It's about that time of the year that teachers all over the country are giving talks on the importance of university and parents are helping 6th formers navigate UCAS. It is insane that we ask our 18 year olds to make decisions on their education that will undoubtedly affect the rest of their lives, but alas we do and we force them to do it by making 5 crucial choices about what they'd like to study and where.
When I was applying for universities (5 years ago wtf) I luckily had narrowed my subject area down to one choice but I had zero idea on where I wanted to study. I hadn't even heard of most of the universities so in the end I picked Bristol because it was near home, Falmouth because if you're studying art you may as well try and get into the best, Wrexham because it did a specialised MA I was interested in and Plymouth and Southampton because I sorta liked the south coast. I did very little research into any of them, I didn't even look at London, Manchester, Liverpool or any other big design cities and I just sorta floated my way through the process.
In the end, through no actual choice of my own, just a series of events that led me there, I took myself off to Glyndwr University in Wrexham to study Illustration, Children's Publishing and Graphic Novels with the North Wales School of Art & Design and I loved it. For me, a smaller, 5 year old university that nobody has really heard of was the best choice I could have made.
If you're thinking of looking into one of the smaller universities in the country, here are the pros and cons of what I experienced.
- Smaller universities means smaller numbers of students which means smaller class sizes. I was in a class of 7 for the majority of my time at uni and it meant we had a lot more contact time with tutors and a lot more guidance that a lot of students will find.
- There's a good sense of community in a smaller university, you genuinely feel more like a person than just another fresher. Not only will your tutors know your name, your faculty might know your name, other members of staff might know you and it's a bit more like school than a scary new place.
- Often, smaller universities are in smaller towns rather than big cities. I found being in a university town was just like being in a town at home. The high street had everything I wanted, it felt a bit safer and it was easy to navigate. Sometimes, a big city can be a bit intimidating for a country girl.
- Similarly, when smaller universities pop up in towns, the majority of the students are local and a lot don't move out of home. If you find one of these, befriend them. It means you can make friends with their folks and have some proper cooked meals, they know the best bits of the area, you'll always have somewhere to stay when you graduate and they'll make you feel a bit more like home.
- Smaller universities in smaller towns with less students is just a bit less overwhelming. Sometimes, your comprehensive school might not be all that smaller than the uni itself and that transition into a new independent life might be that little less demanding.
- It's not always got the university life you might be anticipating. Everyone knows the stories about freshers and what goes on but a smaller university doesn't always have the type of stories as everywhere else. If you don't want the freshers, the nights out, the crazy stories then a smaller university is definitely a good choice, but if you do want the proper student lifestyle a smaller younger university might not have found their game just yet.
- You are limited to the people you will cross paths with. You are likely to meet or know of or have heard of pretty much everyone. In a bigger university you will have a group of people you know and 32472374938539 you don't know. In a smaller campus you know someone who knows someone who lives with someone who is in the same class as someone else and word does spread like wildfire. And if you end up falling out with your chums, you'll have to search long and hard for some new ones.
- Student accommodation isn't always that rife. My university had two sets of student halls on campus and one or two more a bus ride away but nearly all of the rooms were taken up with freshers and overseas students. You were basically forced out of halls whether you wanted to stay or not when it came to second year and there wasn't a ridiculous amount of student houses either which ended up in me signing deeds for my house in the December of 1st year, jumping right in to who I was going to live with for the next two years (luckily it worked out).
- You will need to travel into the outside world. Normally a high street will have everything you want day to day but generally to do something new, something exciting, something different, you have to hop on some public transport or take a road trip or take 738021740237509 different routes to go find an adventure. Often in a city it just takes walking down a different road to find something new.
- If people don't know the university and don't know the location, generally there's a perception that the degree is somehow worth a little bit less. You will spend a lot of time talking about the uni to "where's that?" only to tell them where in the world to be met with another blank face. It does feel a little bit bleurgh to have to try and prove some self worth when people assume the university you chose isn't of any quality but it feels damn good to prove people wrong.
Obviously, when making your UCAS choices you should probably do some proper research but hopefully my experiences of a smaller university should help a little.
Good luck to all the 18 year olds making such important life decisions, it does pan out eventually.