Navigating Your Future: How to Choose the Best Degree Course

4 Jan, 2024 | University Preparation

While choosing the right degree course for you can feel daunting – it certainly felt that way to me when I was in sixth form! – it doesn’t have to be. This article will help you choose your ideal course based on your interests, strengths and future aspirations. At the end of this article, you’ll feel more confident in your path to academic and career success.

You’ll additionally be guided through the university application process. As someone who went through this not so long ago, I can offer my top tips and tricks to ensure the process is as smooth and successful as possible for you. 

Be sure to check out OxBright’s many tools and resources on university and career guidance!

1. Assessing Your Interests and Strengths

You’ll be studying your chosen degree course for at least three years, so choose wisely! Reflecting upon what you really enjoy both at school and in your downtime will help you narrow down the fields you may want to pursue as a future career.

Your choice should excite you and motivate you to delve even deeper into the subject!

Reflecting on academic performance and enjoyment

In which subject do you achieve your highest grades? Which areas feel easier to study, and which do you have to devote less time to because they just come to you more naturally?

I tactically spent less time revising French for my A-level exams, and still achieved my highest grade – it’s no coincidence that I now study French and Italian.

In addition, is there a subject you find yourself researching in your own time at home? Are you extra curious about Sylvia Plath, or do you watch YouTube documentaries exposing Washington scandals on the weekend?

If you’re currently studying for your A-levels, these subjects are a clear sign of where your key strengths and interests lie. There may be a standout subject you particularly love, or you could choose a degree that incorporates multiple subject areas. This is certainly worth researching! Engineering, for example, incorporates both maths and physics.

You can also study a joint honours degree – more about that later!

Student sitting thoughtfully at desk

Considering career aspirations

Think about your long-term career goals. Even if you don’t have a definite idea of what you want to do, you already know yourself. Would you thrive in a 9-5 job? Would an office motivate you, or perhaps field work is more your thing? 

Do research on the possible careers related to your current studies. Think carefully about which ones pique your interest, and try to narrow down your career options. Be sure to check out OxBright’s Career Test as an excellent starting point!

Once you develop some initial ideas about your future career, there are many online resources (such as the career website Prospects) to help you ascertain what you should study to pursue this career goal. If you dream of becoming a defence attorney, it will come as no surprise that Law is likely the degree for you. 

However, it’s possible to pursue a conversion course later on if you change your mind about your career. There are many Law conversion courses, for example, to help non-Law graduates convert to this career. You can study the PGDL (Postgraduate Diploma in Law course) at a variety of universities including Brighton, Cardiff or Nottingham.

2. Exploring Degree Options

There are many resources available to help you explore degree options. Looking into a variety of degrees, even those you may not have previously considered, is incredibly beneficial, and the sooner you begin to do so, the better! A simple Google of “careers you can do with an English degree” or “degrees involving Maths” will generate dozens of results. 

Don’t forget to also ask your teachers, fellow students, friends and family members. Everyone offers a unique insight. 

University websites are also a great source of information, including course content, entry requirements, and what students go on to pursue in their career. Collating the information you find is a good idea, as you can then directly compare different options and work out which to dismiss.

Don’t forget to research teaching methods and assessment styles too. This can be easily found through a quick search, and is detailed on university websites. For example, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are largely unique in their tutorial style, offering an opportunity for focused discussion of a topic between a member of the faculty and one to three students.

That said, UCL’s English department offers 1:1 tutorials to chat through an essay each fortnight. If you know you are more suited to coursework-based assessment and tend to panic in exam settings, you might want to consider this in your decision.

3. The Value of Joint Honours Degrees

As a joint honours student myself, I can certainly vouch for my degree as a highly valuable and worthwhile study option!

A joint honours degree at a UK university allows you to study more than one subject and combine them into a single qualification. You’ll study each subject equally, unless it’s a major -minor degree (in this case the course will be listed as “subject A with subject B” rather than “subject A and subject B”. A major-minor degree means you’ll spend more time studying the major part of the degree and less on the latter. 

Joint honours degrees are not typically longer than single honours degrees, usually lasting three or four years. This also depends on whether you’re doing a placement year. Most universities offer a wide variety of joint honours degrees, spanning from STEM to Sociology.

Studying two subjects as part of a joint honours degree allows you to broaden your knowledge and skills. You may choose to study a subject you already love, along with a completely new one, for example combining a post A-level language with the study of a new language you’ll learn from scratch. 

