“The world is mine oyster” - Shakespeare, from The Merry Wives of Windsor

The world of secondary school is behind you – you scored well on GCSEs and are now on the home stretch as far as A-Levels are concerned.

You may rightly say that every opportunity is laid before you, like a plate of oysters, with those fruits of the sea needing only to be pried from their shell to reap the goodness therein… and mayhap, find a pearl?

The trouble is, it’s hard to decide which oyster to pick up first: the fattest looking one? The one closest to you? The one that looks the most savoury?

Will you drizzle lemon juice on them or eat them with grated horseradish? Maybe you’d prefer cocktail sauce, wasabi or mignonette…

What if you don’t even like oysters?

No worries, the oyster analogy and the many ways they can be eaten serve well to illustrate that there are as many ways to choose your university degree program as there are degree programs to choose from.

So how do degree-seeking students decide what to pick as their course of study?

That’s what your Superprof will talk with you about today.

What Is Your Passion?

My father is angry, he believes the guitar is more ladylike than the drums – Milan, future drummer

In many cultures, the norm is that parents – sometimes the entire family chimes in on what course of study undergraduate students should pursue. Sometimes, the family decision goes against what the student wants for him/herself.

We can’t really blame those parents; they only want what they think is best for their children.

Parents want what's best for you, even if you're only going for an associate's degree
Parents usually always want what's best for their children, even when it comes to applying to university! Image by serrano1004 from Pixabay

In the UK, we have a bit more latitude in deciding for ourselves which course our lives will take; nevertheless, getting input from others can make a huge difference in what we will ultimately choose to study.

On the other hand, if you are an international student, you may carry the dual responsibility of studying abroad (here, in the UK) while carrying your entire family’s hopes and dreams, a weight that makes choosing your own course particularly difficult.

What Interests You?

If you’re mad for travel and want to see the wider world, you might pursue a degree in languages.

Learning a second language can open doors for understanding cultures, history and traditions that you might otherwise not be privy to. You may even get to study abroad!

Studying languages can also boost your employability; bilinguals tend to enjoy faster hires and higher salaries than those who speak only one language.

Which leads us to consider: would you be satisfied with a language degree 20 years from now?

Interests, like passions, can wane and change over time. That is why you should consider a course of study that will bring you satisfaction over the long haul.

What Are You Good At?

It stands to reason that following a course of study that you are unusually adept in will bring success in the long run. The danger is that you might get bored with seemingly easy successes and feel like you need more to strive for.

There are a lot of personal factors that go into considering a course of university study: what fascinates you, what moves you, what you’re good at and how these things reflect on your personal values. Your future earning potential falls in there, too.

As you start your university course deliberations, why not formulate a ‘wildest dreams’ list?

Before you start applying for university, write down any course of study that interests you, no matter how improbable it seems you might select it.

Projecting Years Into the Future

I wanted to be a doctor but my father thought English would be more suitable – Berry, future English teacher.

Your family may not agree with your choice of undergraduate program
No matter which course of study you select, your family may not agree with your choice of higher education Image by Anh Nguyễn Duy from Pixabay

It might be hard to envision yourself as a parent, as a relationship partner, as a financial and social contributor but these life situations should factor into your choosing a major.

We’ve already touched on employability; now it’s time to point out that some fields are far more marketable than others.

STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths have long been touted as the sure path to professional reward while Liberal Arts degrees have been perceived and namby-pamby, indecisive… useless.

Fortunately, there’s been a turnaround in that attitude of late. Not only do such studies yield a wider field of work – say, as opposed to the exceedingly narrow one-course-one-career field like professional studies, but they also foster the soft skills most needed in the workplace today.

So, if you are as yet uncertain of where you want to be 20 years from now, don’t discount Bachelor of Arts degrees just yet!

Your turn to chime in: when is the best time to apply to university?

Choosing the Right School

You might think that choosing your course of study based on what’s offered at UK universities you’d most like to attend is a bit loony but there is some merit in this idea.

For one, consider why you chose those schools: their sterling reputation? Their cutting edge facilities? Their avantgarde student programmes? Student life? The ease of obtaining student finance?

Although it is possible that, somehow, that name just popped in your head and won’t leave you alone, the more likely possibility is that you heard about it from somewhere and it stuck with you because you are wildly interested in what you heard.

Take the Glasgow School of Art, for example: it was in the news just over a year ago for the tragedy that befell it.

All while reporting on the damage done by the fire, all of the news outlets went out of their way to report on the age and veneration of this school, its illustrious alumni and the fact that it is no stranger to adversity.

So you think: ‘I have always liked to draw and they have an architect programme; architects make a lot of money...’. And so, you are sold and, when UCAS opens for application at university, GSA tops your list.

Do you know how to apply to university?

That’s really not a bad way to choose the right university; there’s just one thing you should be aware of: the most popular schools offer the most popular programmes and receive the most applications.

That tends to make their entry requirements more stringent.

And, looking further down the road, the job market in that particular field will also be highly competitive or worse – saturated. There go your plans for a lucrative career!

We’re not saying you shouldn’t apply to high-profile schools if they have the undergraduate degree programs you want, only that you might also look elsewhere to see if you can find a diamond-in-the-rough undergraduate study program that will yield a satisfying future, both financially and otherwise.

You may decide against more intensive programs of study
You may decide against a particular degree course because of the heavy workload Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Think of the Downsides

“I can’t wait for my life to begin!” - Katherine, future archaeologist

It’s easy for us to see the bright side of life; after all, we’re standing at the very threshold of our future, soon to command the world. For many of us, we just can’t help but think everything will turn up roses… right?

We at Superprof fervently wish for that to be true for you. Reality can be a bit of a beast, though, and we would be doing you a grave disservice if we failed to point out that you should prepare for everything.

To that end, we would encourage you to make lists; one for each school or each course of study you think you might like to pursue.

They might look something like this:

  • Field of study: one per list; it’s OK to end up with several lists
    • It’s better to dream and discard than to keep too narrow a focus!
  • Why?: love it, good at it, want to know more about it, parents insist on it, my best mates are going
  • Which universities and colleges?: list both top-tier and others that offer such a degree plan
  • Career goals: does this course of study tie in with your future plans or foster a brand new one?
  • Flexibility: how rich in opportunity is this particular course of study?

As you draft this list, be sure to list pros and cons for every bullet point.

For each university, consider everything from housing and tuition costs to student programs and extracurricular activities. For each study course, be explicit in what you like and don’t like about it.

Log into The Student Room and ask others about their experiences and check the University League Tables. It provides university rankings so you can get a better picture of the facilities you are considering consigning yourself to for three years.

Do not fail to visit prospective campuses on Open Days!

Naturally, the school and everyone there will have their best face on but you can still get an idea of what life would be like and what facilities would be available to you while you’re there.

Also, there is no harm in seeking out a bit of academic advising; after all, school counsellors are meant to provide student support.

They will not tell you which course of study to choose but there is a good chance they can help steer you in the right direction.

Last point: take your time. The UCAS application system is very clear in its dates and deadlines, and very generous in its course offerings and allowances.

So generous are they that, even if you receive an offer for the undergraduate course of your choice, you may withdraw your application and hold out for ‘Extra’ or ‘Clearing’ courses – who knows? You may just strike gold in that manner.

The important takeaway is that nothing is set in stone; decisiveness is good but so too can be a bit of ambiguity.

Take your time and make the choice(s) that will serve you best in the long run.

Now discover the steps to take in writing your UCAS personal statement...

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.