Advantages Excellent teaching, sports, social life and environment
Disadvantages Very few!
|Shops & Banks|
You'll rarely find an unbiased account of a university - especially not from someone who has actually studied there - and this will undoubtedly be no exception as your 'alma mater' always has a place in your heart. However, I am going to attempt to weigh up the good and bad of the University of Birmingham to give prospective students a really well-informed idea of what it's like to be a student there. I'm sure there's already plenty of information on here, but I'm planning on avoiding reading it until after I've written this as I was an untainted picture of my life as a Birmingham student.It's relatively difficult to get into Birmingham to study one of the more classic university subjects as their standards are quite high, but this isn't the case on all courses, and they do have a great range of courses of study. I first saw the university campus on a visit there, before I decided it would be my first choice on the UCAS form. It was a beautiful sunny day and it impressed me immediately. With picturesque redbrick buildings and green areas all round campus, I felt at home right away and could really see myself spending time there. And I was lucky enough to get a place. Here are my thoughts on student life - in my own rather long-winded style!! I hope you find them helpful.
It's a surprising city. A smaller city centre than you would imagine, with a great choice of shops, including the stylish Bullring shopping centre that was recently built there. High street stores not being my cup of tea, there were also a small selection of alternative clothing stores that met my needs, but there's a great range and you won't be disappointed if you go there to shop. If you walk up New Street you'll find Victoria Square, one of the most attractive areas of the city, and beyond that Brindley Place, a classy area by the canal with a number of more high class (and high price!) bars and restaurants. There's also Broad Street, a long stretch of pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants, great for student nights in the week although I wouldn't advise going there at weekends as there has been known to be some trouble in the area.As far as eating and drinking in the city goes, you're spoilt for choice, from fast food through to upmarket eateries and bistros. There's a good variety of pubs, including (supposedly) the longest bar in the country at the Square Peg, a branch of Wetherspoons on Corporation Street. Favourites of mine included Scruffy Murphy's (a rock music pub), The Briar Rose (good food and drink at reasonable prices) and Bacchus, a gothic/middle ages-style bar with breath-taking décor - a little higher in price than the previous two.
For food, try Chez Jules (New Street) - exquisite yet hearty French cuisine, and don't forget that Birmingham is the balti capital of the UK - you get some really cracking curries here so don't be afraid to give them a go!Selly Oak
So to Selly Oak - consisting mainly of a number of main streets off of the A38 which runs past the university, if you live in the lower numbers of these streets your walk into uni in the morning will be just 10 minutes or so - further up the street make sure you leave 20-30!! There are a long string of shops catering for most needs, fast food restaurants (try Kebabland!) and pubs, including two Yellow Card establishments - the specialist student pubs with great food and a good selection of booze, music and pool. There is also the more wine bar-esque 'Soak'. There is a Tesco Express garage at one end of Selly Oak for late night munchies and petrol for those students rich enough to own a car! There are plenty of curry houses - Dilshad was my favourite, and for baguettes and paninis at lunchtime try the Mud Café.It's a great place to live - you can't walk to the shops without bumping into someone you know, and there's a real feeling of student community. There are locals also living in the area and there is a history of conflict between them and the student population, but this has never been too much of a problem from a student's point of view. If you are a Selly Oak resident - we're sorry!
CampusAs I mentioned above, Birmingham really does have a beautiful campus. It's extensive and takes a little while to find your way round, but once you do you'll feel as if you belong there right away. The buildings are impressive, from the clock tower, Old Joe, that forms the central landmark of the university that can be seen from quite a distance, to the semi-circlular shape of the Great Hall where you will graduate at the end of your time at Birmingham. Here are some of the more important landmarks:
The library is an impressive building, fronted by a large number of steps and fairly formidable as a first year student. It contains well over a million titles (actually that was when I was there - so it'll be a lot more now!) and despite appearances, it's not too difficult to navigate your way around once you get the hang of it. There are lots of different work areas, and although some might argue that certain areas are in need of updating, I found it quite comforting to travel up to one of the higher floors and tuck myself away in a private desk to study/sleep. There are plenty of computer terminals and areas where you can work in larger groups. It's a very good library overall, so you may as well get acquainted as soon as you can - you will need it at some point, even if it doesn't feel like it in your first couple of weeks!
