Choosing a course to study at university can seem daunting. A common worry is that a wrong decision could adversely affect a student’s career and, ultimately, life. However, the situation is simple: a ‘good’ degree, regardless of subject, is required for most jobs. There are some obvious exceptions to this, for example, to be a doctor, you do need a degree in Medicine. So what constitutes a ‘good’ degree? A good degree means obtaining a 2:1 or above from a reputable university. In addition, if you decide later on to do a conversion course (for example, in law), the requirement for this is the ubiquitous 2:1 in any subject.
Degrees are classified differently to A-levels. The top ‘grade’ is a 1st, equivalent to an A*; a 2:1 can be thought of as an ‘A’; a 2:2 as a ‘B’ and so on. In order to obtain a 2:1 or above, you have to put in a lot of work over your three or four year course and therefore you must be sufficiently interested in your subject to sustain the effort. So, although the subject itself does not matter, it is important to have researched the course content thoroughly and to have assured yourself that you will enjoy it.
Perhaps a sensible place to start is to analyse your strengths and weaknesses at A-level. Are there modules within subjects at which you excel? Would you like to further your knowledge in this subject, or are there new subjects which involve similar skills, to explore? Spend some time browsing an A-Z course list on a large university’s website, to make sure you know what is available. Do not focus on what you think you ‘should’ study but, instead, on which course descriptions really grab you.
Once you have drawn up a shortlist, you need to check the entry requirements and make sure that you are eligible to apply, for example, is a science at A-level needed, or a ‘B’ at GCSE Maths? All courses at the top universities are highly competitive and, to give yourself the best possible chance of being accepted, you have to show the admissions tutor that you are serious about your course.
But how can you do this, if you have only just picked one? Well, now is the time to ask the relevant teachers at school for a recommended reading list and to consult university departmental websites for ideas about what additional books you should read. Depending on your chosen course, regularly reading a broadsheet newspaper or relevant magazines, such as The Economist, may be appropriate. Note down any thoughts you have about your reading material as this can later be incorporated into your personal statement. By reading around your chosen subject, you will not only be able to evidence your interest in it, but also confirm to yourself that this is the subject for you.
Work experience can also provide evidence to university admissions tutors that you will be a good student. Completing projects or simply showing an interest in something new to you suggests that you have the skills for which tutors are looking. Part-time jobs and sustained voluntary work also demonstrate tenacity. Take part in relevant clubs and societies at school. Perhaps, to add to your portfolio of evidence, you can research a topic of interest and present it to the group? If there are no relevant clubs or societies at school, start one! There are many lectures you can attend in the evenings which are put on for the general public. Find out the programme from your local institutions and get involved. Attending subject-specific university open days will also give you much information about what your course entails. You may even be given a sample lecture.
Any university course will involve reading and attending lectures and, if you find the books and lectures boring at this stage, you may well have latched on to the wrong subject. If so, look at the other subjects on your shortlist. As you engage with more activities relating to your chosen subject, your area of interest will crystallise and you will be able to make an informed choice.
Natalie Lancer is the founder of NatalieLancer.com and myuniapplication.com. She can discuss university and career options in one-to-one sessions and give expert guidance on your personal statement and interviews.
Natalie’s Top tips for choosing a university course:
- Analyse your strengths and weaknesses at A-level.
- Find out the range of courses available by consulting an A-Z list.
- Consult the entry requirements.
- Engage in a variety of activities related to your subject such as reading, lectures, societies and work experience.
- If you are still unsure, or require assistance, consult a professional.