How to select the right university for you

UKNA's Vikki Jones speaks to Rachel Baynton from the University of Lincoln to discuss the considerations you should make when completing your UCAS application and deciding which university to attend.

The UCAS deadline (25th Jan - in case you’d tried to forget!) moves ever closer and, with over 160 universities in the UK, offering hundreds of different courses and subjects, knowing where to start, what to look for and how to decide which five to include on your form can feel like a big job. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, don’t worry, you are definitely not alone. 

I recently met with Rachel Baynton, Associate Professor - Creative Engagement Producer for the University of Lincoln to get her thoughts on how to find your way through the many decisions that need making when applying to go to university. As a dance graduate and a theatre graduate, both working in the arts sector, this conversation has a ‘creative courses’ slant, but the advice Rachel offered can absolutely apply to just about any subject area. We touched on a wide range of questions including first impressions, researching teaching staff, how important Open Days are and why you shouldn’t pay for auditions!

So whether you are knee deep in your UCAS statement or just starting to think about your next steps, we hope this is a helpful introduction! 

‘Your first question is - what are you hoping to gain?

Are you looking for theory based or practical, or a bit of both? Are you looking to move geographically or stay closer to home? Are you looking for somewhere with lots of extra curricular opportunities? Are you looking for a big city experience, or perhaps somewhere by the sea, or in another country? Once you have a clearer idea of what it is you are hoping to gain from the experience, options become more streamlined and decisions get a little easier.

University is ‘a big investment in your future and your career’

It’s no secret that going to university comes with some fairly substantial costs attached, but try not to let that be the focus of all of your decisions. It’s a three year investment in yourself, your future and your career. The BA at the end is great, but it has to be about more than that. It’s the learning, the experiences, the friendships made, the critical and analytical thinking skills, the ability to work with others, the opportunity to encounter things that challenge and excite you. Of course the cost is a factor, but if you can, try not to let it make your choices for you.

‘Open days can be hugely eye opening.’

An open day is an opportunity to see yourself living, working and studying in a place. A chance to meet staff and students at the University and find out who they are and what they do. If you’re considering applying to a University, I really recommend you try and attend one. However, geography and finances can mean it’s not always possible. So if you can’t get there in person - reach out and ask if they’ll speak to you on the phone (or zoom). And don’t be afraid to ask every and any question that you want to know the answer to. These universities are lucky to have you, your energy, your talent and your skills. If they are a good university they’ll talk to you. 

‘Do something that inspires you.

You’re about to dedicate three years of your life to a subject, it has to be something that you love. Otherwise those three years are going to be very, very hard and very, very long!

‘Find a University that talks to you about working in arts and cultural industries.

For those looking to study arts courses, this is key. Everyone knows the stereotype of the starving artist, and to be fair, no, the arts don’t tend to pay as well as many other sectors out there. Hence the importance of making sure your course is going to teach you how to make a living out of your work. This might include how to write funding applications, how to plan and budget for projects, how to set yourself up as a freelance artist, how to write a tax return, how to apply for residences and research grants, how to talk to curators and critics. To thrive in the arts these days you need to be multiskilled, and your University should be showing you how.

You can watch the full conversation right here, right now or find it on our website and social channels.

Header Image Credit: Image by Naassom Azevedo from Pixabay


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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