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So you have made the decision that university is for you, but how do you decide on which course to study? With such a vast number of university courses available it can be difficult to make a decision. Here are a number of items you might want to consider when choosing a degree course.

Your Future Career

  • If you have a particular career path in mind then find out which course or courses you can study in order to reach your career aspirations. Some careers, such as Engineering and Architecture, require a course that has been accredited by a professional body or institute, so it is important you understand what is needed for you to progress after university. If you don't have a particular career path in mind, don't worry; research shows that approximately 50% of graduate-level jobs do not ask for a specific degree subject, (The Complete University Guide, 2013). Most importantly, the skills, knowledge and experience you gain from your degree will stand you in good stead when you start looking for a job. Just be aware that a narrowly vocational course could restrict your future career options. 

Your Enjoyment of the Subject

  • Consider whether your choice of subject is one you enjoy studying, and whether you have a natural aptitude for the subject. Look back at your AS and A Level results to help you figure out which subjects you are strongest at; you will be studying the subject for the next three years, maybe even four, so it is important to choose a subject that won't bore or frustrate you. The UCAS course finder is incredibly helpful in identifying the courses available at each university. 

Entry Qualifications and Requirements 

  • Some universities have a basic set of requirements you must meet, which may include things like a DBS disclosure or English Language Requirements. Each subject will then have its individual entry requirements - regular consultation of the UCAS website will provide you with up-to-date information with regards to these entry requirements. Additionally, many universities value soft skills, such as computer literacy, reasoning, team work, and the ability to present written and oral reports, which you can demonstrate through your personal statement. 

Course Content

  • Some universities offer courses with fixed content, whereas other universities offer modular degress with the ability to pick a range of topics over the course of the year. You may find that you prefer the flexibility of modules, with the ability to choose subject matter you find more interesting, or that are more useful to your future career. Course content is linked to the specialisations of your department, and this will influence the particular topics available to study. It may be that you are interested in certain tenets of a subject, so investigate which universities specialise in these so you can study them in more depth. 

Teaching Methods

  • Degrees are usually offered as either a single, dual or combined honours course. Some courses will have their structure fixed in advance, while others provide a pick-and-mix structure. Some courses use modules split into two semesters.

Course Length

  • The majority of degrees in the UK are three years, although a year abroad or a work placement will add to this. Course starts may vary from autumn through to spring of each year. 

Assessment

  • Universities offer a variety of course assessments, from end of year, or semester, exams to modular coursework, computer assessments, tutorials and dissertations. It is personal preference in regards to which assessment method suits you best, but it is an important factor to consider when researching the course. 

Work Experience and Placements

  • Many universities now offer the Erasmus year abroad programme in Europe, exchange programmes with worldwide universities and work experience placements. These provide the opportunity to gain valuable experience, and you may choose to undertake one of these programmes. You may also have the option at university to extend your Bachelors degree to a Masters. These will all increase the length of your university experience, and also the cost, although the benefits they offer when looking for work may be greater.

What difference will a degree make?

The 'graduate premium' is, “The difference between the mean, or average salary, for those starting graduate employment or self-employment, and the average salary for those starting non-graduate employment or self-employment”, (The Complete University Guide, 2013), where 'graduate employment' refers to employment after graduation, rather than a graduate role.

The Complete University Guide report that:

  • Overall, starting salaries for graduates in graduate-type positions increased by 11% between 2005 and 2010.
  • The graduate premium increased by 25% over the same five year period. 
  • Graduates, in almost all subjects, saw their starting salaries increase.
  • However, in some subjects, this graduate advantage has decreased. 

In summary, graduates tend to have a higher starting salary than non-graduates and, therefore, along with the graduate premium, attending university does seem to have an effect on salary.

It is also useful to consult subject and league tables when choosing a course as these are good indicators of the quality of teaching and research carried out by the university. There are a number of league tables available, with different scoring systems, and include The Complete University Guide and The Guardian

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