“I Don’t Know What to Study at University!” | Guidance for Students

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Date of Publication: 19 January 2021

Something we hear all too often from our students is “I don’t know what to study at university.”

For lots of students, they have known for a long time – possibly since their childhood – what career path they want to head in, and know exactly what they need to study at university to get closer to their dream job. However, for many students, they enter their final years at school not having a definite idea of what their next steps are – and trying to evaluate a pool of potential university courses and subject options.

Narrowing down your subject choices and deciding what to study at university can be a hugely exciting task. There are so many options available to you, and you really could study anything you want in the future. However, it can also be very daunting and stressful to think about, especially when you have the added pressures of upcoming exams on your mind too.

So, to help guide you towards choosing the right university subject or course for you, we’ve put together five prompts to help you explore your options and decide which university course may be the best fit for you. 

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How do you know what to study in university?

The truth is, for many students – they don’t. And it’s totally normal not to have your chosen career path laid out ahead of you. In fact, recent studies have suggested that as many as 44% of students at UK universities don’t know what they want to after graduating from university. 

If you’re unsure about what to study at university, then take a read through our guidance below to help you narrow down your options and choose the university course that’s right for you.

  1. Think about the subjects which interest you the most

The most notable difference between school and university is the independence you’ll have. University-style teaching relies on independent study; students are required to complete preparatory class work, reading, and other assessments on-time and without prompt. There won’t be a teacher haggling you about what to read and asking if you’ve started your assignments – that’s down to you.

Therefore, it’s important you find a subject that really interests you – one that makes you want to sit down and study day-after-day, even on the mornings when you’re struggling to resist a lie-in. Take the time to properly explore your interests and research what’s available to you. Beyond school, there are so many different subjects on offer, including everything from Medicine and Biotechnology and Genetics, to Creative Writing, Film & TV, Politics, and International Relations

But how can you know whether you’ll enjoy studying a brand new subject at university? The trick is to immerse yourself in the subject as much as possible. You’ll need to dedicate lots of time to research; read university prospectuses, take a look at student vlogs, and talk to your teachers about some of the subjects available on the market. 

There’s also the option of attending a summer course in the subject you’re interested in to learn more about it. As an example, our summer courses are 2-weeks in length and offer an authentic experience of what it would be like to study your subject at a top UK university. Explore the summer courses we have available and see if there’s a subject that captures your attention – you never know, you could discover a brand new career path which really inspires you.

2. Imagine your career, not a specific subject

If you’re struggling to decide between subjects that interest you, instead of thinking about what subject you may want to study at university, try to imagine what type of career you could see yourself working in. 

For example, you may already know that you want to work in the Media industry, but don’t know enough about the different career paths available within it to decide on a subject.

In this case, the best thing to do is narrow down a few industries that you would be interested in and research the types of job roles that fall under them. For example, within Media, you could work within Journalism, Advertising, Public Relations, or a whole range of other avenues. This will open your eyes to all the different opportunities out there, and may just help you narrow down your options even further.

It’s also important to remember that the world of work is always changing, and industries are constantly evolving to keep up with the demands of consumers. Your dream role may not even exist yet, and you could finish university with even more opportunities than before you started – how exciting!

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3. Explore the idea of a joint honours degree

One of the most common queries we hear from our students is that they have too many interests to choose from, with the difficult decision being “what career path should I take?”

If you’re torn between more than one subject and you really can’t decide between them both, you could explore the idea of doing a joint honours degree at university. 

To put it simply, a joint honours degree is one which allows you to study two subjects at the same, and combine them into a single qualification. You’ll often see course names with the words “and” or “with” in the title, indicating that you will study those two subjects as part of your degree.

It’s important to note that not every course offers joint honours; for example, subjects such as Medicine and Dentistry do not. But there certainly are plenty that do, especially in the Arts and Humanities. 

Joint honours can be a great option for students who are passionate about two related subjects but aren’t ready to specialise soon. You can foster two academic skill sets at the same time, which, in some cases, may be more favourable to employers. For example, if you chose to study Business with a modern language, you would be able to apply for roles internationally, or for jobs which rely on someone in-house to be able to communicate fluently in another language – a huge benefit for students who are bilingual.

4. Consider taking a gap year

Did you know that on average, 6 in every 100 students drop out of university in the UK?

Now, there are many reasons why a student may consider dropping out of university; from financial difficulties to a sudden change in lifestyle, there are a whole range of affecting factors. However, when asked about their reason for dropping out, many students put it down to not knowing if the subject is one they wish to pursue as a future career. 

In the UK, and across much of the world, there is a huge emphasis on students finishing their school education and going straight into university. As exciting as this can be for many students, it’s not the most effective option for students who are unsure about their future or what they want to study. 

In this instance, taking a gap year out of academia to explore different avenues and find a subject that really interests you could stop you from potentially joining a course hurriedly, but one which you ultimately choose to drop shortly after starting. 

You’ll be free from the pressures of studying for A-Levels, which absorb a lot of your free time – especially near the time of UCAS application deadlines. This will allow you to explore your career options in much more detail, including attending a summer school for students aged 18 and over, where you will meet other students like yourself, who you can share knowledge, experiences and advice with. So when it does come to applying for university the following year, you will have had plenty of time to evaluate your options and find a course that’s right for you. 

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5. Reach out for advice

As a GCSE or A-Level student, it’s impossible to know exactly what pursuing a particular subject at university will be like.

You can do all the reading and research in the world, but you’ll only be able to glean a real understanding by speaking to an expert or someone that works in the sector you’re interested in. Therefore, you should try to glean as much insight into the subject and the industry as possible from those who are engulfed in it. 

Although your school’s guidance counsellor may seem like the most obvious person to talk to, you could consider reaching out to:

  • The teacher of your favourite subject – who knows you really well, can advise on whether they think you would enjoy the subject at undergraduate level, and can offer insights into what different career options are available within their subject,
  • Friends and family – who may not necessarily have all the professional advice you are looking for, but can offer support and help you talk through the advantages of each course you are considering studying,
  • Current students – at university open days who can tell you everything about the subject, what topics they are studying, as well as what campus life is like in general,
  • Industry professionals – who will know all the ins and outs of the industry and can provide you with honest feedback.

Just remember, as helpful as it will be to speak to all these different individuals, they will all have their own biases and opinions about the subject. Try to take their advice objectively, and always make a final decision based on your own thoughts and feelings – not theirs. 

Remember, your university choices aren’t the final option

Ultimately, no matter how much emphasis you place on finding the perfect university course, it never has to be your final decision. In the UK, only half of all graduates end up working in a field that’s related to their degree, showing how your university choices don’t have to define your future career. In fact, choosing a university course is only the beginning. 

No matter what you may see or hear, there is always plenty of opportunity to retrain in the future. Even though it can be daunting to go back to learning or venture into a new career path, your happiness is what matters the most, and you should always strive towards being in a job that you find fulfilling. 

So, although you want to try and make the right decisions now, don’t ever feel as though you have to stick with the options you choose in school. There’s always an opportunity for change.

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Looking for further university guidance and support?

Still unsure on what to study at university? Why not contact our admissions team to find out about the summer courses we have available for this year. You never know, you could immerse yourself in a brand new subject that ends up being your future career!

Or, if you are interested in finding out more information about applying to a UK university, sign up to our webinar (taking place on 17th February 2021, 16:00 GMT) to learn more about UK university admissions and how to make an effective application.

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