No one else should make it for you, but that also means you’re responsible for doing the research and getting the answers.
Take your time and try not to get overwhelmed.
It’s important to ask yourself questions about your goals, financial situation, and personal preferences before making a decision. While university can be a great way to gain knowledge and skills, it’s not the right choice for everyone. It’s important to explore all of your options, including apprenticeships, diploma or certificate programs, and online courses, before making a decision.
Remember that there’s no “correct” path to follow, and the most important thing is to make the decision that is best for you and your future.
Good luck – you’ve got this!
Research and content verified by Personal Statement Planet.