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Many students don’t look deeply into the university campus as part of their university research – at least initially. And it makes sense: choosing a university is a long and complex road. When they’re starting out, students are probably led by big, weighty criteria like academic fit, destination country and course content.
But it soon comes time to narrow down their university choices (after all, you know how demanding even one application can be, so they won’t want to send dozens!). At that stage, the university campus becomes a decisive factor.
In our recent blog post, we looked at one of the big factors at play when comparing university settings: the campus vs city university distinction. If you’ve not read the article yet, it’s a handy way to get students thinking about what they want from their university experience, and start eliminating universities that don’t fit the bill.
In this second part, we think about some of the other important criteria students should consider as they explore campuses (whether virtually or in person). To help them find their perfect homes for the next three+ years, read on!
Free resource: university campus research worksheets
Download this pack of worksheets designed to structure and guide your students’ research. It leads them through analysis of their potential university campuses and ends with a handy comparison table to find the perfect option for them!
University campus accommodation
Whatever other criteria guide their decision, all students have to think about where they’re going to sleep and eat!
That being said, different students are looking for different criteria in their accommodation, and each criterion will be weighted differently. But to help you ensure they’re making informed, tailored decisions, we’ll go through some of the biggest factors they should look into.
Are there options within their budget?
It’s worth students verifying this before they get into the reeds of research, because if the answer is ‘no’ then the other questions might be moot.
But remember: even if there isn’t any university-owned, on-campus accommodation they can afford, students needn’t rule out the university as a whole! Often, renting an apartment nearby (especially shared between a group) works out much cheaper.
How many people would they live with?
The amount of people sharing a space can make a huge difference to students’ experiences. Some university accommodations have apartments of more than fifteen people, while others can be as small as three or four.
Who would they live with?
It’s not just the amount of people that can have an impact; it’s also worth looking into how each university groups its students into accommodations (if it does at all).
Again, students’ preferences vary vastly. Some might be looking for a certain amount of categorisation, while others want to live with a really eclectic bunch of people. Whatever they’re looking for, some of the criteria that a university might use to assign accommodation include:
- Age (some mature students prefer not to live with excitable freshmen)
- Stage of education (undergraduates are frequently separated from graduate students)
- Domestic or international
What amenities are included?
This is another crucial factor – especially for students going to university overseas. Having to lug lots of appliances (or buy them once they arrive!) is far from ideal.
Students should look at what the different campus accommodations provide – even within one campus. Remember that they aren’t guaranteed their first choice, so they need to be able to live in their second, third or even fourth favourite option.
Some of the biggest things to look for are:
- Cleaning services
- Security services
- Kitchen appliances
That’s not to say all international students want all of these! Some students don’t want to be charged for them, or prefer to choose these things for themselves. So whether they’re must-haves or ‘no thank you’s, it’s worth students looking into what’s provided.
What spaces will be shared?
Some students want an entirely self-contained studio, while others are happy to share even a bedroom. For those somewhere in between, there are usually options including single, en-suite bedrooms with shared kitchens, or single bedrooms where the kitchen and bathroom are both shared.
As ever, budget can be a very important factor here, so students should look thoroughly at what’s available.
Is there space for socialising?
While shared kitchens or lounges are a great way for students to form close bonds with the (usually small) group of people in their unit, many campus accommodations have larger areas for the whole building.
Students can even find spacious common rooms with things like ping pong tables or arcade games. Some might even be lucky enough to have a staffed café or bar!
If students are looking for lots of entertainment and socialising literally on their doorstep, this is definitely something to look into.
University campus catering
All this talk of shared kitchens and staffed bars brings us to another important area: campus catering.
Again, some students are certain that they’ll be fending for themselves when it comes to food. In that case, they might not pay much mind to the on-campus cafeterias. For others, though, this could be make or break.
Here are some factors for your foodies to consider.
Are there catered accommodation options?
If students want to avoid cooking as much as possible, they’d probably like fully catered accommodation. If they’re really averse to kitchens and can’t even stomach the thought of pouring cereal, they’ll be able to find universities that provide breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Others might want just one or two meals per day. Which leads us to…
Are there flexible meal plans?
How and when students pay for their on-campus food is another thing to consider, especially where budget is a big factor.
Often, even if students don’t have catering within their accommodations, they can sign up to university-wide meals plans. Different universities have different systems, but one common method is for students to purchase a number of tokens per semester that they can redeem in cafeterias, cafés and food halls across campus.
There are also less flexible options whereby students pay a fixed rate per semester that covers every meal.
Are their dietary requirements catered for?
Any students that have dietary restrictions should look very carefully into the options available. If necessary, they might want to enquire to make sure they’re happy with food preparation processes.
Will there be food available at the right times?
