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The best bar none

Most university guides tell you what grades are needed for entry, but fail to give any impression of what it's really like to be a student with all the worries about studying while fending for yourself for the first time.

The Virgin Alternative Guide to British Universities, compiled by Piers Dudgeon (Virgin Pounds 12.99), bridges this gap. Amusing contributions from students already on their way to dgerees detail the nitty gritty of student life at each institution, including accommodation, health, living on a shoestring, low and high workload courses, union life, societies, sports and - last but not least - watering holes and where to get a decent curry.

The top accolades go to Leeds University for its enlightened attitude to BTEC and GNVQ students, its computer network accessible to all students, and the fact that "they claim over 1 million pints a year in the Old Bar at the Leeds Union".

The guide is based on thorough research garnered from student unions and magazines, entertainment officers, prospectuses and the latest official statistics. It includes an official facts section, covering acceptance requirements to employment expectations.

The NatWest Student Book '98 (Pounds 9.99) also contains first-hand accounts by students, but gives more emphasis to the hidden costs of higher education. It outlines average weekly rents and the possibilities of term-time work, and of obtaining hardship funds from government access funds and the like. Newly released research has been incorporated on universitycollege "superleague" and "first division" hierarchies, department rankings covering all the main subjects, and "cash for courses" information on paid employment while at college.

Prospective students following these guides will be on the road to ensuring "these are the best three years of your life times 10".

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