Courses at universities

How do I choose which course to study?

In general, by the time you have reached the last two years of secondary school, you have already had to make a number of decisions on which subjects to drop and where to concentrate your educational efforts. However, you will still have key decisions to make when you start considering the next stage – making an application to university and, in the process, taking the first step along the path to a career you will enjoy. Some people find it easy to choose a course – for example, they may love all forms of art and are totally fixated on design and fashion, so the only place they want to study is an art school. Others may be natural number-crunchers, or live for computer programming and technology – both in their academic and personal lives. If you view your laptop as an extension of your physical self, and are totally at home in the digital world, it is fairly clear that this is what you want to take at university. After all, the university computer science/IT/AI programmes throw open the door to exciting opportunities to tackle new programming languages, AR, AI and Big Data in all its glory.

Most of us are less driven and find it challenging to make up our minds and choose a course to study at university, even though we may have a general idea of the area we find interesting. To take one example, if you know that you eventually want to work in the healthcare sector, the options facing you are enormous. Physiotherapy or midwifery, mental health nursing or psychiatry, paramedical or biomedical sciences, medicine or occupational therapy, ophthalmology or pharmacy, biotechnology or management? The list is long and the options numerous, so how do you choose?

Understand your own abilities

One way of sifting through your options is to do diagnostic tests, in order to discover what type of personality you have, and what this indicates about the best careers to consider and your natural talents. Elab offers an extremely popular programme called Get Ready to Study, which begins by running the Morrisby test, to discover your skills and personality traits, not just your academic achievements. Once this has been completed, you will go to meet  with one of our specialist consultants, so that you can discuss the test findings and what you learned, together. The Morrisby test has practical implications. For example, someone who is not a “people person” may be ill at ease or unhappy working as a nurse or clinical doctor, and find their niche in research work or forensic science. If, in contrast, you enjoy interacting with others, then you could consider sports science, nutrition and dentistry, all of which are attractive healthcare career choices, since you will have close personal relationships with your clients. Talking through your many career options can give you fresh inspiration, clarify your goals and help you look at hitherto overlooked opportunities.

Think about your schoolwork – do you gain the greatest satisfaction from group projects or working and researching on your own? Are you a visual learner, and find it easy to interpret maps, charts, graphs and data? What style of teaching appeals to you – small tutorial groups or large anonymous lectures? Do you consider yourself creative or logical, imaginative or innovative? If you are stuck choosing between two fields of study, try a simple exercise: imagine you are standing at the opening to a tunnel which has two branches, one to the right and one to the left. Which one do you want to take?  Or, alternatively, you could decide that you will apply for a course where you can take both!

Engineering, business, medicine, philosophy, … The choice is hard. Make sure you make the right decision!

Choosing a course: factors to consider

  • Sometimes you need to compromise between location and choice of subject to study. You may have set your heart on going to, say, Glasgow University, because your friends have chosen that city, or you have relatives nearby or the architecture and vibe of Glasgow appeals to you. Going through the curriculum offers, you find that, actually, Edinburgh or Newcastle mirror your interests more closely and have the modules you are interested in taking. Deciding whether to prioritise your first choice course or town/city is a very personal decision.
  • If you decide to study in the USA, you will not be faced with these types of quandaries, because, in America, first year students follow a common curriculum, a broad range of courses spanning archaeology and mathematics, art history and astronomy – and everything in between. US undergraduates do not have to decide what they want to take as their major and minor subjects until they have had the chance to attend dozens of classes, met the lecturers and professors and gain a taste of what the courses offer. By the end of the second year they have all chosen their majors and combined them with one or more minor subjects and, even then, it is fairly easy to change your mind and get authorisation to change your course. US undergraduates essentially build their own curriculum, and this is why it is perfectly possible to study music and mathematics concurrently. Do not, however, assume that the same is true of Europe, where course changes are less common, may involve redoing a term or a year and will not necessarily be approved.
  • In recent years, many research studies have focused on evaluating the jobs of the future – and identifying those which will be made redundant by ever improving technology, globalisation and supply chain innovations etc. It may seem odd to think about this subject when you are just finishing school, but it is important. The 1980s saw thousands of graduates of sociology and philosophy leaving their alma maters, degree certificates in hand, and finding work in publishing, advertising and even HR, since the mere fact of having a degree opened many doors. Those doors are gradually shutting, in favour of specialised knowledge and skills – a fact which Denmark and Holland’s Universities of Applied Sciences recognised and acted upon. If you do go to a University of Applied Sciences, you will receive the type of practical education employers are looking for. You will have experience of undertaking industry-specific projects and will be sent out on placements and internships to get hands-on education in the workplace. In the process, you will create a network within the field, which is extremely helpful when looking for work.
  • When you are choosing a course to study at university, you need to be specific. There is a huge difference between studying law and international law, and engineering  includes 15 or more different areas and specialties. Read the curriculum outlines carefully and make sure the course covers the subjects you want to study. If you love Edwardian literature, do not sign up for Anglo-Saxon literary analysis. If you are interested in Egyptology, make sure that your Middle Eastern studies course actually devotes significant attention to Egypt, rather than the Assyrian, Sumerian or Persian Empires. Not all modern language courses are equal. Some send you abroad for a year to a partner university, others do not. Similarly, not every course includes internships, placements and terms spent abroad, so if this is important to you, and your future professional plans, check it is available.
  • Think about time. If you do not get a place studying medicine, do you really think you have the stamina and commitment to take a biology degree, and then join the accelerated graduate entry scheme for medicine, once you have finished, adding another four years to your university education in the process?
  • Coming full circle, try to remember that choosing a course to study at university is not an Either/Or decision. Joint degrees and Dual or Double degrees broaden your options. If you do a Joint degree you gain a single qualification in two subjects (for example, French and Italian), whereas a Dual/Double degree,which usually runs for five or six years, gives you two individual qualifications. Double degrees are becoming increasingly popular as universities set up partnerships with higher education institutions abroad, enabling students to divide their time between courses as well as countries.
  • Finally, and many would argue most importantly, you will be spending three years or more of your life studying, so make sure you choose a course you enjoy. It is all very well arguing that you “should” do business, because  finance and entrepreneurship are key to the world economy and unlikely to disappear, but if you have your heart set on chemistry or video games, then go for it!
  • In the end, success comes from passion as well as skills, and careers which are driven by enthusiasm and commitment are satisfying as well as fun.

You are sitting in front of a feast of possibilities and the decision you make will affect your whole life, so think long and hard and do not act on impulse. Elab is here to help you sift through the many options before you and guide you in choosing the course which will both suit and satisfy you.

Do not hesitate to get in touch. Call or drop us an email and let us start working together on choosing the right subject for you to study at university.

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