The adaptability of this type of degree means it can more specifically fit your career aspirations. For example, students of Criminology and Psychology are highly valued by employers for their broad knowledge base. It’s a great degree choice for those aiming for a career in criminal law, for example as a solicitor or paralegal. 

Smiling student standing in front of an old building

4. Practical Considerations in Degree Selection

There are a multitude of factors to consider other than just the degree itself; the duration of the course, the university’s location and its culture will all greatly influence your university experience and should be considered before making a decision.

Would you prefer a campus university, or do you love big, bustling cities? Does a university with an emphasis on sport call to you? When collating information on degree courses, make sure to include practical information too!

Balancing passion with practicality

Each student has different priorities, so think carefully about how you’ll balance your passion for your subject with practical elements like university location, employability and course length. If you’re aiming to study a popular subject available at lots of universities, this is easier as you can then focus on other aspects, rather than being too restricted. 

However, remember to pay attention to how the course is taught across different universities, as approaches and specialties vary in each. Different universities have different strengths and weaknesses.

If a university is perfect in every way except for its nightlife, you may have to sacrifice this. You’ll have fun anywhere, and the opportunity to live in an exciting city isn’t just limited to university. You can always (and many students do) move to somewhere with more exciting nightlife after your degree!

Financial aspects and support

Also key to consider are tuition fees, living costs and available financial support. Tuition fees are mostly the same in every UK university, but living costs vary greatly. Day-to-day life is much more expensive in London than in most other places (although your government loan does take this into consideration). 

Conduct research into which universities and areas are more expensive, and the average spending per week depending on university. It’s a good idea to get an overview of your potential future financial situation before you apply. 

That said, you shouldn’t let expenses put you off! If you’d love to study at UCL, don’t let London’s extortionate coffee prices change your mind – as I mentioned, the government takes into account whether you’re studying in London, and adjusts the loan accordingly. There are also plenty of scholarship schemes available.

Your parents’ financial situation and other factors are taken into account on UCAS when you come to apply, to make financial support as fair as possible. If you live in Wales, over half of your maintenance loan is actually a grant, which you don’t have to pay back. 

Different universities have scholarships and opportunities for extra grants if you need more money. You can also work a part-time job during term time, or, as many students do, you can work over the holidays. It’s worth making a spreadsheet to work out which universities would be financially viable, and whether you’ll need to find a way to make extra money when you’re there.

5. Seeking Advice and Support

Talking to your teachers, parents and career advisers is an invaluable way to gain clarity on your degree choice. Ask any questions and air any worries you may have – they’ll always be happy to offer you advice and guidance, and can also point you towards other resources that could benefit your decision making.

If you get the opportunity, talking to students and alumni of your target university is also a great idea. You can ask specific and targeted questions to get direct advice and insights from someone who has lived experience. Often schools organise these types of meetings and events, but don’t be afraid to reach out yourself. Teachers and higher education coordinators will have strong connections to suggest. 

Make sure you also keep an eye out for tours of universities, often led by current students, and you can always get in touch with professors and other professionals via email and telephone.

Student and professor shaking hands in front of a chalkboard

6. Preparing for Application Requirements

When it’s time to write your personal statement, your teachers will guide you through how to compose a successful, relevant statement. Ask tutors in your subject area to read over and give feedback on the drafts you write, and if your school has a specialist, that’s even better.

Start writing it early, perhaps even in the summer before you start the application process, so you have as much time as possible to write several drafts and perfect your work. If you can find someone who’ll give you honest, critical feedback, definitely do not be afraid to do so. 

Include relevant wider reading, extra-curricular experience and your particular interests in your personal statement. Remember to make it personal to you (the clue is in the name) and avoid clichés! 

If your subject or university requires an interview, it’s useful to watch past examples of interviews and common questions, as well as sourcing tips on how to best prepare for different types of interview. Arrange mock interviews with teachers and anyone with experience in your subject area.

When choosing the right degree course for you, stay curious, open-minded and optimistic. It’s most important to keep in mind what interests you, and which courses link directly to your future career aspirations, while bearing in mind the practical elements of different universities. Read around your subjects of interest, and research a variety of courses as well as key information about each one. 

Good luck, and enjoy the process of choosing the perfect course!

Keziah

By Keziah Mccann

Keziah is a second-year French and Italian student at Balliol College, University of Oxford. As well as learning languages and travelling, her interests include writing, journalism, film and cooking.

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