University Instructor for the Life Sciences Beth Gawthorpe tells us her experience in choosing a university, how everything doesn’t always go to plan and why that’s not as bad as it seems.

Struggling to choose a University? You cannot possibly do a worse job than I did.

I spent this Saturday in our teaching labs, forming a cozy friendship with some wax-moth larvae, and chatting with a stream of UCAS applicants- all of them attempting to make the ‘right’ choice about University, many also choosing a new town to call home.

Some of those who lingered near the larvae for long enough made some interesting points:

“I want to choose a good Uni, but I’m not sure what I even mean when I say good

“How can I possibly tell if I’ll like living here without actually *living* here”

“I’m basically just wandering around trying to decide if people seem nice … that can’t be the way to make such a huge decision?!”

I found myself sharing the story of how I chose my own University. As you’ll see, it’s a Cautionary Tale more than a Shining Example. It did however seem to make people feel better; just to know that they weren’t the worst at this.

In the interests of ‘setting the scene’, it’s important that you know: I’m quite old. In 1999 there was no ‘Unifrog’; we had a massive book in the 6th form common room called the ‘UCAS Handbook’ which had a page for every university, arranged alphabetically. In 1999 you had to fill in an actual, physical, paper UCAS form … by hand. In 1999 you visited Universities by yourself, parents were not welcome. It was a very different time; like I said, I’m quite old.

I filled in my UCAS form with only three courses listed. I’m genuinely not sure why I chose not to fill-up the six available spaces. I remember excluding everything in the South-East of England (I was feeling the need for independence and adventure). I remember thinking that I ‘definitely knew’ that I’d go to Bath, so the others were pointless anyway. Mostly, I remember getting bored of staring at the 8-point font in the UCAS handbook.

My form tutor was having none of it; she sent me back to do it properly. Choices had to be listed in alphabetical order, I couldn’t face re-writing the whole thing. So, in a moment of genius, I turned to the back of the dreaded UCAS handbook and added Warwick and York.

Over the next term, I visited two of my original choices, and hated both. I missed the interview day at my third choice because it clashed with an exam; they wrote to me to make me a conditional offer of two ‘E’s in any subjects, based on my ‘impressive interview performance’. They were clearly desperate, I eliminated them.

So, I decided I should visit my two ‘end of the alphabet’ choices. The honest reasons that I liked Warwick were: it was a glorious sunny day, people were lounging out on the grass looking cool and sophisticated, the guy who led my tour was attractive and funny. The honest reasons that I didn’t like York were: it was January in Yorkshire, and it rained the whole day. I can remember sitting on the train home, snaking through endless grey towns thinking, “The North is a nightmare, I’m never going to The North ever again”.

I missed the grades for Warwick, and ended up at York anyway.

I never got used to Yorkshire winters. I never managed to fully educate Northerners that there is in-fact an entire county beyond London. I never lived-down mistaking my flat-mate’s Geordie accent for Russian.

I also had an amazing time; got a good degree; loved Yorkshire so much I stayed for four more years; and made some of the best friends of my life. There’s just no knowing.