About our writer
Georgia Tindale graduated with a Masters Degree in Renaissance Literature Girton College, Cambridge last July
With the ever-increasing cost of university in 2017, and ever more different university courses available to study, the statement ‘I don’t know what I want to study at university!’ is becoming increasingly common among A-level students.
But there’s no need to fret or panic about this: it is an incredibly common problem faced by prospective university applicants and there are many straightforward solutions for it. If this sounds like you, read on through my checklist of things to think about to help you choose your perfect university course!
Are you ready for university yet?
The first thing you need to work out is whether or not your lack of decisiveness about the course you want to study at university is actually because you don’t want to go to university yet, or even at all.
Although it may feel like our society is fixated on university as the one-and-only option following A-levels, this really isn’t your only option. Apprenticeships offer a way of being paid to study (not usually a huge amount though, so make sure you look into it), rather than taking out loans to attend university. Alternatively, lots of people go straight from school to their first job, and complete qualifications to boost their career part-time while working.
Of course, you might just need a bit more time to think about the course you want to study. This is quite normal: with the pressures of studying for A Levels, you can easily run out of time when the UCAS deadlines come around. If that’s you, consider the ever-popular option of taking a gap year, working and travelling before taking on your uni degree. If you do decide to take a gap year before you go to university, make sure you don’t start all of your anecdotes with ‘when I was on my gap yah…’
Don’t just choose anything because you’re desperate
This is really important: if you take out a student loan (which nearly all students will) once you start a university degree, you’ve already committed yourself to a term’s worth of loan, which you will have to pay back. I have lots of friends who didn’t think through their course before starting it, so had to drop out and move course, or even university. Although there is no shame in dropping out if you’re miserable, this situation is obviously best avoided.
On the bright side, universities will often let you change course once you’ve started, if it’s not too far into the course – lots of people end up swapping during the first few weeks of term, and some even after the first year – but research this beforehand if you’re not sure.
You can also apply for deferred entry, where you are given a university offer at the normal time, but have a year off to think about it, before you pay any money to the institution. Deferring is not possible for all courses, but is a popular option, with around eight percent of students choosing to go to university this way, so it is worth considering.
Research, research, research…
If you broadly know what kind of subject you want to study at university already: for example, you know that you want to study something related to biology, but not whether you want to study biological sciences, biomedical sciences, marine biology, or something completely different, there is an easy solution to this.
What you have to do, basically, is research the different courses as much as possible. Of course, if you really want to find out what studying a particular course is like, it might be worth contacting current students on that programme. You can ask them for their honest opinions of the teaching quality, the amount of contact time, the resources available and so much more!
Your sixth form or college will also have careers advisors who you can talk to about this kind of problem, so make you make the most of that free resource while you can.
Keep your options open: consider joint honours
If your problem is less ‘I don’t know what I want to study at university’, and more, ‘there are two things I want to study at university and I can’t choose between them’, there is an easy solution: joint honours!
Not every course offers joint honours (subjects such as medicine do not) but many do, and it’s a common decision by students who really love two different subjects and don’t want to specialise too soon. These combinations can often be highly beneficial for your future career, such as studying Business with a modern language, such as Mandarin.
Consider studying in Scotland
Although it is not a widely known fact about Scottish university education, it is really important for students to know about: in Scotland, you study for four years, and begin with around three different subjects, gradually specialising as you progress through the degree and discover what you really enjoy.
For employers, an applicant who has studied a variety of subjects will have a breadth of knowledge, and will look really impressive as a consequence. Plus, as many final year students will tell you, studying the same subject for three or four years can get pretty intense, and may even cause you to lose the excitement for the subject which made you decide to study it in the first place.
You can avoid this by keeping your options open and exploring a range of subjects during your time at university. Many universities also offer the opportunity to take a module outside the main discipline, or to audit classes from outside your subject, which I would encourage you to do, if you feel like you want to keep your education broad.
Don’t panic: take some time, and enjoy the process!
If you do all of the above, and still feel completely lost, don’t worry about it! Just take plenty of time to properly think through what you want to study at university before you commit: I guarantee, you won’t regret this in the long run, and it will help you make the best possible decision for your future.