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How do I choose the right degree?

Picking a degree that suits both your interests and your career plan isn’t always easy. Find out how to make the right choice.

Research the courses thoroughly

Researching courses is essential, since the one that sounds most interesting might not necessarily be the best one to get you into the future career you want. Every year, people arrive at university to find that the course isn't what they expected - and it's all the more frustrating if you nearly chose something else. Make sure you look at the structure of the course carefully, attend an open day and talk to someone at the university if you have any questions.

Check job adverts

If you know exactly what kind of work you want to be doing, then looking at job adverts is a great way to work out what qualifications you need.

The first thing to look at is, quite simply, whether the job asks for a degree in a particular subject. However, this isn't the only thing to check. Look carefully through all the requirements, and think about whether the different courses you are considering would help you to fulfil them. A course that isn't directly related to the job might cover some of the requirements, but you'll have to make up the rest in other ways. That might mean further study, getting work experience, or starting your career in a less senior position.

Remember, you shouldn't just look at the dream job you eventually want to move into: you need to work out how you'll get there. If that dream job doesn't ask for a specific degree, but does ask for five years' experience in the industry, you'll need to find out whether you'll need a specific degree to get the jobs that will give you that experience. Similarly, don't just look at entry-level jobs: look at adverts for more senior roles as well to make sure that your course choice won't hold you back as your career progresses.

Research graduate destinations

It's easy to assume that one degree is the path to career success and the other is a one-way ticket to unemployment, but the reality is never that simple. Plenty of non-vocational degrees have strong employment rates, while courses with obvious job prospects can be less useful than they look – for example, if there is a lot of competition for a small number of jobs.

Most universities compile statistics about where graduates from each course end up. These will normally available on the university's website or from the careers service. Try searching for 'graduate destinations' or contacting a careers adviser at the university. These are particularly useful for comparing the same course at different universities, since it will reflect the content of the course and the reputation of the institution.

Investigate postgraduate options

Even for careers which demand a particular degree, your undergraduate cause doesn't seal your fate. A postgraduate course may be able to prepare you for a different career path.

These 'conversion courses' are particularly popular in law, medicine and teaching, but the same principle can apply in other areas. Postgraduate courses are available for a huge range of subjects. However, if you're considering this path, it's important to investigate:

  • Whether a postgraduate degree will provide you with the same career prospects as an undergraduate degree
  • What the entry requirements for postgraduate courses - some will only accept students who have a relevant undergraduate degree, while others are available more generally

Entry requirements for postgraduate degrees are available on university websites.

Consider other opportunities to study

Although university is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a subject you're passionate about, it's not the only one. Ways you can pursue your interests include:

How possible this will be depends on the subject you are interested in. There are many ways to learn a language outside university, for example. Studying chemistry, on the other hand, may be more difficult - particularly when it comes to the practical side.

Making your applications

You can apply for up to five courses through UCAS, and they don't have to be in the same subject. If you're struggling to decide, you might be tempted to apply for courses in both of the subjects you're considering. That keeps your options open - but really, you're just putting off the decision until later.

Splitting your applications between two subjects might be more useful if:

  • You only want to study a subject if you can do it at a particular university - for example, if you really want to do the Leeds English course, and you'd rather study law instead if you don't get in
  • You think you might not get a place studying your preferred subject, but are confident that you'll get a place studying the second subject you apply for

If you make the wrong decision

If you do make the wrong decision, there are steps you can take to fix it. Find out more about:

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