Start making decisions
With your 2 hour starter session at the library now behind you, you should be in a better place to start making some real decisions on what you want to study and where you want to study it.
So let’s deal with the subject first. The important thing to bear in mind here is that only about 40% of graduate jobs specify a particular degree subject (and broadly speaking, those that do tend to be for the more scientific careers). Most graduate employers are far more concerned with the classification of degree (the grade) that you have received. With this in mind, think about the subject that you feel you will enjoy learning about the most over the course of the next 3 or so years. This is most likely to bring you the better degree result and therefore make you of higher interest to future employers. Don’t make the mistake that I’ve seen lots of students make over the years - assuming that to be an accountant you have to study accountancy, to be a journalist you need to study journalism etc. This decision may actually go against you as employers in these areas are often worried by the narrowness of the degree and would prefer to pick graduates with a broader knowledge base.
The point here is to do your research. Don’t make assumptions about the degree you think you need to have in order to get into a particular career. And, similarly, don’t assume that by doing a certain degree you are restricting yourself only to one type of job at the end of it. Not all law students become lawyers, and many lawyers did not study law as an undergraduate, for example.
There are so many different options out there these days, from the traditional (chemistry, geography, French) to the wild and ridiculous (football studies, puppetry, poultry production). The best place to start your research is on the UCAS website, through their Course Search facility. This will enable you to see which universities offer the types of subjects you are interested in, and give you a starting point to work from.
If you are aiming for a very competitive degree then it is often worth considering joint degrees. These are often easier to get into and yet hold exactly the same value as a single honours degree. Or perhaps you just want the variety that a joint degree brings? Bear in mind though, that if your degree also leads to professional accreditation or you are considering further related study at postgraduate level, you will need to check first that this isn’t compromised by studying a joint subject.
Another word of warning: don’t be misled by the name of a course. Your research will need to go deeper than purely the title of the degree. A course called ‘Business Studies’ could offer you almost identical module options to a course called ‘Business Management and Accounting’, for example. The reverse is also true - two history degree courses at different universities could have a totally different focus on specialisms, one of which could be very interesting to you and the other, not at all.
Once you have decided on your subject/s, deciding where to study it can often be just as tricky. There are currently about 50,000 different higher education courses of offer, each of them unique, and you are tasked with narrowing that number down to just five choices. So this is the time to step back and consider what is really important to you. Some of you will have clear priorities - you want to study a sandwich course, you want to study in London - which will make the process a lot easier. For the rest of you, it may be worth putting together a table, divided into high, medium and low priorities, which will help you get your head around what is important to you. Below are just some of the things you will need to think about:
- Course and university reputation (typical UCAS tariff offers, league table rankings, professional accreditations)
- Course specifics (distinguishing features, assessment methods, teaching methods, graduate destinations, industry links, year out options)
- University location (urban/rural, campus/town centre, distance from home, transport links)
- Accommodation (supply, cost, availability of Halls of Residence, distance from university)
- Finances (university fees, cost of living in the area, availability of part time work)
- Student scene (busy vs laid back, clubs and societies, nightlife, politically active?)
- Facilities (libraries, computer centres, access for disabled students, study support for learning difficulties)
I often get asked “Do I need to visit the university before I put it down as a choice?” My answer here is “not necessarily”. I think you can glean enough information from reading the websites and speaking to admissions staff. Sure, if the university is on your doorstep, then do it but, otherwise, as long as you’ve done plenty research you can wait until you have received your offers before planning your visits.
Don’t forget that course and university choice is a very individual thing. Try not to be swayed too much by where your friends want to go (believe me, you’ll make many new friends when you start uni and that doesn’t have to mean losing the old ones). Focus on what is important to you and your future - a course and university environment that is going to keep you inspired for the next few years and allow you to reach your full potential.
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