I remember making the decision to go to Birmingham for my undergraduate degree back in 2012, based on my love of both the city, and the course, and I’ve never wished that I chose differently. But with the forthcoming rise in fees, and increasing fears about finding a job after graduation, parents and students are understandably nervous about picking the wrong university.
People often go straight to league tables when they’re making decisions for universities. But league tables change all the time, and it is worth bearing in mind that classifications such as ‘Russell Group’ are actually pretty meaningless.
As the BBC wrote back in November, the Russell Group ‘has only existed since the mid-1990s and began life as a group of heads of universities with medical schools, who met at London’s Russell Hotel.’
In addition, a major graduate employer, Deloitte, have changed their selection process so that it masks which school and university each candidate went to from their recruiters. According to the BBC, Deloitte plan to use an algorithm which considers ‘contextual’ information, like attending an underperforming school, alongside applicants’ academic results.
That said, given the competitive nature of the graduate job market, it seems unlikely that many graduate employers will follow Deloitte’s strategy, and will continue to focus on visiting what they deem to be ‘top universities’. With all of this in mind, I spoke to graduates from different universities about how important they think university choice is:
Rosie, Queen’s University Belfast
‘I’m working on becoming a solicitor – going to open days, doing vacation schemes and training contract interviews. I’ve been looking at the demographic of who is hired by big London law firms, and it very much matters which uni you go to. Even the firms which pride themselves on diversity work are dominated by Russell group and Oxbridge graduates.
‘Some firms only visit certain campuses, and meeting recruiters at on-campus events is really important to getting your foot in the door. Herbert Smith Freehills funded a new building at my university. Would they have a vacation scheme here if they didn’t like Queen’s so much? Maybe not.
‘That’s not to say it’s impossible for graduates from other unis to be successful at big city firms, it just makes it harder. I think you need to attain much better grades.’
Ellen, Leeds (Undergraduate), Cambridge (Postgraduate)
‘I think it does matter what university you go to because it should be right for you. I don’t think that correlates with university rankings or anything. I just think the university you pick should be best for you.
‘For example, I’m really glad I went to Leeds for my undergraduate degree. It was fun, it gave me a great year abroad, a lovely department. But I glad that I came to Cambridge for postgraduate because of the research, the people it attracts and the college systems.’
Bearing all of this in mind, it is clear that it really does matter which university you go to, but probably not in the way you think. Although going to a highly ranked university has its obvious advantages, it’s more important that you go to the university which suits you and allows you to make the most of your time there.
Not everyone would enjoy a Cambridge university experience, and, equally, not everyone thrives in a big city environment like Manchester either. In my experience, most people end up loving their university, but if you’re reading this while making your choices, it’s definitely worth thinking carefully about what kind of experience you want to have while at university.