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Choosing a university for postgraduate study

Things to consider when choosing a university for postgraduate study include the size, location, reputation, rankings, and more.
Relevant to

Size of university and location

  • Do you want to stay at the university where you studied as an undergraduate with its networks of academics, employers and friends? Or would these connections be stronger elsewhere along with a better course? Maybe you’d just like a change of scenery?
  • Has your preference for type of location changed? Do you like city life or do you want to try living somewhere more rural? Have you got an opinion about whether a campus-based university or one based in the community interests you the most? This is your chance to think again about whether you prefer universities with large numbers of students or those with smaller populations.
  • Local living costs are a factor too. You’ll find that the south of England and London are more expensive places to live – please bear this in mind if your budget is tight. 

Our regional guides might help you to choose. 


University reputation, rankings and league tables

As well as talking through your ideas with family, friends, teachers and advisers, you can find other opinions online.

  • Read course provider reviews from The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.
  • Check league tables that rank course providers. Make sure you check the sources though, as they can be biased. The Guardian, The Times and The Complete University Guide are some of the more impartial places to look.

Each set of tables are different but most are based upon: 

  • entry standards
  • research assessment
  • employment prospects
  • citations
  • grades
  • international outlook
  • industry funding
  • staff to student ratios
  • student satisfaction

It's also worth having a look at the National Student Survery (NSS) – although it’s a survey of all final year undergraduates, its findings play a significant part in compiling many of the well-known league tables. The NSS assesses:

  • course teaching
  • assessment and feedback
  • academic support
  • organisation and management
  • learning resources
  • personal development
  • overall satisfaction
Remember that satisfaction surveys don’t measure quality. For example, a student who expects a lot from a prestigious university may give a lower score than a student who is pleasantly surprised by their time at one which is less well-respected for its teaching and research.  

Other criteria

  • Does a university’s specialist library affect your decision?
  • What about its careers service or social activities?
  • How does the culture of the university feel to you?

Open days

To get a real feel for the place, it's a good idea to visit the universities you're interested in before deciding where to apply. Read our tips for getting the most out of postgraduate fairs and open days