10 Things to Consider When Selecting a University
Undoubtedly enough, there are as many tertiary institutions as there are grocery stores to choose from. It all depends on what each one specializes in, therefore, meaning you as an individual will decide on what product or service you require, from which seller based on your budget. Do remember, though, that this is your future to which you will dedicate anything from 3–7 years of time to study, plus a lifetime career (holding all plans constant). Unlike picking a product that you can return should you be dissatisfied with it, your degree is your future — select it wisely. The following is a list of what I feel are the first 10 elements that will aid you to narrow your list down when choosing where to go for your degree.
As a prospective student, you should know exactly what you want to study or at least have an idea of the field you are interested in (commerce, agriculture, information and communication technology, science, etc.) based on your previous studies and strengths. This will help you narrow down your search as not every institution has the exact same degree you want to study. Also, consider a second and third option as you may not be granted the exact study program you desire. Depending on the competitiveness in student admission and caliber of the university, you might want to apply for the same or a similar program at another university — just in case.
Money makes the world go round, they say…well, maybe not necessarily for everything but a very great deal of things. Firstly, you need to look at the most affordable university on your list and actually assess if you (or your sponsor) can afford it. These costs include tuition, accommodation, study materials such as textbooks, personal computers, practical fees, stationery, food, pocket money, internet packages, and the list goes on. Assess which bracket you most desire and can actually afford without strain. In Zimbabwe, you will realize that State universities tend to be more affordable than privately-owned ones. Like I mentioned, choose what you want at an amount that suits your pocket. Also, consider scholarships whenever possible as these may be given by large organizations and private donors.
Different institutions name these elements differently and also depends on the primary style of teaching and learning. From my experience, the most popular format is the Conventional one which means as a student, you attend lectures during the day from morning to afternoon. Depending on the timetable, each day will consist of 2–3 modules with a 2-hour time slot and accommodation for tea and lunch breaks. This format is popular amongst the younger demographics of the university, although, more mature students do pop up as well.
The Parallel format serves to accommodate individuals who are working but also choose to do their studies in the evenings for about 2 hours. Since only one module is taught a day, Parallel classes extend to the weekends where studies are done from morning until lunch to compensate for module hours. Most of the candidates are from the more mature demographic and fewer youngsters can be found pursuing evening studies unless they work.
Finally, the Block format serves the population whose commitments leave little room for daily studies, and most of these candidates reside and work outside the standard 40km radius from the place of learning. Studies are carried out in 2-week blocks with a single module being covered for the entire workday (with a break in between). The first block commences a fortnight prior to the Conventional and Parallel classes and during the mid-semester break which is 2 weeks long (not for every university though). This format is popularly used for Masters and Ph.D. level candidates due to work commitments.
The joy of university is that there is no age restriction to study in any format. Do what works best for you and your lifestyle as long as it does not impede your learning style and comfort. In the earlier years, the tuition charge ascended from Conventional to Block being the most expensive and Parallel being in the mid-range. So do choose wisely.
Distance from home
Not all conventional students need to reside on campus, (I didn’t because school was close to home). Should the campus be in a different town or province, consider how frequently you can go home during mid-semester breaks and for the holidays. If you are the homesick type, you might want to consider looking closer to home — there’s no harm in that. In most cases, staying at home can actually save you a lot of money in the long run.
Transportation and commuting
For as long as you are not driving your own vehicle, public transport can be a battle of luck and surprises especially here in Zimbabwe. There are options, really. While some may choose to rent a room within walking distance to the campus, transport expenses come into consideration when you live over 5km away. So be it you drive or have to take public transport, ensure those expenses are budgeted for and that commuting time allowance is given so you are not late for class. Also, consider the commuting arrangements to exam centers in the case that exams are administered in a different location.
Proximity to medical facilities
Let’s get one thing straight, no one, and I mean NO ONE, wants to fall ill and not be able to visit the doctor — and let’s not mention the affordability or lack thereof, of proper medical aid. So access to medical facilities should be prioritised especially for individuals who suffer from chronic ailments or conditions that need constant monitoring. This can be in the form of clinical and pharmaceutical services to make access to over the counter (OTC) medications easily available.
Predominant mode of instruction
The mode of instruction in the teaching and learning structure makes a significant difference with regards to affordability as well as matching your learning style. There is an inumerable number of tertiary institutions that offer their programs online and that becomes the primary mode of teaching and learning. Zimbabwe predominantly uses the face-to-face style of tutoring, although, with the presence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the tables have since turned and applications such as Google Classroom and Zoom are the new norm. Internet access and costs must, therefore, be accounted for in addition to the tuition.
Internet access & mobile network reliability
Although internet is for both staff and students is catered for by most institutions, some universities are located in out-of-town areas such that the mobile network signal is quite weak and unreliable. This comes as a hinderance to communication and is not the most ideal set up should you require to communicate even in urgent situations or when the student networks are slow due to peak time usage.
Proximity to essential amenities
Food, clean water, sanitary wear, toiletries, and the list gets longer — are all necessary for an individual to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Campus food is not always the best and should lectures or sporting activities run till late then there will be no dinner for you, hence, it’s good to have affordable alternatives and a good stash of snacks. For conventional students residing on campus, there might be a need to purchase drinking water as some parts of the country rely heavily on borehole water. Should campus be situated away from the local grocery stores (which tend to be slightly more expensive especially out of town), then, you might want to stash up on a whole lot of sanitary wear and toiletries to push you for the semester or at least until mid-semester break.
Social activities & entertainment
Humans were created and wired to be social beings, meaning, we not only seek companionship from other fellow humans but also to fulfill the craving of the social activities we most enjoy. Are there clubs, movie houses and theaters that you can visit occasionally? Are your favourite sports available at the institution, especially when considering to play professionally as you pursue your studies?
In the end, you will realise that your desired place of study may not tick all the boxes (which are more than what I have listed). Instead, it is important to prioritise what is most important to you and go for it. Remember, each student and aspiring student is unique so no one can cater 100 percent for all those rewuirements.
I left out the aspect of ranking deliberately because in as much as we may all want to acquire our education from the best institution, that may not always be the case, which is fine. At the end of the day what matters is how you absorb the information you are taught and how you apply it after acquisition. That’s what matters. So for as long as it is reputable and has produced brilliant students, stress not and go for it! Every institution started from the bottom anyway.