With over 50,000 undergraduate degree courses available from over 395 providers in the UK, narrowing your options down to the five that will ultimately sit on your UCAS application is no easy task.
Choosing a subject
The first year of A levels can be a daunting experience; after months of hard work undertaking your GSCEs and now adjusting to a new higher level of assessment, choosing a university course or even a career is probably the last thing on your mind. Do not worry if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Most students have no set career path in mind by the time they enter university, opting instead to study a subject which they enjoy.
There are three routes you can follow:
- Vocational courses – for students with a clear career destination. These provide mandatory training for students looking to enter careers such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and architecture.
- Partly vocational – suited to students who want to develop specialist skills for specific career sectors. Subjects include Business Studies, Environmental Science, Chemistry, Media Studies and Publishing amongst others.
- Academic – for students who are passionate about a subject and/or may not have a clear career destination in mind. Students learn key transferable skills which can be applied to a broad range of career sectors. Subjects include English, History and Philosophy amongst others.
After deciding which subject you’d like to study, the next step is to decide on the course and university. To create a shortlist, you’ll need to look for a combination of university- and course-related factors. The basics to consider are:
Choosing a course
- Course content: there can be a huge difference between courses with exactly the same title, so make sure to read the course description very carefully. How much do you want to specialise? How much freedom do you want in selecting your options?
- Course type: BA or BSc? Integrated Masters? Single subject, joint or modular? Subjects can be approached from different perspectives (e.g. a scientific approach leading to a BSc). An integrated Masters degree can add an extra year of study, but you’ll leave with a deeper understanding of the subject which can make you more attractive to employers. If you’d like to study a second subject, you should consider a joint degree.
- Teaching and assessment methods: again, these can vary widely. For example, some courses may be very practical, with workshops and laboratory sessions, while others may be centred on lectures and tutorials. If you do not perform well in exams, you can search for courses assessed via coursework.
- Professional accreditation: a degree which has been approved by a professional body such as the British Psychological Society (BPS). Indicates that students have developed relevant industry skills. These courses can offer full or partial exemption from the exams required to become a member of a body (a necessity for certain careers such as law, engineering and accountancy).
- Links with industry: some courses and departments have strong links with industry, which can help graduates secure jobs. Universities may offer sandwich courses, enabling students to spend a year on placement.
- Graduate destinations: these are often discussed on universities’ and colleges’ websites and are useful for considering where the course can take you after graduation.
Choosing a university
- Course: does the university offer the course you want to study?
- Entry requirements: to be accepted onto the course you need to be realistic about your predicted grades. Some qualifications may not be accepted by all universities.
- Reputation: you can check university league tables and the Teaching Excellence Framework if issues such as the quality of research, quality of teaching and reputation of the university matter to you.
- Educational facilities: what are the library and study facilities like?
- Location and size: do you like the city or countryside? Would you prefer to be on a campus or to be immersed in local life with university facilities spread across the town/city? Are you trying to stay within easy reach of home, or get as far away as possible?
- Sport and leisure facilities: what sports and societies does the student union offer? Remember to look at the facilities both inside the university and in the surrounding area.
- Accommodation: does the university guarantee their own accommodation to students? Does it suit your preferences, e.g. self-catering or with meals provided? Is there the option to live in privately-owned student housing?
- Living costs: some areas of the UK are more expensive than others. Is there availability for part-time work in the area? It’s also important to factor in travel costs: how much will it cost you to travel to and from university, visit friends or to go home?
Finally, remember to take advantage of the open days offered by universities throughout the year. No amount of online research can beat physically being there!
Emma Davies works within the editorial department at Trotman Publishing. Graduating from her Masters degree in 2017, she is familiar with all aspects of the student journey through university. She is passionate about helping students find the right career, and was a member of the SYP’s inaugural committee in the South West.