How important are University League Tables?
University League Tables are not nearly as important as they are often believed to be.
While it may be true that there are employability advantages if you attend Oxford, Cambridge, or another top institution (e.g. from the Russell Group), the biggest advantage you can give yourself is to study the right course for you at the institution that suits you best.
Though I generally discourage students from spending much time looking at league tables, one of the areas where they might provide some useful insight is the reputation of the university for the chosen course of study.
For example, for a student who wishes to study Computer Science, the University of Aberdeen ranks 4th in the UK for its Computer Science department, even though its overall ranking is 20th (Guardian, 2022). Aberdeen may not be a typical “top five” choice, but for a student who wishes to level up their Computer Science skills, it could be well worth considering.
There are many unexpected surprises like this. You can try this tool on the Guardian for your chosen course of study.
Does it matter what ranking your university is?
For the most part, not at all. Certainly do not base your university choices based off of league tables alone.
In terms of employability, far more important than your university’s league table is your ability to acquire real-world and domain specific experience. For example: taking a part-time job while you study will improve your grittiness, and getting an internship in a relevant field will help you gain on-the-job experience in preparation for your career.
What is a more effective approach than looking at league tables?
A sensible first step to choosing a course and university is to do extensive online research and visit the course page on an institution’s website to get a sense of the content, structure, entry requirements etc. The research may include looking at league tables, but that is far less important than looking specifically at what each institution will be teaching you for your chosen course. For example, at one institution, there may be a compulsory module that you have no interest in, while at another there may be an optional module which really excites you. Weigh all of this, along with other non-academic factors (e.g. location, fees) into your early decision-making.
Once you’ve created a shortlist of institutions, take the time to visit universities in person and attend open days. You will get the best sense of whether you are a good fit for the place if you actually go there, speak with staff and students, and visit the department for the course you are hoping to study. Stay curious, ask lots of questions, and take time to reflect on each visit afterwards. This will help you to you narrow down your list and make the choice that is right for you.
Is it worth applying to university when you have lower predicted A level or IB grades?
It is always worth applying to your preferred choice of university, even if you are worried you may fall short of the entry criteria. However, make sure that you also have a safe choice or backup option in case things don’t go to plan.
If you exceed your predicted grades, that’s great! You will likely have more options available to you.
If you don’t achieve your predicted grades, don’t panic. If you have a safe university choice, you may still meet the entry criteria. And even if not, there are still many options available, including clearing, foundation courses, and deferral. There is nothing wrong with deferral, or taking time to re-evaluate your next steps. Taking time is generally a good idea, and this could come in the form of a gap year, work experience or simply some well-earned time off to reflect on your next steps.
Another question you might want to ask is: “is university definitely the right choice for me?”
There are so many other learning options out there in terms of vocational courses, apprenticeships, online study etc. Do your research and bear in mind that the conventional route isn’t the only way.
Which universities do employers prefer?
Certain employers may favour particular universities and courses, depending on the demands and expectations of a particular job role. It’s no secret that top universities are often appealing to employers, mainly because of the demands of study at a top-performing university. Employers know that a graduate from a reputable university is likely to be diligent, hard-working and organised.
However, far more important than the institution you attend, is your ability to gain experience in your chosen sector. Admittedly, this may be limited for a recent graduate, but internships, work experience, or even attempts at entrepreneurship in your field would be examples of distinguishing characteristics that will set you apart from the average applicant.
What is the advice for parents on supporting your child’s university choices?
Be encouraging, but try not to project your personal hopes, wishes and dreams on to your child’s university choices. Choosing a course and university are key decisions in your child’s life, and it’s critical that the individual feels empowered to make their own unique decisions.
Here are some other top tips:
- Encourage your child to explore their interests, passions, and career aspirations. Help them reflect on their strengths, values, and goals.
- Help your child make a well-informed decision by discussing the pros and cons of different university options. Encourage them to create a list of priorities, such as location, reputation, course content, and extracurricular activities, and weigh the importance of each factor. Help them consider the long-term implications of their choices, including potential career paths and opportunities.
- Encourage your child to take ownership of the application process.
- Discuss financial considerations openly and help your child understand the costs associated with university, including tuition fees, accommodation, and living expenses. Help them explore scholarship opportunities, student loans, and part-time work options to support their financial planning.
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