Upstairs you'll find Joe's, the biggest and most popular bar, equally good for a relaxing pint during the day or a mad night out. This bar hosts karaoke nights, pool tournaments and is the main attraction on a Friday and Saturday night. Downstairs used to be called Berlins - I believe it's undergone a facelift since I was there which is a shame - it was a dark, dingy room usually used for Wednesday and Thursday nights, and felt more like real student venue than the more wine bar-esque Joe's. There's also another small bar upstairs, and a large hall used for university theatre and dance productions as well as for some of the more high profile acts that the university books for big events.Halls of Residence
The Vale is an area in Edgbaston, about ten minutes walk away from the university, where a large proportion of the student accommodation is situated. Set around a pretty green area with a lake at its centre, Mason, Chamberlain and Shackleton halls can be found - these are all catered accommodations. Also Maple Bank and Tennis Courts, self-catering flats, are in this area. I stayed in Mason Hall, arguably the biggest and most popular hall when I was there, and I can't deny I had a great year there. The Freshers events were excellent, and the summer ball was an all day and all night experience that was unforgettable. The food was okay, and the accommodation was fine too - like it really matters!! Halls are for finding friends, bonding, and sleeping after a good night out.Newer developments include Victoria Halls, mainly aimed at postgradruate and international students, and Jarratt Hall, both self-catering flats with what I understand to be a slightly higher class of accommodation than the old Vale developments, although I would argue for the Vale every time - laying on the grass in the summer doing revision is a whole lot nicer than laying in a courtyard!!
From elite athletes to those with just a passing interest in sport, I can safely say Birmingham is a fantastic option for the sporting amongst you. It is generally viewed as one of the top sporting universities in the country in both achievement and the programme of sports available, topped only by its arch rival, Loughborough.
The competitive nature of Birmingham University enables better sportsmen and women to compete in many events if they so choose, or just try something new for fun. The sporting ethos is such that if you choose to, sport can infiltrate every part of your university life, such is the sporting background of this university. Oh, and the social side is great too, although if you are joining the hockey or rugby clubs, beware the initiation rituals - they are not for the weak of stomach or the easily embarrassed!Basically, if you fancy trying something - go for it. Rarely will you get the opportunity, and what's more, the activities come at a very cheap price, if not for free!
As I mentioned about, the Guild is great for a night out almost any night of the week. There's a general trend among students that first years tend to go out more to student nights in town, and older years tend to stick closer to the Guild, because at that stage most people have more solid friendship groups and make a habit of meeting there. Of course this is not always the case, and there are countless student nights that take place all around Birmingham for you to try. It's unwise of me to recommend any particular nights as they change on a regular basis, at least once a year if not every term, but rest assured if you want a good night out you will never be left wanting, whether you like cheesy 80's music, dance, rock, indie, drum and bass, R'n'B - you name it, Birmingham has it, somewhere. My advice is to take part in as many activities as possible in Freshers' week, and these nearly always include coach trips to different clubs and bars - they're a great way to get to know people and in addition to that, you're likely to discover which places you like, for next time.
Whatever your interest, there's likely to be a society, group or club that caters for it at the university. And if there isn't, the Guild has a budget for new societies, so you could set one up yourself!! If your interests lie in volunteering, politics, debating, or if you're an international student, there are plenty of groups to cater for you. Get yourself down to the Guild during Freshers' week and find out what is on offer.
Of course when you're choosing a university to go to, first on your list of priorities probably isn't 'what will I do afterwards?' apart from perhaps knowing roughly which career path you might wish to head down. If you don't even know that much, there's a careers advice centre and plenty of graduate job fairs and advice always available.
Whatever you choose to do, good luck!! I guarantee if Birmingham is your choice, you won't be disappointed.NB If you are interested in the BA English course at Birmingham, please see my review of the course, also on Ciao for some advice and information!
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