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How to choose a university and the right degree

Before applying to uni, there are some big choices to make. What's the best degree for you? How do you find the right university? This guide will make your decisions a whole lot easier.

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If you've already started thinking about university, you'll have probably been told by a lot of people that it will be the best few years of your life. We think they're right.

At uni, you get to be independent, meet loads of new people and just generally have an amazing time. Oh, and you can learn a few things while you're there, too. 😉

But, we do know that the period leading up to uni can also feel pretty daunting at times. In this guide, we'll talk you through how to find your ideal university and degree. We want you to arrive at uni for freshers' week and know it's the right place for you.

To start your degree on the right foot, read our top things to do when starting university.

How to choose your university course

First thing's first – before you start thinking about how to find the right university, you'll need to think about which degree would best suit you. These tips will help you find your ideal university course:

  1. Research your degree options online

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    While some people know straightaway which course they want to study, for most of us, the choice will be a bit trickier.

    Maybe you're interested in more than one career after uni, or there might be a few different degrees that have caught your eye. Either way, researching your options online is a great place to start.

    Take a look at the UCAS subject guides – they have handy info about the general entry requirements and desirable A Levels or Scottish Highers for each degree.

  2. Consider doing a degree that's different to your A Levels

    man taking book off shelf in library

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    It's worth thinking about whether you'd like to do any of the subjects you're studying at A Level (or equivalent) as a degree. It will help you know whether you'll enjoy a subject at university if you're already studying it to a pretty high level.

    Plus, your online research will give you a good idea of which other degrees are open to you based on your A Level or Higher subjects.

    But remember: you don't necessarily need to have studied a degree at A Level to do a degree in it. Think about your specific skills and knowledge – what are you gaining from each of your current subjects that could help you in a degree?

    If you'd like to venture out into something completely different, it's well worth looking into whether you could still apply with the A Levels you have taken.

    And, if you're unsure whether you would be accepted onto a degree with your A Levels, we recommend chatting to teachers and reaching out to universities directly to find out.

  3. Ask teachers, friends and family for advice

    student getting advice from teacher

    Firstly, talk to teachers about your options – they'll know which degrees are available to you based on your A Level or Higher subjects and predicted grades. And, from knowing you, they should be able to identify a degree you'd do well in.

    It's then a good idea to get advice from friends and family. Again, they'll know you well and they might even draw attention to some of your skills that you haven't yet thought of exploring in a degree.

    Also, if you know of any professionals working in your goal industry – perhaps who are family friends or people you've come across on social media – you could reach out to them and ask for some advice.

    If you can, find out what they studied and how they've got to where they are now to get a good idea of what route would be best for you to take.

  4. Narrow down degree options until you find the right one

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    Once you know your options, take a gander at course syllabuses to find out which topics you'd be studying in each degree and how you'd be assessed (i.e. are the courses essay-based or practical?).

    And, after you've narrowed down possible degrees to a choice of one or two, attend as many university open days and taster days as you can – seeing example lectures and chatting to uni staff will help you know whether a degree's right for you.

    Also, if you're choosing a degree with a particular career in mind, start doing work experience in that industry and, while on placements, ask for advice from your managers about what and where you could study.

One very important factor to consider when choosing a uni course is how much money you can make from it. You can find out the average graduate salaries for degrees here.

How to choose a university

Wondering how to decide which university to go to? Here are the best ways to find the right university for you:

  1. Write a list of all universities you're interested in

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    There are over 160(!) universities in the UK – whittling your choices down to five is not easy.

    The key is to be selective. What are your predicted grades? If you find out which unis ask for these grades as entry requirements, you've got yourself a pretty good list of options to start with.

    After you've made this list, find out as much about each one as possible. Order their prospectuses, attend open days and, if possible, talk to people who have been there.

    If you know any family, friends or even friends-of-friends who went to a university on your list, ask them about what it's really like to go there.

    And, if you've got your sights set on the top unis, make sure to check out the top 10 UK universities.

    If you find the idea of applying to top unis intimidating, don't let their reputations put you off – for some top inspiration, read our interview with Ibz Mo, who smashed boundaries at Cambridge.

  2. Think about the location of universities

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    Once you've found a few unis you like the look of, you should think about their location. Whether you're planning to move away for your degree or commute from home, the location matters.

    At open days, think about how you feel about the campus and uni buildings. You will be spending a lot of time here during your degree, so it's hugely important that you feel comfortable and happy.

    It's also a good idea to spend some time wandering around the local town or city centre. Have a look at the shops and bars, find the local tourist attractions and ask yourself if you'd like to live there for three years. If the answer's yes, you'll know you've found one of your five choices!

  3. Be realistic with target grades

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    When unis look at your application, they'll want to know if you can achieve the grades they're asking for.

    It's a good idea to apply for three places who ask for similar grades to the ones you're predicted.

    Then, you can choose one with slightly higher entry requirements as a goal, and one with lower requirements as a back-up choice. That way, you've got an even better chance of getting snapped up.

  4. Which universities offer the best student lifestyle?

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    Everyone has a different idea about what makes the ideal student lifestyle.

    If you're hoping for great nightlife at uni, check out the best (and worst!) places for uni nightlife.

    Also, have a look online for the local student club nights. When you see loads of clubs boasting weekly events for students, this is a very good sign. And, if you're shown around the campus by students at open days, have a chat with them about the nightlife – they're the experts, after all.

    For sporty students, think about the sports societies and facilities on offer. Some places might be particularly geared up for your favourite sport, so it's worth looking into. For example, Loughborough University has a great reputation for its world-class sports facilities.

    Students who are more into the arts can look for unis with art, music and theatre to see (and do) on campus. Maybe have a look at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham if you're interested in art, or the Cambridge Footlights if you're craving time on stage – there are so many options out there.

    Whatever your interests, if you want to go to uni, there will be one for you.

Check out our guide to writing the perfect UCAS personal statement – it could come in handy...

Alternatives to university

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Although uni can be great if it's what you really want, the truth is that it's not for everyone – and that's okay.

You should never feel like you have to go to uni just because your friends are going, or you feel it's expected of you – there are so many other routes you could take. If your gut's saying that uni's not for you, it's a good idea to listen.

Our guide to the alternatives to university has everything you need to know about your other options, like taking a higher apprenticeship or starting a business.

Whether you're going to uni or not, taking a year off to go travelling can be an amazing experience – here's how to do a gap year on a budget.

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