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How to Pick a Course

By Jenny Bates

At such an uncertain time it seems like almost everything is up in the air and thinking about planning for the future can seem a bit daunting. But for a lot of students, you’ll now be thinking about where you want to go to university and what you want to study there. These are important decisions and without physical open days it might feel like it’s impossible to make an informed decision.

There’s two parts to planning for university – deciding what you want to study and where you want to study.

For some of you, you may already have decided what you want to study already, which means its easier to start researching where you want to study. But for those of you that are finding it difficult to figure out exactly what you want to study, here are some tips:

  • Figure out what you enjoy. I know it’s obvious advice but it is so, so important that the subject you pick is something you are going to be really interested in. If you have a rough idea of what you want to study then it can be useful to really get to the specifics of your favourite parts. When I was applying for university I knew I wanted to study something to with economics, or politics, or history – a pretty broad starting point! However, I was able to find courses I hadn’t necessarily heard of before that combined these different areas such. I looked at and applied for courses in political economy, economic history, and PPE in the end because, despite being somewhat different, they all encapsulated some of my favourite subjects. (Saying that, I would try and narrow your final course choices down to the same or very similar choices – I can say from experience that if you apply for two or more quite different courses it will make your UCAS application slightly more complicated!)

  • Find out what’s on offer. There are quite literally hundreds of variations of different courses you can take at university, many I’d never heard of or considered before I started looking. If, for example, you’re interested in studying politics you’ll find that there are a huge number of variations on this subject, whether that’s joint honours courses or more specific variations such as International Relations, Globalisation Studies, and European Politics. Look into the content of these courses carefully and consider which you find most appealing.

  • Read and research. A few minutes of research into university courses and you might be overwhelmed by the choice! This is especially difficult when you haven’t studied the subject you’re applying for directly at A-Level. However, don’t let this get in your way. The best tip I can give is to read around the subjects you’re interested in. If you want to study biology, for example, read some articles in the news to figure out what it is that you really enjoy – is it marine biology, biomedicine, botany, or something else! Perhaps you want to study history but are thinking of doing a joint honours but can’t choose between anthropology or sociology. Reading around these subjects, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts and so on is the best way to figure out the specifics of what you really enjoy.

  • Ask questions. Obviously it isn’t as easy to talk to current students and academic directly at the moment, but there are still plenty of ways you can get information first hand. Most universities are running virtual open days which will often include live Q&A sessions or other opportunities to chat to current students and staff online. Make the most of this to ask all your questions – it may even be helpful if it gives you the option to find out more about a university that would have been too far away to visit! There are loads of blogs on That University Student, too, and these give a really great insight into different courses!

I’ll finish with a couple more really practical tips. If you have a specific career in mind, a lot of the time it won’t matter exactly what degree you have, but it is still worth checking to see if potential future employers might prefer graduates from a particular subject. If you don’t know what you want to do in the future then rest assured that you’re in the majority – most people don’t know and it won’t affect your job prospects! Secondly, check what requirements different courses have. If they require you to have maths A-Level, for example, then that’s something you need to take into account!

Picking a university course can be really easy for some people, and much more difficult for others. In these unusual times it might seem harder to find the information you need but do make the most of the resources online and ask all your questions – even the silly ones! Ultimately, find a course that you will really enjoy. The most important thing is that you are invested in and engaged with your degree.


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