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Published: 29 June 2018

Choosing a university course: seven things to think about

We asked Surrey student Annie for her advice and insights on choosing a course at university. Here’s what she came up with.

Woman reading a book near a glass panel.

It’s easy for us to take for granted how immediate many things in our lives have become, especially because of technology. That being said, when choosing the right university course, it isn’t quite the same as, say, discovering a cool summer dress online, clicking on it and seeing it swiftly delivered to your front door the next day. It’s not a decision you want to rush if you can help it. To add to this, UK universities offer thousands of courses for you to choose from, and this information overload can seem a little daunting to say the least. Here are my top tips to help you know where to start.

1. You need to have a passion for the subject

If there’s a particular subject which you find a chore in your current studies, then chances are it’s not a subject you should be dedicating another three years of your life to! Taking your work ethic into account is a good idea too because this will become even more important at university.

Try and picture it this way: does the subject area you might study inspire you so much that you can imagine yourself going out of your way to research it? If you had to, would you be prepared to stay up late into the night to meet critical deadlines? These are the sort of honest questions you need to ask yourself.

2. Look beyond your curriculum

You may encounter subject areas that will be alien to you which you have never studied before. The best way to approach this issue is to start from the top: think about a potential career which interests you and whether you’d actually need to study one of these new subject areas to go into that field.

Fresh from your A-levels or other qualifications, admissions tutors will understand that you won’t have much of a grounding in certain subjects. They’re actually more interested in what has motivated you to study a course in the first place, so clarify this in your own mind and make sure they’re impressed if and when they ask you the question!

3. Would you like joint honours with that?

Do you feel like you have too much choice? You don’t actually have to settle for one subject (known as a ‘single honours’ degree) - you could go for more. Most universities offer ‘joint honours’ courses, where you can split your studies between two subjects, normally 50 per cent for each. You can also take advantage of major and minor options in which you typically spend 75 per cent of your studies on your major subject and 25 per cent on your minor subject. You’ll find that the subjects and percentages on offer vary between institutions.

Students having a discussion

4. The UCAS search tool is your new best friend

Becoming familiar with this website is definitely worth your time. Not only will it allow you to narrow down your choices by your subject keywords, but it will also show you what combinations of courses are available at each institution. Whether you’re looking to get as far away from your parents as possible or would rather stay closer to home, UCAS also offers a map feature so you can see how far a university is from your current location.

5. Prospectuses make great bedtime reading

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, you can expect prospectuses to be available to order online or in person at higher education events. University websites will also give you an initial feel of what different places might be like as well as crucial information about entry requirements.

6. Go and see for yourself

After deciding which universities appeal to you, it’s definitely a good idea to go and have a look around them. Your favourite university from the prospectus reviews might not be what you’re looking for in person. Open days typically take place during the summer, and you can register for them online. They offer a great chance for you to see the department, the campus, the facilities and to gain a general feel of what it would be like to study there.

7. Questions aplenty

Last, but by no means least, make sure you ask the right questions if you have any concerns or queries. The only way to truly decipher which course you should study is to approach academics and current students with your questions. Use open days or contact university departments directly to find out specific details about course modules or the university itself. Current students may also give you an insight into the kind of accommodation and social scene you can expect.

Students filming

It’s a really important decision ahead of you. Having been in your shoes just a few years ago, I can honestly say that if you consider all your options, then you’ll pick the right university and course for you. I travelled the length and breadth of the country before I found the place which felt like a home from home. It was during my applicant day at Surrey when I had this realisation. The beautiful green spaces and the lake seemed like the ideal places to take study breaks, and I could see myself being happy to live and study at Surrey for the next few years of my life. If you come to visit Surrey, you may feel the same way too.

The Students’ Union Facebook page also wooed me with the amount of opportunities to get involved with activities. It’s one of the best opportunities of your life, so don’t rush your decision. It took me nearly the whole of Sixth Form, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way because once I knew, I knew! Good luck.

Find out what courses you could study at Surrey, or why not come and see for yourself what Surrey has to offer you at an open day or one of our applicant visit days?