Each year, droves of year 12 and 13 students pound the campuses at open days, bang down their teachers’ doors, and frantically scour sites like Which? University in search of the answer to the almighty question: ‘What university course should I study?’
With tens of thousands of courses across three hundred or so universities and colleges to choose from, starting the search can feel pretty intimidating – where do you even begin?
So to narrow down that search, below are the five basic questions to ask yourself from start to finish.
(Note that while we refer to A-levels primarily, you may be studying other qualifications such as BTECs, Highers or International Baccalaureate).
‘What am I currently studying?’
The A-levels you’re studying now will shape what you can apply to. Some universities might require certain A-level subjects (with minimum grades – more on this later) in order to get on to particular courses (hopefully you knew this when making your A-level choices two years ago).
So if you’re studying English, History and Business A-levels, you can wave goodbye to that dream of studying Biology at university (sorry!). On the bright side, you’ve immediately cut out a large chunk of potential subjects.
Why not throw your current A-level subjects into Which? University’s A-level Explorer tool and get some subject ideas based on what previous students studying the same A-levels went on to study. You might even discover a subject you’re not studying at the moment! There’s a long list of degree subjects which aren’t available at A-level.
‘What can I study specifically?’
Once you have a couple of subjects in mind, you can dig a little deeper into specific courses within those, which pique your interest. Do you want to keep your focus broad and leave your options open for the future? Do you want to specialise in something which grabs your attention now, or if you already have a career in mind?
Have a look at what modules and topics you’ll study to get an idea of what the course would be like. Additionally if you’re stuck between two options, could you study a joint honours degree?
‘What can I expect on graduating?’
With hefty tuition fees to think about, you’ll want an idea of your graduate prospects and the salary you can earn once you graduate. This could be a specific position, a few possible jobs or a particular sector; so don’t worry if your life-plan isn’t quite sketched out in full in your mind.
If you do have a career in mind, make sure the course you’re considering is the correct stepping stone to achieving this. At an open day, ask what previous students have gone on to do or about close links the university has with companies and organisations.
‘Where could I study?’
So you have a list of courses you like the look of and will get you to where you want to go. Now, for a little injection of reality…
As we mentioned above, universities will ask for minimum A-level grades or UCAS points as part of their entry requirements. They may even ask for specific grades in certain A-level subjects. The general rule is that the more popular or prestigious the course or university, the higher the entry requirements.
Therefore you need to look at what you’re predicted currently in your A-levels and check whether these meet the requirements for the courses you’re interested in. These should knock a few more possibilities off the list.
Some universities may have some wiggle room with their entry requirements if you impress in other areas of your application, such as your personal statement. However, you should check this with them first rather than assume anything.
‘Where should I study?’
Now you can start looking at a few final factors to whittle that list down to your Final Five. This is where things like the university’s reputation, location and facilities come into play. These are important factors. For instance, something like location will play a big part in your day-to-day life as a student and overall university experience (e.g. what there is to do for fun locally, how comfortable you feel living there etc.).
Some of these factors may come into play earlier in your research journey; for example, if a particular university is highly-regarded in the field you’re interested in. These could ultimately sway your decision, especially if you’re stuck between two similar choices for that final spot in your Final Five.
If you are still unsure then take it from the students in our community. They told us what they loved and hated about their uni in our ‘Student Experience Survey 2016‘, so check it out to help you make the best choice…