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Engineering: Choosing the Right University

Written on 12/11/15

Choosing The Right University

The university that you choose will have an impact on both your social and educational life. Furthermore, it will ultimately influence your career prospects and choices. Therefore, it is vital to make a well researched and thought out decision.

There are multiple league tables that you are able to refer to when choosing your institution, usually published in national newspapers and reputable websites. These are a good place to begin your search, as those institutions that score higher on the league tables are likely to have greater job prospects after graduation.

The Complete University Guide (an independent body) holds these rankings for a Civil Engineering Degree in 2016:

  1. Cambridge
  2. Imperial College London
  3. Bath
  4. Southampton
  5. Bristol

These rankings are based on entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality, and graduate prospects.


Another well-respected referral guide for university rankings is the Guardian League Table, which bases its scores on satisfaction with course, teaching and feedback, the ratio of students to staff and job prospects.

The Guardian 2016 League Table ranks the following universities as the top 5:

  1. Imperial College London
  2. Heriot-Watt
  3. Bath
  4. Southampton
  5. Sheffield


Whilst it is unlikely that all league tables will match up completely, there should be a trend that you can monitor in order to predict what university would be the best option for you.

Consider your grades when applying to universities - look at what their offers are and check the clearing offers. Even if you are not predicted to completely reach the standard set by a university, there are some that will base part of their intake on interviews and desire to learn. This does not mean however that grades are not a boundary to entering into the university of your choice, but rather that a place is not usually based solely on your grades.

Civil Engineering could be considered the broadest form of Engineering, and therefore it is vital that you read each module description before applying to a university. A module title does not equate to what is in the course entirely, and you will need to carefully consider what you want to study. Are you interested in railway structures? Studying the creation of new stadiums and shopping centres? Research each module carefully before making an informed decision.

Aside from the modules themselves, it is good practice to research your future lecturers, and check their research interests. If their specialisms match up with your interests then you know that this is the correct place for you.

For design based Engineering degrees, try visiting the end of year show, as this will give you an idea of what current students are producing. Talk to the students afterwards and see how they found that year, or if it is their final year, the degree itself.

A big factor in choosing the right university is the facilities that they have. Therefore, it is important to visit as many universities as possible so that you can see the Civil Engineering Department, and talk to the current students about how the degree is panning out for them. First hand experience is vital in understanding how a degree will work for you, so ensure you talk to as many students as possible, or visit student forums such as

Consider also the job prospects of a university. Check what graduates of that institution have gone on to do since leaving. For example, graduates of Imperial College London have gone on to work on the Three Gorges Dam in China, and on the latest Antarctic research station. This information may tell you about ties the university has to specific businesses, which you may be able to enter if you achieve desirable results.

Another important thing to think about is the local industry, what businesses are nearby - if you form ties to an area then you will want to find a job in your area of expertise when you graduate. Most Engineering degrees come with a placement year also, so if there are large Engineering firms nearby, or within easy commuting distance, then this should be taken into account also.

Whilst it may not immediately come to mind, your overall happiness is something that should be thought about when applying to universities, and is something that is also ranked by several websites. You may wish to cross reference different indexes such as student satisfaction or information about facilities against the general ranking of a university in order to find the best match for you. For example, both Cambridge and Imperial College London rank high academically, and also carry with them a high student satisfaction rate according to the Complete University Guide. Support networks are vital to a happy life, and examining the available facilities and healthcare provided is something to consider when looking at potential universities.

There are some general considerations that are also likely to impact your future decision: for example, if you choose a university very close to home you could stay at home and commute to university. This could save money in the long run, though funding for 'stay at home' students is often lower than those who choose to move away. Those who stay at home are likely to have to make more of an effort with regards to social life, however it does mean you have the support of your family.

It is important to look at the environment of your chosen university, for example the buses that are available, the town nearby, and the general feel of the campus.  You might find that you like being in a lively city, or perhaps you'll prefer the community of a campus university.


Another important thing to take into consideration is the accommodation available to you. Look at the student halls and the facilities they have, and compare it to the types of funding you will receive: can you afford it, and will you have enough money left over to live properly?  If you plan to live 'off campus', look at property prices on the internet before you make a decision, as this will give you an idea of how much you will be spending. It is a sensible idea to look at these prices even if you plan to live in halls for your first year also.

Take your research seriously!  Visit as many universities as possible, attend university fairs, and talk to current students. Take notes on what you like and dislike about each university and if necessary create a tracking document. Trust your instincts, but only after some careful thought: consider distance, lecturers, the type of university and other factors. Email universities with questions – don’t be shy about approaching them – as they are likely to be impressed with candidates who are proactive.