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I want to go to uni but I don't know what to study

Picking a course that you will enjoy is a big part of the university decision – here are some things to consider when you're deciding what to study.

You know you want to go to university – but what should you study? The sheer amount of choice out there can feel pretty overwhelming, and it can be hard to tell which degrees you'd still be feeling enthustiastic about when you're a couple of years in and which might end up feeling like a never-ending slog. 

Use our guide to help focus on choosing a university course that you'll enjoy the whole way through. 

1. Decide on the general subject area

When you're deciding which subject you want to take, a good place to start is to think about what interests you in general, what you enjoy studying at school and what you're good at.

Bear in mind that while being interested in a subject tends to go hand-in-hand with an aptitude for it, it's also totally possible to be good at something you really don't want to study for three years. Being motivated is an essential part of success, and you'll feel a lot more motivated if you're genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. 

If you're struggling to settle on a subject that balances your ability with your enthusiasm, try running through this checklist: 

  • Which subject(s) have you enjoyed the most at school or college?
  • Why did you enjoy that subject (make sure it wasn't just the teacher who taught it, but the subject itself)?
  • In which subjects do you achieve the best grades?
  • Which subjects have been a real problem to get motivated about?
  • What are you good at doing, even if this is outside school?
  • Where do your interests lie – are you better at practical subjects (those that are more clearly focused on a particular job or vocational area) or do you find theory (a more abstract or academic focus) more interesting?
And if you're not passionate about any of your school subjects, you could consider taking a degree in something completely new. There will be lots of degrees you can take at university that you might not have heard of or thought about, such as social anthropology, criminology, biosciences, Middle Eastern studies, pharmacology and American literature, to name just a few.

Make sure you have a look at all the courses that a relevant university faculty offers, so you don't miss something that really appeals to you.

Pop into the uni courses forums on our sister site The Student Room (TSR) to ask questions and chat to other students about the specific subjects you're interested in. 

How much should I be thinking about my future career when choosing a subject? 

If you already have a strong idea of the kind of job you'd like to do after university, there may be a corresponding degree course that will both help get you there and that will maintain your interest for three years – in which case, great! 

But if this isn't the case, don't be afraid of picking something that doesn't have an obvious career path attached to it if that's what you're passionate about. The point of university study isn't necessarily just to prepare you for a specific job (with some obvious exceptions!) – even people with law degrees don't always become lawyers. 

A major part of university-level study is learning how to think critically and acquiring transferable skills that can be used in lots of different ways, meaning the approach you've taken to studying could end up being more of an asset to your future job prospects than knowledge of the subject itself. 

If you're equally passionate about two different subjects

You could consider degree courses in joint or combined subjects. Two subjects may leave more career options open to you once you graduate, especially if one subject has a more vocational slant (like business studies or a language). These courses often have lower admissions requirements than a single subject course, not because they are easier but because there is less applicant demand for some subject combinations.

Lots of universities are now offering four-year liberal arts or liberal arts and science courses. These allow you to study units from many different subjects across humanities, social science and science disciplines. These courses usually include a year abroad in Europe, USA or Australia.

2. Think about the specifics of the different courses

Once you have an idea of the subject you want to study, you can start to zone in on the specifics of the different courses on offer.

Even courses covering the same subject can be very different to each other, so making sure you're going to enjoy all the different elements of the course will be another key factor in maintaining your interest for the length of the degree. 

These might include: 

  • The content of the course – take look on the relevant universities' websites to see all the different modules on offer for the course you're interested in. Some will be core modules which you have to take and others may be optional – take a good look at all of these to make sure they appeal. 
  • How is the course taught – would you prefer to have a very structured timetable with lectures, seminars and other classes or would you rather work indepdently? 
  • How is the course assessed? For example, will you have to write a dissertation, take exams, give a presentation or produce a piece of coursework? 
  • Look for extras such as work placements, field trips, years abroad and optional units from other subject areas – as well as being enjoyable, these are all things that could give your CV a boost when you start job-hunting. 
  • Accreditations – for some professional careers, it will matter which degree you do as some courses will be accredited and approved by the relevant professional association while others may not be. If you intend to work in an area like engineering, psychology, architecture or accountancy, you should check that the courses you are thinking of applying to will give you that status.
It's a really good idea to go to open days once you've narrowed your choices down. These can give you a much better feel for what the course and the university is really like, and whether you're going to be happy studying there. 

Visit TSR's uni forums to speak to current students and get the inside track on specific universities and courses. 

3. Make sure you're a match for the degree courses you’re interested in

Once you have a shortlist of specific courses at universities that you think you would enjoy, you'll need to check that you meet the course's entry requirements

Each university will list the required subjects and grades you'll need to have achieved in your A-levels or other qualifications such as SQA, Btec and IB, as well as any required GCSE grades (and equivalent) for the course you are interested in. If it isn't clear exactly what is required, then you can email the uni and ask.

What are grade ranges? 
If a course lists grade ranges (eg ABB-BBB), this usually means that the lower grade range applies to 'contextual offers' for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Again, if the criteria for this lower offer aren't clear, check with the uni. 

Don't assume that you will automatically get an offer for the lowest grade set even if you go to what you think is a low-ranking school.

Make sure you made the right A-level choices 
Before you apply make sure you are studying or have studied the entry subjects the course requires. Most engineering courses require A-levels in maths and physics, for example, and most history and English courses will require you to have studied the subject at A-level and to have achieved a good grade in it.

Double-check GCSE requirements 
If you lack any required grades at GCSE level (usually grade C in maths and/or English), you might want to consider retaking them during your A-levels to improve your grade. Ask your school about this. 

Do you need work experience? 
Think about what other experiences and qualifications you might have outside of school. For some of the more vocational courses, work-relevant experience may not just make a better application, but it may be almost an essential factor which the admissions tutors are looking for. This is really important if you're considering applying for nursing, law, architecture, medicine, vet med, dentistry and other vocational courses.

Studying new subjects Many courses at university do not require specific subjects to have been studied. Studying sociology at university might not require any specific A-levels, just an 'essay subject' such as history and English, and the other two could be science. Law often doesn't require specific subjects at A-level, just very high grades – so you could be doing maths, physics and music and still get an offer for law, for example.

Options for mature students 
If you are a mature student without standard qualifications (which could include an Access course), most universities will consider applications on an individual basis. Contact individual universities for further advice applicable to your personal situation.

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