Words by Returnmigrant, SydneyBridge, She-Ra & Minerva

Enjoying your subject is the most important thing

The most important factors to take into account when choosing a subject to study at university is whether it interests you, whether you are any good at it and will you love studying it for at least the next three years. Here's the ultimate guide in choosing the right degree subject for you.

Seven questions you need to ask yourself

1. How are interested am I in the subject?

Being interested in a subject tends to go with an aptitude for it, but you can also be good at something you really don't want to study for three years. Remember that being motivated is an essential part of success, and maintaining your enthusiasm for the subject is most of the fun of being at university.

2. Will learning about that subject interest me for three years?

Think about what really does interest you. If you walk into a library, what subjects do you gravitate to? What really interests, fascinates and enthuses you? This bit is actually far more important than focusing on what job it might or might not lead to. Does that surprise you?

3. Do I choose a subject with an obvious career path?

Don't be afraid of picking something that doesn't have an obvious career path attached to it; the point of university study is not to prepare you for a specific job (with some obvious exceptions!) - even people with law degrees don't necessarily become lawyers.

University level study is intended to train you in how to use your brain effectively and provides you with the opportunity to acquire skills that can be used in any number of ways. The actual subject is far less important to your career prospects, so always, always go for what you are passionate about rather than 'it'll get me a well paid job' as your starting point for picking a subject.

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4. Should I consider choosing a degree subject that is entirely new?

There will be lots of degrees that you can take at University that you might not have heard of or thought about. Degree subjects like social anthropology, criminology, biosciences, Middle Eastern studies, pharmacology, American literature for example. Make sure you have a look at all the courses that a relevant university faulty offers - you might miss something that really appeals to you!
Will you be able to hack the library?

5. Should I consider choosing a degree with a placement or something similar?

What 'extras' are on offer? Work placement, field trips, year abroad, optional units from other subject areas such as a language? These can be important plus points on your CV when you eventually look for a job.

6. Should I consider a joint honours degree?

Look at degree courses in joint or combined subjects - two subjects may leave more career options open to you once you graduate, especially if one subject has a more vocational slant (like Business Studies or a language). These courses often have lower admissions requirements than a single subject course, not because they are 'easier' but because there is less applicant demand for some subject combinations.

A few universities are now offering 4 year liberal arts or liberal arts & science,courses. These allow you to study units from many different subjects across humanities, social science and science disciplines - and the connections between them. These courses usually include a year abroad in Europe, USA or Australia.

7.Should I opt for an accredited course?

For some professional careers, it will matter which degree you do as some courses will be accredited and approved by the professional association for that profession, others may not be. If you intend to work in an area like engineering, psychology, architecture or accountancy, you should check that the courses you are thinking of applying to will give you that status.

Your interests and abilities

Think carefully about what you've been studying at school.
  • What subject(s) have you enjoyed the most?
  • Why did you enjoy that subject (make sure it wasn't just the teacher who taught it, but the subject itself).
  • In which subjects do you achieve the best grades?
  • What subjects have been a real problem to get motivated about?
  • What are you good at doing - even if this is outside school?
  • Where do your interests lie - are you better at practical subjects (those that are more clearly focused on a particular job or vocational area) or do you find theory (a more abstract or academic focus) more interesting? ie. nursing or human biology?

Are you a match for the degree courses you’re interested in?

Each university will list the required A level subjects/grades (IB, SQA, BTEC) and any required GCSE grades (and equivalent) on for the course you are interested in. If it isn't clear exactly what is required, then you can email the uni and ask.

What are grade ranges?

'Grade ranges' (ie. ABB- BBB) usually mean that the lower grade range applies to 'contextual offers' for those from disadvantaged backgrounds as part of the University's 'Widening Participation' scheme. Again, if the criteria for this lower offer aren't clear, check with the uni.

Don't assume that you will automatically get an offer for the lowest grade set even if you go to what you think is a low ranking school.
Results Day
Make sure you made the right A-level choices

Before you apply make sure you are studying or have studied the entry subjects the course requires. Most engineering courses require A-levels in maths and physics. Most history and English courses will require you to have studied the subject at A-level and to have achieved a good grade in it.

Double check GCSE requirements

If you lack any required grades at GCSE level (usually grade C in maths and/or English but some 'top' unis are now asking for B grades) you might want to consider retaking them during your A-levels to improve your grade. Ask your school about this.

Do you need work experience?

Think about what other experiences and qualifications you might have outside of school. For some of the more vocational courses work relevant experience may not just make a better application, but it may be almost an essential factor which the admissions tutors are looking for. This is really important if you're considering applying for nursing, law, architecture, medicine, vet med, dentistry and other vocational courses.

Will you be able to hack the library?

Studying new subjects
Many courses at university do not require specific subjects to have been studied. Studying sociology at university might not require any specific A-levels, just an 'essay subject' such as history and English, and the other two could be science. Law often doesn't require specific subjects at A-level, just very high grades - so you could be doing maths, physics and music and still get an offer for law.

Go to an open day to talk about the course

This is the perfect opportunity to work out whether the subject course you are interested in, is right for you. Make sure you ask about course modules, the reading lists, and how the course will be assessed.

Options for mature students

If you are a mature student without standard qualifications (which could include an Access course), most universities will consider applications on an individual basis. Contact individual universities for further advice applicable to your personal situation.

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