Indian student looking at a book in the library

It’s that all important time again when you’ve got to put together your UCAS form and decide which university you are off to and what you are going to study. But the whole process is mindboggling, especially when you have no clue what you should be studying and the plethora of options is the longest spreadsheet you’ve ever seen in your life. What makes it even more tricky is that many of the options you’ve never even heard of!

So how do you start? Here is out handy guide to walk you through narrowing down your course options and potentially picking the right one for you. 

If you know what career you want to go into

If your chosen career require a specific degree

Lucky you, your choice is made for you! 

If you are interested in a career but are not a hundred percent convinced it is the right choice for you at this stage, there is always the opportunity for postgraduate study. Careers such as Law, Marketing and Accounting all accept postgraduate qualifications so you can set yourself on that career path at a later date. This is also true of qualifications such as Physiotherapy, however they will also require more specific undergraduate study. 

If your chosen career does not require a specific degree

If the career does not require a specific degree you can check out our career pages and find what the most popular courses are for that career. This might give you some indication of the types of subjects you could focus on. However, remember that they are not your only options and you can study something else entirely if you wish. 

If you don’t have a specific career in mind

What is your favourite subject at school? 

If you don’t have a specific career in mind, but there is a subject at school you enjoy they most you could continue with the subject. Just remember that you need to like it enough to study it for another three years or more, as if not you may find university life getting rather tedious!

There might also be certain aspects of a subject that you really enjoy and you may be able to focus on these. For example if your favourite subject is Biology at college and are specifically interested in the environment, you could think about studying Ecology instead.

If there is a specific subject you like, take a look at the courses within that department in a university prospectus. This will give you the opportunity to discover what else you can study in and around the subject and there may be something that catches your eye. 

What about studying something completely different? 

Alongside courses that you have heard of, they’ll be even more that you’ve never heard of or have never thought about studying. With a flick through of a number of university prospectuses you’ll see just how many opportunities there are.

If there’s an area of study you are interested in, for example the humanities, arts or business, you can once again skim a number of prospectuses to see what’s on offer. 

If you are still stuck, you can also give What Uni’s ‘What course should I do?’ finder a try. Here you type in your A-levels and it gives you a list of the most common subjects studied at university for that combination. Often what students study at college is what they go on to studying at university, but you may just be surprised by one or two of the results. 

If you are interested in lots of things you could consider either a joint degree or a degree that covers a lot of topics. A joint degree such as Philosophy and Linguistics allows you to study both if you just can’t decide between the two. A degree that covers a lot of topics, such as Anthropology or Archaeology, allows you to explore a number of different interests which you can then narrow down after your first year and are able to choose specific options. 

You can also rule out subjects that you might have thought were interesting, but an aspect entails something you just don’t want to do. For example, you might like the idea of Psychology but the amount of statistics you’ll need to learn is enough to shut the door on that idea. Ruling out subjects is sometimes just as important as ruling them in!

How do you know whether the subject is really right for you?

But how do you know whether the subject is really right for you if you’ve never studied it before? You don’t have to get your courses choices down to a minimum before you go and visit universities - you can always have two or three options and narrow them down by speaking to members of staff and students in the departments you are interested in. This will give you a better understanding of what you’ll study and whether it’s right for you. 

The universities of both Oxford and Cambridge have reading lists for students wanting to study a particular subject, and reading around the subject and getting a feel for what you will be learning is another great way to condense your list.

Don’t worry if you think that picking a non-vocational degree is a bad idea. Most graduate roles don’t require a specific degree, however if you are looking to apply for a top graduate job after university, be mindful that it’s better to stick to a general, non-vocational course, e.g. Neuroscience over Events Management. Employers will have heard of the more traditional courses and will be more likely to understand what skills you’ve gained from the course and how you can use them effectively in the business. 

Remember the subject's entry requirements

The last thing you need to note is that universities have entry requirements for each course. As well as grade requirements, they frequently have subject requirements, for example Economics often requires Maths at A-level and Physics requires both Maths and Physics. Do you have the right subjects at A-level to study that degree?

Now that you've decided what to study, have a look at which universities would be a good choice for you, and what type of degree would be appropriate for you

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