Wednesday, August 23

Should you go to a Russell Group University?

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I’ll be quite honest – I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even know what a Russell Group University was when I was in the process of deciding where to do my undergraduate studies, so at the time, the titular question here never played a part in my decision-making. As such, I only ever had the chance to ask myself the retrospective version of this question – “should I have gone to a Russell Group University?” Having not gone to one, but having (unwittingly) been offered places at some, I’d personally answer no. Why? Because there’s a lot more that you need to weigh into your decision beyond the ‘status’ of having gone to one.

If you’re like I was then, then have a look at the table below for the full list of the 24 Russell Group Universities in the UK:

University of Birmingham Imperial College London University of Oxford
University of Bristol King’s College London Queen Mary, London
University of Cambridge University of Leeds Queen’s University, Belfast
Cardiff University University of Liverpool University of Sheffield
Durham University London School of Economics University of Southampton
University of Edinburgh University of Manchester University College London
University of Exeter Newcastle University University of Warwick
University of Glasgow University of Nottingham University of York

 

There’s a strong perception that these are the “best universities” within the UK and there’s no getting around the fact that the statistics in relation to graduate prospects and research grant funding reflect that perception wholeheartedly. With that in mind, you might instantly form the opinion that you’d be doing yourself a disservice by making any decision other than going to a Russell Group University. That might be the case, but it almost certainly might not be the case. What I would instead say is that your decision needs to take into a whole range of other factors into consideration.

The reality is, if it’s your long-term ambition to become a Commercial Silk or a Partner at a Magic Circle firm, you’d be giving yourself the best possible chance by going to a Russell Group University. That’s just how it is and there’s no getting away from that. But, in terms of entering the legal profession as a whole, you certainly do not need to have gone to a Russell Group University. Plenty of Solicitors do not, plenty of Barristers do not.

Therefore if you’re someone that doesn’t “need” to go to one, I’d strongly advise you to take a wider view of things and adopt a broader approach when you’re making your decision.

From a professional standpoint, what’s more important than anything else, in my opinion, is how well you are going to do at your chosen university. A 1st class from a non-Russell Group University will trump a 2:2 from a Russell Group University. You need to visit the schools that you are considering and actually see for yourself what they are offering. Everybody learns in different ways and everybody thrives in different atmospheres. If you are someone who achieves more from focused teaching in small groups and would really benefit from forging strong relationships with lecturers, then going to a law school with an intake of 300 per year may not be your bag. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Also, and I cannot emphasise this enough, think about yourself as a person. You’re going to be spending at least 3 years studying at your chosen law school so ask yourself a really important question – will you be happy there? A happy student is a successful student. If you’re not happy where you’re studying will you do as well? Probably not. Your marks can suffer academically and you may not gain anywhere near as much extra-curricular experience as you otherwise would have.

The main point that I am trying to get across here is that you needn’t be afraid of deciding to go to a non-Russell Group University, but only if that university is the correct individual choice for you. The perception I mentioned earlier does exist but there is no unbreakable barrier between non-Russell Group students and legal practice. At times you may think there is, and at times I certainly did, but honestly? The students who went to the Russell Group universities may very well be thinking that they are stuck behind a barrier as well. That’s just part of the difficult reality that law graduates face.

In interviews I have had to justify my non-Russell Group choice of law school – sometimes the question has had a tone of condescension and sometimes it’s purely been laced with curiosity. But because I took other factors into account, because I was successful and because I had a great experience there, I can easily justify my choice when I’m asked to do so. And that’s my best advice – make a decision that you can justify. And if your only justification is “because it’s a good law school”, then you might not be making the decision that is ultimately best for you. Make sure instead that, beyond merely considering the law school’s reputation, you consider the following questions:

  • Will I thrive academically?
  • Will I find it easy to build up my CV?
  • Will I be happy?
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About Author

Co-founder of Legal Loop, pupil barrister.

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