Where to read your law degree in the UK

Fatos Selita, founder of the UK Law Students’ Association, explains why you should study law in the UK and provides a detailed explanation of all the things you need to consider before you apply.

Deciding where to read for your law degree is potentially one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. Not only will you spend three years of your life in that university, but it most likely will affect the direction you take in life.

It so happened that I read for my law degree at three different universities. This gave me the opportunity to discover the major differences between universities, and therefore, know the importance of being aware of these differences and of making the right choice.

Where to read for your law degree

“In one of this year’s rankings, Cambridge University was rated as the best university in the world”

Why study in the UK?The UK universities have historically been amongst the best universities in the world to read law. In one of this year’s rankings, Cambridge University was rated as the best university in the world. Also, the leading businesses and companies are UK-based and they generally prefer UK-trained lawyers. Furthermore, according to some statistics, international businesses generally prefer the UK courts for resolving their commercial disputes. This also places the UK-trained lawyers in a better position in the employment front. The UK universities’ teaching is also of high quality. More importance is placed in developing the students’ thinking than in learning textbooks. In addition, emphasis is also placed in creating opportunities for students to get involved in extracurricular activities in order to develop additional skills. Overall, the legal education in the UK is of first-class quality. This takes us to the step of choosing a university.

How to choose a universityTo be able to make an informed decision regarding where to read for your law degree, one must first be aware of the differences that exist between universities. Knowing the differences well will help enormously in making the right choice.

What can be different?There are numerous differences between universities which could affect your study and future career. It goes without saying that one of the differences is the teaching. The quality of tutors and teaching facilities varies between universities. Also, the size of tutorial groups varies. Where the tutorial groups are smaller you will get the chance to contribute and learn more.

Another important difference is the social environment. For example, some universities have more international students, some have more domestic.

The third difference is the orientation or focus of the university. Some universities are career-focused; some are teaching and research-focused; others are a mixture of both.

The location of the university is also an important difference to keep in mind. Some universities are located in busy cities and some are in the countryside. The last difference may seem obvious, but the impact it will have on your study time and future career is not.

The next step then is to spot these differences; this is not an easy task. Rankings are a good start. However, they do not cover all the important factors. From my own experience they can even be misleading. Therefore, it is suggested that the prospective student research a number of things including:

  1. The rankings
  2. The entry requirements so that you do not waste time researching universities for which you do not have the grades
  3. The strengths of the university, i.e. careers advice or teaching
  4. Reading student blogs
  5. Visiting the university at a busy time of term and day
  6. Assessing other factors which matter to you such as the size of the city, the environment, etc.

Where to read for your law degree

“One cannot emphasise enough the importance of visiting a prospective university during its term time”

You must visit the universityOne cannot emphasise enough the importance of visiting a prospective university during its term time. You should visit the university during the busy hours and look around for yourself. You do not necessarily need to book a tour as you will only be shown the better aspects of the university. It would be very useful to walk into a lecture theatre a few minutes before the lecture starts. You may even sit in the lecture, depending on the circumstances. This will give you a good view of where you will be spending your ‘best’ three years. I have met many students who were disappointed to find out that their lectures were not at their college, but at one of the other colleges. I also met many students who thought they would be studying in an English dominated environment and were disappointed to find out that the majority of the students were international. Overall, it is recommended that one takes this step seriously.

Big or small citiesIt is also to be kept in mind that, generally, students who study in universities outside London are more connected and socialise more with each other. London is a very big city and there are thousands of places to go to, so students generally stick with their small circle of friends for the whole length of their degree.

On the other hand, big cities have great advantages. They tend to provide more opportunities for students to network and take work experience. Also, the big companies are generally based in big cities. Overall, one needs to think which environment best suits oneself.

Careers or teaching-focusedUniversities have differing priorities. Some are careers-focused and some teaching-focused. At one of the universities I went to, I was allocated a careers advisor on my first day. At another, career advice was of a very poor standard. Also, one of the universities I regularly attended for my research organised careers events on a daily basis. This particular university taught its students how to defeat the market. Many of its students have secured jobs with leading companies such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Whether a university is careers or teaching-focused one can, to a certain extent, tell from the website content. However, that is not simple. You can however go to their careers centre. See how active and helpful they are. Check the list of events the university is holding. Check how many careers events they hold in a month or term. These things will give you a good indication of what to expect.

To conclude, choosing the right university can change your path in life. It will influence the type of friends you make and the career path you take. It is recommended that you research the universities well and then visit a few of them in a busy time of the year and day. Assess their lectures, careers, libraries and other important factors. Meet with people there. Do not rely heavily on people’s opinions but collect information and conduct your own research. What works for them might not work for you. Place great importance on making the decision. However, after you have decided, be happy with your decision. Do not waste your time thinking about it; just make the most out of what you have. Good luck.

Written by Fatos Selita BA, LL.B, ACIArb, Barrister (2011)
The UK Law Students’ Association