‘It comes down to the open days and paying them a visit, checking out the halls and the city and what it offers outside of the classroom. After all, you could be spending 3-8 years of your life potentially, depending on the course, living in this area, your life outside of the classroom still goes on and you'll want to be happy. For me, I wanted to do maths and at the time, Cardiff and Manchester had a great reputation. It also helped that for me personally they both had a gay scene. I get judged sometimes that when people ask me, ”did you base your Uni choice on whether it had a gay scene?" my answer is partially YES. I wanted to be me, free, open and happy. So my advice would be this, don't let others dictate or judge what matters in your decision in choosing your university of choice, it's the small things that matter sometimes’.
Stonewall Talent Programme 2011 participant
Once you’ve decided what to study it’s time to start thinking about where you want to study. Again, the choice is almost limitless: from rural Gloucester to Kings College in the heart of London; from sporty Loughborough to sciency Imperial; from Manchester’s pumping gay scene to St Andrews’ more rural charm.
The first thing to look at is the course you want to do. If you want to do veterinary medicine, for instance, that limits you to roughly seven possible places to study, whereas if you’re applying to do English or law there are over 100 options. Read the guide to ‘picking a course’ to find out more on how to do this. Once you’ve picked a subject and type of course that you like, you need to look at your predicted grades.
It’s always best to aim for the top, but if you apply for a spot somewhere with entry requirements that are far above your predicted grades you’re unlikely to be offered a place. Similarly, if you apply for somewhere with entry grades well below your predicted grades you might find the course unchallenging or feel that it doesn’t lead you in the direction you want to go. High entry requirements reflect demand for the course and the university overall. So if you’re applying for a course with entry requirements well above your predicted grades you are going to come up against some stiff competition.
You’ve got five choices, so you can afford to take risks. Perhaps apply for one lower entry course as a back-up should things go wrong, but in the main you should be applying for places that you’ve got a good chance of getting into and will keep you stimulated.
The next thing to decide is where you want to go. You might want to get as far away from home as possible. Or you might decide that sacrificing home comforts is just too much. The growth in the number of regional universities means that both options are open to you. The decision is yours.
Distance is only one aspect of the location that you’ve got to decide on - universities come in all locations and all shapes and sizes. You might have grown up in a big town and want to experience a greater sense of community, living alongside people and having friends everywhere you turn. Alternatively, you may have grown up in the countryside and be tempted by a more bustling urban setting.
Likewise, if you’re a heavy party-goer and want a big gay scene then it’s probably best applying to a university in one of the big cities, or at least somewhere with easy access to one. A university’s proximity to Canal Street/Soho/Edinburgh should only ever be part of the equation though. Bear in mind as well that a gay scene isn’t the only place you’ll find gay people. There will be gay people at your university even in the most surprising places. Many universities more than make up for the lack of a gay scene through an especially active LGBT society. This guide will help to point you in the direction of those societies.
Different locations each have advantages and drawbacks. Big cities have a great night life and allow you to become anonymous and to escape from the student bubble. But they also have higher living costs and longer travelling times (especially if the university is located out of the city itself). Rural and campus universities, on the other hand, offer great access to the countryside and its associated peace and tranquillity, cheaper living costs and a great community feeling, but can suffer in terms of social life. Campus universities have the advantage of having most things in one place (although you’ll normally have to live off campus in your second and third year), whereas town universities mean that it’s easy enough to pop into a posh café for a coffee between lectures. We hope you’re getting the picture that university really isn’t one size fits all. You’ll know better than anyone which environment suits you. The key is to make sure that you have all of the details when making your decision.
You’ll also want to look at the ethos and teaching style of the university and what their priorities are. This might sound strange: surely all universities are focused around creating a great learning environment? True to an extent, but like everything out there, no two universities are the same.
For a start, universities have different priorities. For some universities, research (lofty academics sitting thinking and being respected around the world by their peers) and the associated ‘research assessment exercise’ scores are king. Sometimes in universities like this undergraduates can be seen as an annoying distraction by tutors from proper research. That said, you may well want to be surrounded and taught by some of the leading minds in your field and you may even want to become an academic yourself. In which case universities like that could well be the ones for you.
Other universities pride themselves on being ‘teaching-led’ and will even make the effort to give one-to-one or at least two-to-one tuition to their students, which whilst some of you might relish, others don’t. You may well be a bit bored with the ‘teacher’ knowing your name and asking you questions all the time. You may yearn for the anonymity of the lecture theatre. In the same way some universities are highly results focused and will constantly push you to achieve, others take a more laid back approach allowing you to swim (or sink!) at your own pace. You will probably know what sort of style works best for you, so pick somewhere that matches your learning style.
Finally, there are facilities and extra-curricular activities. If you’re sports mad then obviously you need to check out the sports facilities at your university. There’s a lot of variety, even between different campuses at the same university. The same goes for science labs, art studios, IT provision, and almost anything else you can think of. The extra-curricular strengths of each university will vary a lot from place to place. If you’re a keen debater then you might want to have a look at Oxford, Cambridge, or the Scottish universities, whereas budding actors will want to check out Edinburgh with its annual festival or Bristol. If you like mountain biking, of course, you’ll want to go to a university based near some mountains. Make sure you check out which student societies exist at each university and don’t be scared about getting in touch with them directly. If you enjoy doing something, joining a society can often be the most cost-effective way of doing it.
As this guide shows, societies that are specifically for lesbian, gay and bisexual students vary a lot between each university and all have a different focus. Some are very much social organisations and others are designed to provide peer support. Others take a very active campaigning role. In some universities there may be two - one with a social focus and another with a campaign focus. Whether you want to spend your time chaining yourself to gates to demand equal rights or on a bar crawl, you need to read through the individual profiles and find a society that’s got the same priorities as you. Almost all are run by students, however, so if you get to university and you are unhappy with the way the society is run, then put yourself forward to run it and see if you can mix it up a bit!
With more universities and more people looking for places in higher education, where you go matters much more than it once did. Luckily there are lots of sources of information to look at and overwhelming though it may seem you should look at as many as possible. This guide is a start, and written so you can see how gay-friendly universities are and what they have to offer to you as a lesbian, gay or bisexual student, but there is also more information out there. You should have a look through both the prospectus and alternative prospectus of all the universities you’re applying to and try to go to as many open days as possible. Open days are a chance for you to chat to both tutors and current students about their experiences and for you to decide whether you want to spend three years studying in the place. Just like picking a course, research pays. And remember - think big! This is your chance to spend three years somewhere completely new and to meet a new group of people.
Don’t feel like you have to follow your friends or apply somewhere because of other people - this choice has to be about you and the next chapter of your life. One of the great things about university is that you’ll look back and realise how much you’ve changed, so don’t restrict yourself simply to what you know and who you know already.