‘What shall I do when I leave school?’ is just one of a number of important questions students make during their final three years at school. But, it is one that they shouldn’t feel daunted by as this is an exciting time and, typically, the final step in their formal education. The most salient point to remember is that there is a spider’s web of people from whom they can seek advice: teachers, parents, friends and even current university students. Importantly, the final decision must be the student’s, and one that they are ultimately happy with.
Below are some important considerations which hopefully prove useful for students to review as they navigate this part of their educational career.
What to study?
If you’re applying for university, make sure it’s because you want to go. University is not for everyone and depending on your interests there are a number of alternative routes that school leavers could consider.
However, if university is the chosen path it is crucial that students choose a course to study that they feel they are likely to enjoy and be interested in, after all they’ll be studying it for some time! There are essentially two options:
- To continue on with a subject they are familiar with and have studied in Sixth Form.
- To study an entirely new subject.
With either option there is plenty of choice: there are 50,000+ courses offered by over 300 UK universities and colleges! When considering options it might be helpful to try and answer the following questions:
- What are you passionate about?
- Do you have any potential career ambitions and are there relevant university courses?
- Which courses stand out and grab my attention?
- Are there particular modules that stand out and are relevant to your career aspirations?
- How many lectures will you receive and what other contact time does the course offer?
- How is the course assessed? What combination of exams, coursework or presentations are there?
- Which of the ‘stand out courses’ could you see myself studying and enjoying for 3 or 4 four years?
It is also worth noting that some courses are vocational, leading to a particular job like medicine or veterinary science, whilst others are more general - English Literature or History - leading to a wider range of employment options. If you are still unsure the ‘Buzz Quiz’ on UCAS website might help, as it matches interests and abilities with relevant courses.
- Do choose a subject you’ll enjoy.
- Don’t make your selection based on the university alone as the course you’re going to be studying is an important factor!
How to study it?
Three-year, full-time degrees are the most popular in the UK, but they are not the only option. In Scotland four years is the norm, as it is for modern-language degrees requiring a year abroad as well as those that include a year’s industrial placement, such as engineering. More recently, some private universities have started to offer accelerated degree programmes cramming three years’ study into two – however, watch out, as the Summer holiday is not as long!
Flexible options are also available and increasing popular as they allow you to work while studying. There are a myriad of different choices on this pathway that range from fulltime evening programmes delivered in 3 years to part time programmes over 6 years.
- Do select the course design, learning environment and assessment method that suits you.
- Don’t assume that funding works the same way for part time courses as it does for fulltime study.
Where to study it?
Once you’ve established what you want to study you need to work out where you’d like to study it. Remember, it’s not all academic; think carefully about the whole student experience and whether it will suit you. If you don’t like your surroundings or the educational environment you’re unlikely to do well. It’s worth bearing the following in mind when considering your options:
- Character: Britain’s universities and colleges are hugely diverse, but it is possible to crudely place them in to three distinct categories:
- Campus universities, such as Warwick or Bath, are essentially self-contained towns, with their own accommodation, academic and leisure facilities on a single site.
- City universities, such as King’s College London or Edinburgh, are set in the heart of a city with the accommodation, academic and leisure facilities dotted around the place.
- Collegiate universities, such as Durham, Oxford and Cambridge, are special cases as your college, rather than your university, is at the centre of your university experience.
Other things to consider when selecting universities:
- The size of the university? Some can offer a small intimate experience (Queens College, Oxford – 425 students) whilst others are enormous (e.g. Nottingham – 28,000 students)
- Who will be teaching you? And are they experts in areas you want to learn about?
- What sports facilities and societies do they have?
- Distance from home/major transport links etc.? You may want to travel home regularly.
- Research vs. Teaching Universities: Typically in the UK there are two types of university: research universities and teaching universities. Whilst their foci are obvious it is important that you appreciate how each will affect your academic programme. Research universities tend to offer less teaching in comparison to their teaching counterparts. If you’re not easily motivated and don’t enjoy working by yourself, opt for a teaching university!
- Content Offering: Like schools, universities are very good at advertising the breadth and depth of the experiences that they offer in their promotional literature, on their websites and via open days. It is important that you drill down into exactly what opportunities you will recevie when you start as a student.
- League Tables: Parents and students spend a disproportionate amount of time looking at university league tables, working out which was the best university. This is not always useful, as league tables often rank universities by research output rather than other metrics more relevant to undergraduate study, such as student satisfaction. It is also worth noting that comparing universities in a whole scale way can be futile as universities have strengths and weaknesses in terms of departments. Thus, it is important to compare universities based on specific courses. Helpful online tools include:?
- UNITSTATS: A government run comparison website.
- QAA: Read course provider reviews.
- Do visit universities before applying to them as it is the best way to get a feel for what they offer.
- Don’t take league tables at face value, make sure you understand how universities are being compared.
Do get in touch if you would like further assistance with your university application.
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