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How to Choose the Right Degree and University

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By Dominique Amos – 16th November 2023

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Choosing the right course and university can be an exciting yet a daunting task. It requires careful planning and consideration to ensure your academic journey aligns with interests and goals. In this blog, I'll walk you through my journey of shortlisting universities and courses using a systematic approach.

Step 1: Deciding What You Want

The initial step in the university selection process is identifying your interests and setting clear goals. What do you wish to study, it’s okay if you are unsure? A degree usually lasts 3+ years so it’s important to consider what truly captivates you and what you think you could engage with for the full length of your degree, even if it’s not the career you think you want to go into.

Furthermore, take a moment to think about your future goals. Where do you see yourself in a decade? What do you envision for your future? Consider what experiences, specific course modules or degrees, and the type of degree you might need, such as Bachelor's, Master's, or Doctorate, what will you need to reach those goals? Your educational journey should be aligned with these ambitions, and your academic journey with your long-term aspirations.

Consider your extracurricular interests. Are there any clubs, sports, or hobbies that spark your interest that you would like to continue or new ones you are eager to explore at university? These activities can play a significant role in your personal development and overall university experience. They can help you build skills, make friends, and create cherished memories.

After identifying these, I created two lists, one for subject interests and another for your 10-year aspirations. Whilst doing this, conducting surface level research on your chosen subject areas may uncover overlaps and confirm your true interests, as well as assessing your future aspiration help and determine the educational and career path required to achieve them. You could present it using mind maps which can be helpful for organising subject interests, especially when you have multiple areas of interest. Once this is completed, it is good to highlight your preferred interests and anything you would need to achieve your goals.

Researching Courses That Match Your Interests

Once I had a clearer grasp of my objectives, I turned to UCAS to explore available courses. UCAS proved to be an invaluable resource, enabling me to search for courses and institutions that matched my preferences. I used their website to filter and identify courses aligned with my interests. UCAS then becomes an essential tool for exploring and identifying courses that align with your preferences. This exploration may reveal alternative courses or joint honours options that better suit your goals. This structured approach ensures a more informed and tailored university selection process.

How You Study

Lastly it’s important to consider your learning style and what modes of teaching and assessment work best for you. For teaching, this could be seminars, lectures, workshops, or independent study. For assignments, this could be exams, assignments, practicals, or presentations. Different universities may offer varying teaching styles even for the same course, therefore, if possible, align your preferences with the institution's offerings.

Looking at the entry requirements for your chosen course is also one of the most important things to do. Depending on the course and university, these might include interviews, portfolios, exams, or specific grade requirements. Assess whether you can meet these requirements within a reasonable timeframe. Be prepared to make compromises if necessary.

Step 2: Researching Courses and Institutions

Following the identification of potential courses through UCAS, I conducted comprehensive research by visiting university websites. This involved examining course details, faculty, resources, and distinctive features. This in-depth research allowed me to assess if a specific course and institution aligned with my expectations. I considered factors like finances, location, entry requirements, and accommodation to make well-informed choices in my university selection process. Sometimes, your interests might span multiple subjects. In my case, I explored similar subjects and investigated whether there were honours programs that allowed me to study across disciplines. This expanded my options and provided me with a comprehensive understanding of my potential educational path.

Exploring the Campus Virtually and In-Person

To gain a comprehensive understanding of each university, I utilised virtual resources such as virtual open days, tours, and Google Maps to explore campuses and surrounding areas remotely. This allowed me to assess the overall environment from the comfort of my home. Additionally, I made an effort to attend physical open days whenever possible. These visits provided valuable opportunities to engage with faculty, staff, and current students while experiencing the campus and local surroundings firsthand. This combined approach ensured a well-rounded assessment of each university during my selection process.

Conducting General Research

In addition to campus visits, I conducted comprehensive research on various aspects of each university and course. Here are the areas I explored:

  • Course Modules and Units: What subjects and topics are covered? Do the modules align with my interests and goals?
  • Facilities and Equipment: What resources are available for students? Is the institution well-equipped for my chosen field of study?
  • Graduate Career Success: What is the track record of graduates from this university? Do they secure relevant and well-paying jobs?
  • Accreditation and Affiliations: Is the course accredited or affiliated with professional organisations or industry bodies?
  • Speaking to Staff and Students: Gathering insights from both university staff and students is invaluable when making your decision. Some universities offer online platforms for this purpose, or you can engage in discussions during open days.
  • Extracurricular Opportunities: What clubs, societies, and extracurricular activities are available at the university? How can I get involved?
  • Accommodation Options: What types of accommodation are offered? Is it catered or self-catered? What amenities are available? Evaluate the accommodation options provided by the university. Assess whether they are catered or self-catered, en-suite or shared bathrooms, and what amenities each offers, such as common rooms, roof terraces, film rooms, and gyms.
  • Location and Transport: What is the city or town like? Is it easily accessible by public transport? What amenities are nearby? Analyse the location of the university and its accommodation. Explore the surroundings and their accessibility. Research transportation options within the city, including bus, metro, and train networks, to ensure convenience and ease of travel.
Step 3: Considering Additional Factors

Beyond academic considerations, I factored in practical aspects that could influence my decision. These included:

  • Financial Implications: I assessed tuition fees, available scholarships, and the overall cost of living in different locations. Finances played a significant role in my choice. Think about the financial implications – are there higher costs for accommodation, transportation, or clubs that may impact your budget?
  • Location: Finding the right balance between proximity to home and an inspiring environment was crucial. Location can greatly impact your overall university experience.
  • Entry Requirements: Understanding the admission criteria, including grade requirements and any additional assessments, interviews or portfolios, helped me evaluate if I met the prerequisites.
  • Specific Needs/Wants: Considering my personal preferences, whether I desired a quiet or vibrant university experience, and my requirements for support services like medical care wellbeing/mental health care. Next, define your needs and wants for your university experience. Determine whether you seek a tranquil environment or prefer the vibrant atmosphere of a city or campus university.
  • Reputation: I looked into the university's reputation, including ratings and feedback from students and alumni. Consider the university's overall reputation, particularly examining the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) rating. Look into the array of extracurricular activities available in the city, both through university clubs and societies and independent options.
  • Opportunities and Graduate Benefits: Exploring opportunities such as studying or working abroad, access to part-time jobs, alumni events, and post-graduation services. Lastly, investigate the opportunities and graduate benefits offered by the university, such as the chance to study or work abroad, part-time job availability, alumni events, and post-graduation services. These factors will play a vital role in shaping your university experience.
  • Services: Explore the support services available, including those for Additional Educational Needs, Mental Health, General Enquiries, and access to a Medical Centre.
Step 4: Identifying and Ranking My Top Priorities

To make a well-informed decision in my university selection process, I condensed my key considerations into a list of the top 10 factors that held the most importance for me, then ranking these factors in order of importance. This step allowed me to assign numerical value to each course and university, evaluating how closely they matched my priorities. Using this ranking system in a spreadsheet, I assigned scores to each course and institution based on my top 10 factors highlighting standout preferences and high scores.. This enabled me to pinpoint my top choices - those courses and universities that most closely aligned with my goals and preferences. This systematic table was useful in identifying the top choices that best aligned with my academic and personal objectives.

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