Choosing a Degree

You’re off to university and the world is at your feet. But when it comes to choosing a degree with so many degree programmes available, how do you know which is the right one? Whether you have a specific career in mind but are undecided as to which degree will best help you achieve this, or you know you want to continue your education but are unsure which route to take, there are resources available to enable you to make an informed decision which will see you arrive at, and leave, university full of pride and anticipation for the next step.

After traipsing around university fairs, fitting as many prospectuses as possible in the precariously stretching plastic bag, it is easy to feel as though the only degree you feel ready for is one on the A-Z of UK universities. Whether you put down each prospectus feeling completely uninspired by its contents, or each one you pick up creates an increasing selection dilemma, selecting a degree programme can shape and be shaped by your choice of university.

With so many variations of degrees available, it seems a long way away from the standard ‘Maths, Science and English’ syllabus at GCSE. Looking through lists of available degrees, it’s easy to be distracted by some of the slightly ‘out there’ offerings, which seem so niche they are almost smugly grinning at your lack of uncertainty at your plans. First of all, it is imperative that you remember you are not alone. Some people go through their whole lives not knowing what they wanted to do. Having an element of hesitancy regarding your degree options is not a unique feeling, nor is it necessarily a bad one, as it may reflect your abilities in a number of fields.

Understanding your Options

Before you look at specific programmes, it is important to consider the types of degree courses available, and what each one entails. An Honours degree is an in-depth study of a subject. Alternatively, it is possible to study more than one subject in a Joint Honours or Combined Honours degree. This is a popular option for those who wish to maintain a wide scope for their post-degree employment, by studying in two areas, which are typically part of the same discipline. This type of degree will be less focused in each subject than a straight Honours degree, and may not be the best option if you have a specific path in mind. A General degree is a less advanced programme, offering a form of higher education to a wider range of people, and a Foundation degree is a course related to employment, which can be enhanced to an Honours degree at a later stage. For those who wish to combine their education with work experience, a Sandwich course can be taken, which includes a year’s work placement during your studies. Although this prolongs the length of your degree programme, it provides an ideal opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge and practice in your chosen sector, as well as the chance to make contacts and network.

Finding the Right Course

If uncertainties regarding your career path are obstructing your ability to select a degree, it may help to make a list of your skills, alongside a list of your interests. Using these lists, think about which jobs they could be applied to. For example, creative as a skill, and writing as an interest could lead to a career in journalism. Although this may seem an obvious link, assembling lists could bring to your attention previously unconsidered options. If your list fails to inspire any revelations, an alternative avenue could be to undertake a career test. These are readily available online through reputable institutions such as the BBC, and involve you answering questions about your personality and how you would respond to certain scenarios in the workplace, before matching you up to a career. These are often psychological tests and may not provide a wholly accurate result, however it could help to offer some clarity regarding what kind of work is likely to suit you.

For some people the opposite is true, and despite having firm career aspirations, it can be difficult to know which degree will stand you in the strongest stead to achieve them. In such a case, research is invaluable. Talking to professionals and tutors will help you understand what your future employers are likely to be searching for, and what degrees they hold in high regard. Although professionals may be able to give you advice based on how they broke into the industry, it is possible that the process has since changed, and employers are now looking for different qualifications. Seeking further guidance from careers advisors is therefore likely to give you a more up-to-date picture. As well as asking the relevant people about the qualifications needed to break into a particular sector, personal research can also be conducted online. For example, searching job advertisement websites for roles which match your desired career path, looking out for the degrees and/or qualifications they list as requirements. This will help ensure that you have the necessary tools upon graduation to apply for your dream job.

Many people base their degree choice on their strongest subject at A-level, hoping to continue their success. This can be a good route to follow as, providing you continue to work hard and push yourself, there is a good chance of further development. However, it is equally important that you enjoy your degree. Disliking your programme could damage your chances of obtaining strong grades and fulfilling your potential. Similarly, it could lead to a realisation that you do not want a career in your studied field. With the focus and depth of study of a subject at degree level, much time and brain power will be dedicated to your course. Therefore, dissatisfaction with your chosen subject could dampen your university experience, as well as your future plans. A combination of enjoyment and ability is an ideal scenario when selecting your degree programme.

If two degrees are tugging mercilessly at each arm, and you cannot decide which way to go, there are numerous ways to evaluate the best option for you. As mentioned, there are many variants of similar degrees, and it can therefore be difficult to commit yourself to one. In this situation, you could compare the composition of the degrees, such as optional modules and modes of assessment. This way, if you are attracted by certain modules or the possibility of a predominantly assignment-based course, your decision may become easier.