We all know that at university, our daily routines can become a little haphazard. Some students might not have much of a routine at all…
If they know themselves to be night owls or midnight munchers, they might want to see how late the cafeteria closes, and whether there are any on-campus options round the clock.
Equally, early risers who want to fuel up for a day of studying or an early-morning workout should check when they start serving breakfast.
University campus healthcare
Nourishing their bodies is one important aspect of staying healthy at university, but there’s more to it than that! Another good area for students to look into is healthcare.
Here are a few boxes they might want to check.
Are there on-campus medical services?
Some students take great comfort in knowing there are medical services a stone’s throw away. After all, accidents happen, especially with all the newfound freedoms and adventures that university brings!
And even where there are no scrapes or bruises, having a GP nearby can make routine appointments ever so simple.
Is there a pharmacy nearby?
Relatedly, students who have to pick up repeat prescriptions might want to be sure there’s a pharmacy on-hand that can provide whatever they need. Even those who don’t need regular medication refills might like having handy over-the-counter solutions handy if needed.
Are there mental health services?
We’re hearing more and more about the mental health needs of university students. And sadly, we’re also hearing that not all universities are meeting those needs.
It’s a good idea for your students to make sure they would be able to access support whenever they might need it.
University campus facilities
Looking after their health and wellbeing at university undoubtedly goes beyond traditional healthcare. For students to have a positive and varied experience and nourish their minds and bodies, there are other facilities they might feel are indispensable.
Here are a few to consider:
It’s likely that avid swimmers will already be on the lookout for great on-campus pools, sprinters are hunting for the best tracks, and basketball players know where the top teams thrive.
But even those students whose biggest passion isn’t a sport should look into what’s available. After all, the mental health benefits of physical activity are well-documented, and joining gyms and classes can be a great way to meet new friends.
So whether it’s a friendly pilates studio, a gym packed with weights or a low-pressure tennis club, make sure students give some thought to what facilities they’d like.
University campus libraries
This might not be where most students want to focus, but encourage them to at least take a look at the campus libraries. They might end up spending more time there than they anticipate!
If they know their academic interests, they can see how well-stocked the shelves (digital and physical) are in those areas.
But there are other things to consider, too. The opening hours are a big one – particularly for those night owls! And loaning policies are also important (especially where forgetful students or early preppers want to avoid late fees).
Top tip: It can be a good idea for students to see if the university library has a sharing scheme with other organisations. That’s a good indication that, even if the library itself doesn’t have something they need, they’ll probably be able to get hold of it.
It’s also wise to see how much study space there is. When it comes to exam periods, those desks can be in high demand! For students who have trouble concentrating in crowds (who can blame them?), it’s also worth seeing if there are study pods or other isolated spaces they can use.
This factor will probably be more important to students hoping to study certain subjects. Engineering, for example, tends to require more high-tech equipment than English literature.
If students are keen to be on the cutting edge or know they want to specialise in something that needs specific equipment, they should find out what their department has (and whether it’s available for undergrads to use!).
The spiritual aspect of students’ wellbeing can also be a really key consideration. Students for whom regular worship is important should look for churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, prayer rooms or any other facilities they need.
The broader university campus
If students have looked into all these different amenities and facilities and still haven’t narrowed down their lists enough, they could look at the university campus more broadly.
University campus culture
We thought about this as we compared city and campus universities, but it’s pertinent whatever kind of campus students choose.
If students love the idea of school spirit and a strong collegiate community, that could definitely be a decisive criterion. Some universities foster a strong on-campus culture, with the majority of the student body (and even faculty) attending the university sports team’s events, for example.
Other campuses have a more relaxed, casual atmosphere whereby students can join in on as much or as little as they’re interested in. There might not be one definitive focus of university identity (like the American football team or the star-factory theatre club), but instead students are free to explore their own interests and find their smaller tribes.
University campus policies
Many students are passionate about social and environmental issues. Seeing how well represented and advocated for those issues are on campus can be a good indication that it’s somewhere that student will be happy and proud to live.
For example, students might look into areas like:
- Policies surrounding sexual assault
- Racial and cultural diversity
- LGBTQ+ representation
Free worksheets to help your students choose their university campus
Now that you’ve got some background information on the kinds of criteria students should be looking into for each university campus, it’s time to let them take the reins and delve into independent research.
We have the perfect tool to help. This worksheet pack guides students’ research logically, beginning with the basics (like whether they’re more suited to city or campus universities), then moving onto the broader campus location before helping students to envision actually living on each campus.
Finally, we’ve included a handy comparison table where they can score each potential campus on different areas and see which one fits their needs best.
Download your free worksheets to ensure students’ campus comparisons are thorough and logical, so that they find their perfect homes – an essential ingredient to thrive academically and personally at university.
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