How to choose a university course when you don’t know what to study

Going to university is very important to a lot of people, but not everyone knows what it is they want to study there. If that sounds familiar, then we’ve got some advice on how to choose a university course.

1. Have a think about what you might want to do in the future

how to choose a degree
Source: iStock

It sounds like an obvious starting point, but if you have a dream job in mind, then take a look at what qualifications you need to reach that goal. Websites like prospects are ideal for this kind of research and will show you exactly what you need for your dream career, and what it might look like to work in that field – i.e. average salaries, etc. This will then let you narrow down your choices, often to one degree.

Some jobs, however, do not require specific degrees. They just require you have one, or that you have a degree and then an additional qualification (to be a secondary school teacher, you choose your subject, then you can apply for a PGCE, for example). Others, like a doctor, require that you study medicine, and do not have other options. However, even in those situations, you may find that the course content differs from university to university, so you can choose the course which best caters to your interests.

2. Look at your A-Levels 

what to do at unviersity
Source: Times Higher Education

University will look at your current studies in order to decide whether they think you’re a good fit or not. This does not just mean your grades, but your subjects too. For example, if you’re looking to apply for biochemistry but you are studying media, photography and art at A-Level, the university may well turn you down (or offer you a foundation year). Therefore, it is very important that you look at what skills your A-Levels have given you, as well as what subjects directly relate to them.

This isn’t to say you have to have studied the subject you apply for, though! If you’re looking to apply for a linguistics based course, having studied English at A-Level is likely enough to help you achieve a place on the course. Pair this with psychology and media, and you have a range of skills that will definitely assist you in the degree, and so the university is much more likely to say yes than if you were to apply for IT with the same A-Levels!

3. Consider what you enjoy 

choosing a degree

One of the most crucial things is that you must choose a degree you enjoy. You’re paying a lot of money and will be there for three years, so if you choose a subject you hate, you’re much less likely to do well. In fact, you may even end up swapping courses, which is added stress that you can avoid by thinking a bit more before you apply!

Why not make a list of the subjects you enjoy, and then take a look at the different careers each of those degrees could lead you to, and think about which careers sound best? Then you can look at the subjects at different universities and pick which one caters best to your interests!

4. Consider what you’re good at 

how to choose a degree
Source: Own Academy

Almost as important as what you enjoy, it’s pretty important that you’re good at the subject you pick, too. This doesn’t mean that you have to be achieving top grades in it constantly, but if you’re looking at applying for maths at university but you can’t wrap your head around a lot of the A-Level content, maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Try to look for subjects where, even if your grades aren’t always at the top, you understand what you need to do to get there.  Think about the lessons where you have enjoyed learning and working to better your grades, as these will be much more enjoyable for you at university.

5. Research! 

what to do at uni

Once you have narrowed your choice down to a field, or maybe even a subject (like ‘history’, or ‘English’), it is time to whip out your laptop and start searching. Think about the universities you might have visited with your college or sixth form, or universities in cities you like as a starting place, and take a look on their website. On their site, they should have a page for each of their degrees, where you can look at the contents of the degree. Bookmark or save the degrees which interest you and potentially start booking some open days!

6. Look at the different types of degree 

As well as having to choose a university course, you’ll also need to consider different styles and types of degree. Whilst you’re probably familiar with BA (Bachelor of Arts) and BSc (Bachelor of Science), there are other degrees you can apply for, too. Such as:

Integrated Masters

An Integrated Masters course usually lasts 4 years. The course takes you through from the 1st year of undergraduate studies all the way to the end of a Masters degree. Once you complete the course, you come out with an MA, MBA or an MSci.

Foundation Year

If your A-Levels don’t quite match the course that you’ve applied for, or you didn’t quite make the grades of your offer, you may be offered a course with a Foundation Year. This turns a 3-year undergrad into a 4 year course, and the first year covers a mix of A-Level and early degree level content to ensure that you have a solid base of knowledge to build on.

Industry Placement Sandwich

These degrees are 4 years long and in the middle have a year where you get the chance to work in the industry your degree relates to. This is a great way to get some work experience, and an even better way to network. Plus, it breaks up the studying a bit too!

Year Abroad

This degree pretty much does what it says on the tin. Your university will help you set up with a sister university, and you just move your studies over to that university for an academic year. It gives you the chance to travel, explore different cultures, and gain important life skills.

7. Think about the entry requirements 

what to look at when choosing a degree
Source: Winchester Uni

Another thing you need to consider when you choose a university course are the entry requirements. It kind of involves you being a little realistic (which can be a little depressing). If you’ve fallen in love with a university and a course that requires you to achieve AAB, but your predicted grades are BBC, then it may be time to cut your losses. Or, depending on the guidance from your sixth form or college, you may be able to apply to that university and then fill the other slots on UCAS with universities closer to your grades. You never know what they might say! You might just have to do a foundation year!

8. Look at the university itself 

choosing a course at uni
Source: University of Southampton

Whilst the course is super important, the university itself is important too. You need to decide whether or not you could see yourself living in that city, on that campus. It is also worth looking at things like the Teaching Excellence Framework and their graduate employment rate.

Often, if you have a search online, you can see what other current and previous students have said about the university, which will give you an insight behind the curtain.

9. What opportunities would the course bring? 

choosing a degree
Source: Lawyer Monthly

Of course, a degree opens up a world of opportunities. But what specifically does the course you’re looking at offer? Maybe the professors have links to industries you’re interested in, or the university has a society that you think will provide you with experience that will be hugely beneficial to your career. Either way, the opportunities of the course are definitely something that you should consider when choosing a course at university.

10. Look at how the degree is assessed

picking a degree
Source: BBC

Finally, one thing that a lot of people seem to forget to look at when you choose a university course is how the degree is assessed. Across the last 4 years, you have likely had the chance to try lots of different methods of assessment (essays, coursework, exams) and likely have a favourite. So if you’re someone who really hates exams, and does much better in coursework, then be sure to find courses that rely largely on coursework. It could be the difference between your 1st class degree or your upper second class degree!

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