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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

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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.
 

1. What subject should I study at university? 

This is an important first step to get right – you don’t want to spend time and money on a subject you grow tired of.

To help you figure out what to study, ask yourself these three questions:

Is it a subject you have already studied?

Think about 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, 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 (e.g. doing and writing up lab work, solving sheets of problems and writing essays), 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.
On a positive note, many careers will consider graduates with a wide range of subjects.

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 real estate management degree 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 – I want to have a career where I'm 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 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 you probably won't have studied it before applying to university.

"When I was applying, there were courses at university that I did not even know were available – I thought the courses you studied at college were all 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? Research the modules you’ll study – the course might look different to how you imagined it.
     
  • What can you do later? While you may be really interested in a subject, keep in mind what your career prospects might look once you graduate. You never know – you might learn about jobs you never knew existed.

2. What course should I choose?

If you take a look at our subject guides, you'll find a range of available degree courses. 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 at each university, even if they have the same name.

Also, the course you choose might have to meet (or be accredited by) a professional body – like civil engineering.

  • Have you read the outline of the course content provided by the university?
     
  • Could you do any wider reading related to the course? This research will also come in handy when writing your personal statement.


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 be 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 assessment methods suit you best? Your course could involve a mix of exams, coursework, practicals, group projects and presentations.
     
  • 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?

Grade requirements

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 want to go to the most, and it's normal for your insurance to have slightly 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 sensible (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? (This is highly recommended!) 

Also worth thinking about:
  • Joint honours or interdisciplinary courses – can't decide between two completely different subjects? You might be able to find a course that combines both. 

    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 (like 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.
     
  • Read more: how easy is it to switch courses once I’m at university?

3. Which university should I go to?

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 course details above, here are a few things to consider:

Location

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.

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.

Visit a few different university open days to get a feel for which might suit you best. 

"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.

Reputation

League tables, friends, family and teachers can all make suggestions of courses you should consider, but beware of generalised ideas 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? 
     
  • Some universities might not appear near the top of certain league tables, they might still have a strong reputation for your particular subject. 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. You can also take a look at The Student Room's forum for your chosen university to read 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.

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