What do you look for -and how- in a uni course??

(29 Posts)
Draylon Fri 10-Jun-16 08:50:18

DS will start a BTEC in computer science in Sept (2 years/3 A level equiv.).

The concept of uni has reared its head, but I have no idea how you go about selecting a good course.

Bea in mind, with a BTEC, it's unlikely to be RG as he won't have a Maths A level alongside; but, in IT/Computing, RG isn't necessarily all-important; however I also know there are quite a few 'not highly regarded ex-Polytechnics' out there to be avoided. And I know some unis are better at some subjects than others.

How do you find meaningful stats to compare courses? What stats should one look for? Are student satisfaction stats more important than the 'official' ones?

Any thoughts welcome!

titchy Fri 10-Jun-16 09:22:43

Start with the league tables - Complete university guide and Guardian. Both let you rank for subject and choose the attribute that more important - employment, student satisfaction etc.

Draw up a list.

Decide what sort of university - campus, spread out, small town, large city. Northern, southern.

Delete from said list those that don't match that criteria.

Finally trawl through websites and look at subject content and typical offers.

Remove from list where content doesn't inspire, and where typical offers aren't achievable.

You should be able to get down to maybe half a dozen this way. Then visit!

senua Fri 10-Jun-16 09:38:16

As you say, student satisfaction surveys can be tricksy. In theory the survey should be asking "was this a good learning experience; were you shaken but not stirred; have you come out of this a better, stronger person?" but quite often it is "did they pander to your every whim, did they spoonfeed you, did they infantalise you?"
IT/computing is a vocational subject so I would be looking at leavers' destinations, employment statistics, year-in-industry schemes.
Look at favoured employers and see where they recruit from or have links with.

Titchy's list is good. Throw in location, too: DD threw out one consideration when she realised that it would take 6 hours to get home on public transport.

Draylon Fri 10-Jun-16 09:44:49

Thanks both!

Any other thoughts also welcome!

Unlike DS, 2 of his friends had a much more straight forward choice; straight A* A levels, no consideration for anything other than Mechanical Engineering, so they looked up the RG league tables, got offers from all their choices, job done! grin

senua Fri 10-Jun-16 09:58:56

Don't forget the human element. DD visited one University that looked great on paper but when she got there it was a desert of sixties concrete that sucked the soul out of her. You've got to 'click' with the place and be happy to live there for three years. Open Days are a must (OK, not a must but you run the risk of wasting choices if you put places on the UCAS list without visiting them first).

Draylon Fri 10-Jun-16 10:40:46

Yes, we will definitely be going to Open Days; one tomorrow, actually, tho DS is 2 years away from uni as we're heeding the advice to start at the end and work backwards! i.e. pick your degree and work towards admission.

An ishoo for DS is that he doesn't know exactly what'll float his boat in Computing (I note many unis offer 'BSC in Computing and BSc in Computer Science...!) before he gets stuck into this BTEC. FTR DS is quitting sciencey ASs to do this BTEC so that ship has sailed, should anyone think he should do Maths, Physics and Economics A levels! That was Plan A; we're now on B!

Thus we are stabbing in the dark a bit. I mean, what is 'IT forensics?! I can guess- but could that open the door to a long, happy, fulfilling (and well paid wink) career?! Who knows?!

dreamingofsun Fri 10-Jun-16 12:15:33

my son initially wanted to stay near our home, but having looked at/considered the 5 options has now gone for the wildcard/filler one he put in which is 6 hours from home. be a bit open minded as he might change his view, as you get a better feel once visiting several. what sort of personality does your son have - if they are a party animal then some cities are likely to appeal more than others. how easy is it to get there and back via public transport?

dreamingofsun Fri 10-Jun-16 12:18:45

Be a bit cautious about the rankings - one of the top redbrick unis that wanted top grades for my son's subject - we heard they were reducing the funding. some of the top unis are vary into research and may not be so keen on tutoring, for example.

The teachers on his current course may have opinions - certainly my son's teacher was able to give some help with ours

lljkk Fri 10-Jun-16 12:21:40

Are league tables the place to start if OP knows the child is not a high achiever academically?

I think the content of the course would be my first thought what to look at, followed by reputation aspects. Some courses give employability/graduate rates of employment in relevant jobs stats, for instance.

dreamingofsun Fri 10-Jun-16 12:25:22

iijkk - we used league tables for my lower achieving son - we just started part of the way down. you can rank them on grades required, so they give a good idea if you've got a chance of getting in or not

redexpat Fri 10-Jun-16 12:33:52

There's a book - helpfully I can't remember the name sorry - that lists where to go for each subject. It might be the times?

If he isn't sure about what he wants to specialise in then I would look for a modular course, and/or one where you take 3 subjects in the first year, then pick one or two to carry on.

Draylon Fri 10-Jun-16 13:28:59

iijkk- like dreaming says, you can work your way down the league table to find out what 'the best' uni your DC could get into is.

League tables aren't only about who's jockeying for the top 10 positions, you know! They also tell you which courses at which unis are probably not worth bothering with.

As for 'high achieving', really, AS/A2 weren't for DS. He's capable enough but we hope -and believe- the BTEC format will be more suited to his learning style, and, thing is, in IT/Computing, a BTEC can often set a DC up better than 3 A levels to study to degree level.

