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How Moocs can help #2: choosing a uni course

Online courses or Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses) offer a digital taster of what a traditional uni course is like. We hear from online course provider FutureLearn to find out more…

If you’re thinking about studying a subject at university, trying a short online course in that same or similar subject could be a good way of trying it out for size before committing to a full university course. Read more on Moocs here and how they can help you decide if uni is right for you.

Marie Kinsey, an academic lead at the University of Sheffield, agrees. 'Free online courses can give you a real insight into a subject you're already interested in and may even turn idle curiosity into something deeper, that could lead to university and ultimately a career.’

From an online course to a degree course

Courses like those offered by FutureLearn cover a range of subjects and skills from coding, to literature, to accountancy. They're free, a few weeks long and usually led by academics. We think taking one is especially handy for prospective uni students in these scenarios:

You haven’t studied a subject before

Maybe you'd love the chance to study robotics on Wednesday afternoons at college but let's face it, there are some subjects you won't be able to take on until you're somewhere with the expertise and facilities to support specialised or highly-technical areas of study.

That’s where an online course can fill the information gap, giving you some insight into your new subject before you take the plunge of studying it at university.

The Discover Dentistry course from the University of Sheffield, for instance, helps budding dentists learn about the interesting multidisciplinary work of looking after smiles, demystifying the various roles and activities within a dental practice.

Your subject is going to cover whole new areas

You probably won’t find much mention of post-modernism in English A-level syllabuses or have covered the full spectrum of historical periods in history lessons but the equivalent subject area at university is likely to cover a broad range of completely new topics, particularly in arts subjects.

An introduction to a more niche area within your chosen subject discipline can help you to hone in on which degree choices will offer the right blend of content and modules for your interests (dig into course details listed in prospectuses as these differ widely from university to university).

The archaeology course from Newcastle University, Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier is aimed at anyone who wants to understand more about the most heavily fortified frontier in the Roman Empire.


Your subject is going to need new skills

It’s a given that studying at university will require a lot more independent working and self-motivation than you’re probably used to at school or college. Taking an online course in critical thinking, developing a research project, numeracy skills or calculus is one way to scrub up on the skills you might need for your chosen course and shows commitment on your application.

Your uni application itself might also require skills you've not had the chance to develop at school or college, such as writing your personal statement or selling yourself at an interview. Try How to Succeed at Writing Applications or Interviews to get some useful pointers.

The Uni Guide provides guest spots to external contributors. FutureLearn is a social learning platform funded by the Open University. It works with 35 universities and academic institutions to offer free online courses.


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