What degree, subject or course should I study at university?
Don't know what to study at university (or where to do it)? Let's turn thousands of Ucas courses and 300+ universities and colleges into just five choices...
Making the wrong university decision can cost you a pretty penny if you end up dropping out or switching. Plus, you'll have spent a considerable amount of time and effort applying, not to mention any work you've completed as part of your course before deciding to leave.
Therefore it's really important to consider all factors at hand so you make a decision you won't regret. Here are some things it might be helpful to think about, with advice from members of our sister site The Student Room.
- What subject should I study at university?
- What course should I choose?
- Which university should I go to?
Got a rough idea of what you want to study? Try our course search or match your A-level subjects to narrow down what degree choice will suit you, quickly.
1. What subject should I study at university?
'I don't know what to study at university.'
If you're asking yourself this question, this is an important first step to get right. You don’t want to waste your time and money on a subject you grow tired of, or end up dropping out of.
To help you figure out what to study, ask yourself these three questions:
Is it a subject you have already studied?
What are your favourite subjects? Which classes do you always look forward to or get top marks in?
For instance, if English literature was your favourite class at GCSE and A-level (or equivalent), and you read novels for pleasure in your own time, could an English degree be right for you?
"I would recommend identifying the subjects you enjoy, and also how you prefer to learn and study (eg doing and writing up lab work, solving sheets of problems, writing essays, etc), to help narrow down the range of subjects you may want to study in future," advises The Student Room member artful_lounger.
Consider the following:
- Will you still be interested in that subject for a further three or four years – enough to motivate yourself to work and research independently?
- Any thoughts on life after university – what do you want to do and could your subject choice help with this? You may get to the end of this degree and still not know how you are going to earn a living.
Is it… a subject that relates to a career idea?
Perhaps you did work experience in an estate agency office, and are now considering a degree in real estate management in order to become a professional surveyor. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to be a journalist.
The Student Room member username2488767 says, "I chose my degree based on what subject I liked and was good at, rather than a job that would pay me more because I want to have a career where I'm actually excited to go to work rather than dreading it."
- How is the subject you’re considering viewed by the industry it is connected to? Do you need to take it to actually go into that career? For example, you don’t have to do a journalism degree to become a journalist – many degrees are considered.
- Have you done any/enough work experience to see if this is the right career for you?
Is it… a subject that relates to something new?
Maybe you’ve always been interested by the big questions in life and now you're considering a philosophy degree, for example. This isn't the most common A-level subject, so it's possible you won't have studied it prior to applying to university.
"From personal experience when I was applying, there are courses at university that I did not even know were available – I thought the courses you studied at Level 3 were very much what you could do at university," comments Ste, a Liverpool Hope University representative on The Student Room.
Think carefully about the following:
- Do you know what’s involved? Try speaking to a careers adviser, researching online or exploring in detail the type of modules you’ll study. Your perception of a subject (eg through what you've seen on TV) may be very different from reality.
- What can you do later? While you may be really interested in a particular subject, keep in mind what your graduate prospects might look once you graduate. You never know, you might learn about jobs you never knew existed.
2. What course should I choose?
'OK, I know the subject I want to study. But what course should I do?'
If you take a look at our subject guides, you'll find the full range of degree courses available for that degree subject. For example, if you're interested in history as a subject, you might choose to study a modern history course.
Remember that a course might differ drastically from university to university, even if they have the same name.
Also, you might find that the course you choose has to meet, or be accredited by, a professional body (eg civil engineering).
- Have you actually read the outline of the course content provided by the university?
- Could you do any wider reading that relates to the course to prepare yourself? This kind of research will also come in handy when writing your personal statement.
Watch now: This video has some tips on what to consider when deciding which course you want to study.
Type of assessment
Consider this: you’re doing a coursework-assessed Btec National in business studies, but the course you’re considering is mainly assessed by exams. There might be a big step change moving from college to university studies – could this pose a problem for you?
The Student Room member ihatePE recommends "looking into the content of the course [and] exploring how they assess you. Will you be writing long essays? Closed book exams? Multiple choice tests? I'm currently in civil engineering and there are no essays at all and I'm not a fan of drawing assessments of designing, which is one of the reasons I'm transferring."
You could think about:
- Which methods of assessment best suit you? Exams, coursework, practicals, group projects and presentations could all be in the mix in differing quantities.
- Every university course will include a percentage breakdown of assessment as part of the key information set it’s required to display on its website – have you checked it out yet?
You have to identify five courses with entry requirements you have a good chance of meeting. Based on the universities that make you an offer, you’ll then have to decide which is going to be your firm (first) choice and your insurance (second) choice.
"Your firm choice should be the university you most want to go to, and it's usual for your insurance to be the choice with lower grades. Your insurance choice is a back-up plan in case you don't get into your firm," says SlowlorisIncognito on The Student Room.
- Are your five course choices sensibly spread, including a safe bet alongside a more ambitious option, based on what you’ve been predicted to achieve?
- Does your insurance choice have lower entry requirements than your first choice? It should do!
Also worth thinking about:
- Joint honours or interdisciplinary courses – can't decide between two, rather different subjects? You might be able to find a course that combines both. For instance, this could be a mixture of a subject you are already familiar with and something new.
The Student Room member wolfmoon88 shares that because they "have a lot of interests, I chose a course that is interdisciplinary which covers a lot of my interests in various fields".
- Scottish university courses – many Scottish universities let you apply for a named degree (eg politics), but you’ll cover a wide range of subjects in your first year. In the second year you can carry on with this initial subject, or specialise in some of the other subjects you tried out.
Find out how easy it is to switch courses once you get to university.
Struggling to choose? This video from The Student Room has tips on how to pick a course and how to narrow your choices down to just five unis.
3. Which university should I go to?
'I know what course I want to study. But where should I study it? Loads of places offer it.'
Once you’ve got your subject and course choice sorted, start looking around for where you want to be based for the next few years. As well as the specific course details above, here are a few pointers to get you thinking about where you want to go:
For many, the big appeal of university is the opportunity to move out of home and experience living and studying in a new place. Check out our guide to choosing the right student city for you, including our quick quiz.
On the other hand, studying at university closer to home and commuting to classes might make more financial sense. A good start might be seeing what you'll get in student finance and other funding available, and then weighing that up against what your living costs could be.
"I thought I had chosen five universities this time last year, and I went to the open days at those five plus five more I was unsure of and it changed my options completely. It’s about the feeling you get on the campus; one I thought was my first choice made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and I ended up not applying to them at all," shares HobbinsE.
League tables, friends, family, teachers, advisers – all can make suggestions of courses you should consider, but beware of over-simplified notions of what’s viewed as a ‘good’ university.
- If you’re looking at the league tables, are you only considering universities higher up the table that you have heard of – if so, why not explore some of the others?
- Following on from the point above, while some universities may not appear near the top of certain league tables, they might still have a strong reputation for your particular subject or field. What industry links does a university have which can benefit you when it comes to work experience, placements or that first graduate job?
- What do other students think? Search for a course or university to check out student satisfaction scores, as well as their comments from our annual survey to see what life’s really like there. You can also take a look at The Student Room's forum for your chosen university to ask questions and get honest opinions from current students.
Search for a course and figure out what to study at university – see entry requirements, course modules, graduate prospects, student ratings and more.