2rebecca Fri 10-Jun-16 14:20:20

For some subjects the Guardian list is unexplainably odd. We found unistats good and online prospectuses and visit a lot. Also you will do better in a place where you are happy and where you can pursue your hobbies as well

titchy Fri 10-Jun-16 16:48:58

The guardian doesn't use research as one of its contributory drivers, that's the main difference. There are one or two others (which NSS questions they use and the weighting they give to measures) but the lack of research metric is the main one.

The Times league table is out in September.

bojorojo Fri 10-Jun-16 18:43:40

I think I would start by factoring in which ones do not require Maths A level. This presumably will take some research and may not be about league table position, although the top flight courses will not be accessible one would have thought. Also, learning style is imortant in the degree too. Is it similar to the BTEC or it is very academic? Drill down into the otions and associated subjects to see if anything sounds just right.

Also, take account of where it is, what the town/city has to offer and whether this will be an enjoyable few years. A friend had a DS do computer science and hated the amount of maths in it. He just thought it was computers and no science. The hall of residence was also in Poole, not Bournemouth, so unhappy about that too. So look carefully at the content and where the halls are!

2rebecca Fri 10-Jun-16 18:50:48

It's not just the lack of using research as a factor. For mech eng they had Dundee as the highest ranking Scottish uni when it doesn't do an MEng and isn't thought of as being as good as some others (for engineering for many other subjects it's great).
For me it's the giving more weight to unis that want higher grades that is the odd thing, especially if the governments are trying to encourage unis to give lower grades to some students from disadvantaged backgrounds

titchy Fri 10-Jun-16 18:59:27

Not this year Rebecca! And they all include tariff scores...

eatyourveg Sat 11-Jun-16 07:46:20

This is probably the book that redexpat was thinking of.

Anything by Brian Heap is useful - a spreadsheet process is the way to go - find out where you can study the subject, delete all those that won't accept BTECs (most will only a few these days still don't) and.consider what factors are most important to your ds as filtering criteria,

Whatuni and unistats are good places to look at and the ref tables are useful too

OddBoots Sat 11-Jun-16 07:50:31

I can't find it now but I read a link given on MN a few weeks back about how high numbers of CS/IT grads are unemployed and the article was suggesting that some universities are not as good as others for getting the employment links. Most of the university comparing sites give figures for employment after the course, I would look carefully at that bit when deciding.

bojorojo Sat 11-Jun-16 21:28:00

Computer Science courses are listed at 105 universities in the Good Universities Guide. They do have an employed statistic but it tends to show more people getting graduate employment from the higher ranked universities despite the overall ranking having several aspects of the course and students taken into account. Therefore employers are looking for specific attributes and, as you would expect, not all young people have them, but the course does appear to matter when so many graduates are being produced. The skill will be looking at employability, teaching style and units and entry qualifications. it will be quite a long job!

Draylon Sat 11-Jun-16 22:49:53

I must admit I have a problem with 'research'.

To explain: my profession (HCP) used to be a 2.5 year Diploma. In the 90's it became a degree. Why? Because gradually all the Diploma level jobs were changing to 'degree', and, more importantly, pay progression became predicated upon having a degree as an entry level. Your job was not considered 'professional' otherwise. We lead (along with physiotherapy), nurses followed. This was in the '90s, which coincided with the death of the non-uni HE facility (teacher training colleges, schools of nursing etc). All became 'universities'. I took a top up course in the late 90s to get my degree in my HCP profession (in Oz who are far more qualifications driven than here!).

The thing I noticed in my degree upgrade course was the emphasis on research. This is an ongoing thing.

In my line of work, we have professional journals etc; but and here's the thing- the standard of much of the research is embarrassing. Authors are flailing around in search of something 'new' to research. The amount of graph be-draped, statistic-verified tosh that is published is shocking.

If this is the level of research required, I don't rate it either!

bojorojo Sun 12-Jun-16 00:10:44

I thought "research" in university stats referred to the quality of research completed by the lectures, professors etc. The quality of work, judged by their peers, is important, not to mention commercially vital, and clearly universities must lead the way in academic fields. It must be done to inform teaching and should be leading edge - or everyone just regurgitates the same old stuff. Quality of research is important if we want world class universities. Some subjects just won't lend themselves to this rigorous process and the tables also reflect the universities with lower quality research and it is right that prospective students know this. At the best universities, students expect to encounter people who are experts in their field. This status is often acquired by research.

It is possible that people publishing articles in a practical field cannot keep finding something new to write about but that cannot really be compared to a research led academic science department in a world leading university.

It appears 105 universities in the UK offer a degree in computer science. That takes a lot of sifting through.

GetAHaircutCarl Sun 12-Jun-16 08:43:27

Yes, the best researchers bring money.

Universities with less money are not generally great places to study IMHO.

dreamingofsun Sun 12-Jun-16 10:27:08

agree with what the last 2 posters say. there were a couple of unis my son looked at, that were reputedly good at the research, but not so good at teaching because they focused so much on the research. so take the league tables with a bit of pinch of salt and just for initial sifting. you get a feel once you start visiting them.

titchy Sun 12-Jun-16 10:38:18

Research score in the league tables has no bearing on any undergraduate research a student will do, nor a Masters student for that matter.

It's a measure of the research output (mostly) of the staff and its quality. All peer reviewed - it's actually one of the best measures of research quality of any HE system in the world.

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