Picking a Subject


Would you like to go to uni? Are you thinking about how you might apply and make it happen?

One of the first things to think about is what subject you’d like to study! Going to uni is so different from school, as it’s no longer compulsory, and you’re expected to study a smaller range of subjects, or even just the one! Because of this, it’s really important to think about what you’d like to study, whether that’s at Oxford or not. You can be studying at one of the best places in the world for a particular subject, but if you don’t enjoy what your studying, it can make uni life really difficult!

So how do you go about picking what subject to study? It can be quite difficult, as lots of university courses are ones that aren’t offered as school qualifications. That said, there are ways of finding out what kinds of courses you might be suited to. Here are some things to think about:

  • What subject do you really love? What interests you the most?

  • What subjects are you studying at the moment? Do they relate to particular degree courses?

  • Could you go on academic taster days at certain unis to see what studying that subject might be like? This is particularly useful for subjects which you might not be doing at school, such as law or medicine, or slightly more unusual ones like jewellery-making! That said, there are often taster-days for more common subjects, like English or Maths.

  • What do you like doing in your spare time? Is it something that’s actually connected to a course you could do at uni?

  • Do you have a dream career? If so, is there a degree course that might help you get there? For the legal and medical professions, the choice might be obvious - but for jobs in publishing or theatre, you could take a range of humanities subjects.

  • What sort of things are you good at? Are you good at reading? Leading discussions? Organising events? Would certain degrees allow you to develop these skills?

  • And what sort of things are you not so good at? Are they things you can develop over time and that you’d like to improve, or are they things that you’d hate to have to keep doing?

There’s no ‘right’ answer about picking a university course, which is why these questions are pretty open. It’s important to think about your motivations for applying to university, and for thinking of why you want to pick the ones you do.

You could ask your school to order some university prospectuses for you to look at, or you could take the time to look at university course websites to see what each course has to offer. Is the course taught in a way that you can see yourself liking? Would you prefer smaller group sizes? Stuff like this can have a big impact on your university choices.

Talking to other people about this stuff can be really helpful - friends, teachers, or parents. It can be really interesting to see what other people think you’re good at or might be suited to!

That said, picking a university subject should be your choice, not someone else’s. Hearing other opinions can be super useful, but it’s really a decision which is yours to make. It’s worth taking the time to pick carefully!

Best of luck!

Ellen B. Brewster is a doctoral student researching eighteenth-century literature. She blogs about doing a PhD (DPhil) at Oxford on Instagram @_ellenbrewster

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