How to Choose Between Two University Courses: 13 Key Tips for the Undecided
Ah, the agony of choice.
It’s great that there are so many fantastic university courses out there to choose from, but when it comes to deciding which one is for you, it can sometimes feel as if there’s a little too much choice. It’s very difficult to choose between so many different interesting courses when they all look good, would all suit your interests and would all give you a good start in life. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably narrowed down your selection to a final shortlist of which courses to apply for, but you’re now in the throes of deliberating between perhaps two or three subjects. It’s a big decision to make, because your university course will be a major part of your life for three years, and one that is likely to have an impact on your career. To help you make up your mind, we’ve put together this guide full of questions to ask yourself when you’re making the final selection.
1. General advice
As always, we’ll start with some general advice before going into the specifics.
– Be methodical in how you weigh up your choices – you’ll feel much better about making a decision if you’ve considered each option as carefully as possible.
– Draw up a table detailing the pros and cons of each course – see below for our recommended points of comparison. Which course has the most pros?
– Seek the opinions of friends and family – a fresh perspective may aid your decision-making, although that doesn’t mean to say you have to do what other people tell you!
– Ultimately, the choice is yours – while it’s good to gather plenty of other opinions, only you can make the decision you feel is right for you.
With these points in mind, here are some of the points of comparison and other factors you can use in order to make your final decision.
Your grades and predicted grades should be a consideration in so far as this will affect your chances of a successful university application. Of course, if it turns out that you don’t actually have the required grades for one of your subject choices, that’s your decision made for you. But if, say, you adore English and History in equal measure, but your GCSE and AS-level grades are better in one than the other, the chances are that you’ll be more successful in the one you’ve done better at. It’s hard to draw conclusions from grades, but if your English grade is better than your History grade, this could suggest that you’re more suited to studying English and that this is where your natural talent lies. This isn’t only a question of which course you’re more likely to be accepted onto on the basis of your grades; it may also mean that you’d find it easier to study English at university than you would History, which may then also affect the final degree classification you come out with.
3. Which do you have the most relevant experience in?
In addition to having great grades in your chosen subject (and related subjects), it’s important to be able to support your personal statement with plenty of experience relevant to your chosen course. This could be anything from books you’ve read to work experience in a related field, or a blog you write on the subject. For historians and archaeologists, it could be museum or site visits; for musicians, music ensembles you play in or pieces you’ve composed; for scientists, a work placement you’ve done in a lab. When you’re trying to decide between two courses, write down all the experience you have that relates to each subject. Which list is longer? The chances are that if you have more experience in one than the other, this indicates a natural predilection for that subject; it also means that you already have plenty to include on your personal statement to support a successful application.
4. Which can you pursue more easily in your spare time?
Following on from relevant experience, which of your two possible course subjects is it easier to pursue in your spare time? This is an important consideration, particularly in the run-up to your university application, because as we’ve seen, you need to be able to show a wide interest in the subject that goes beyond what you’re studying at school. Some subjects are much easier to pursue in your spare time than others; music, for example, gives you the potential of composing your own music, performing in all manner of different music ensembles and reading extensively about the history of music and different composers. Science, on the other hand, is a bit more limited in the practical things you can do in your spare time, without access to a lab. This arguably makes it more difficult to build up an impressive array of related achievements in support of your application. However, that’s not to say you should rule out a subject based on this, if you’re passionate enough about it!
5. Which will you enjoy studying the most?
This may be a hard one to answer if you think you’d be equally interested in both, so it’s time to delve deeper into the nitty gritty of your course options. Look in depth at the specific topics you’d be studying for each course; it may be that the more specialised subjects within a particular course wouldn’t actually interest you that much. Find out which modules are compulsory, and see which you prefer. Also look for other aspects of the courses, such as travel opportunities; if this is something you rate highly, this could be a deciding factor. Some courses offer the chance to go abroad, such as a geography field trip or an archaeological dig. Don’t forget that travel opportunities aren’t just a holiday – travel broadens your mind and helps you develop as a person, and this is all experience you can put on your CV.
6. Which will help you pursue your desired career?
Hopefully by this stage you should have at least a vague idea of what kind of career you want to pursue, in which case the course you choose could have a bearing on the ease with which you could attain your desired job. Unless you have a very specific arts-based career in mind (such as an art historian or an English teacher), an arts degree of any kind will confer much the same general benefits, suitable for many careers. Science degrees confer a different set of benefits and tend to lead to more specialised jobs. If you’re trying to choose between an arts or a science degree, therefore, your choice of future career will probably need to have much more of a bearing on your decision.
There are lots of graduate employment schemes out there that require specific degrees, so if you have your sights set on such a scheme, take a look at the entry requirements early on in your decision-making process. On a related note, you could also look into the graduate employment rates for each course and see which courses are most likely to lead to finding work after you graduate.
7. How well-respected is each course?
Let’s not beat about the bush: when it comes to pursuing your dream career, it does matter what other people think of your degree. Well-respected degrees in ‘traditional’ subjects such as English or Mathematics are viewed more highly than newer degrees such as Media Studies, so if you’re trying to decide between a traditional or new subject, the likelihood is that the traditional one will come out on top every time. Think about how your degree will look on your CV; will it impress an employer, and will you feel pride in it?
8. Talking to possible future employers
Have you thought about actually approaching some employers in the industry you want to work in and asking their opinion about which of your course options they’d value most highly? Seeking the opinions of people who actually work in your chosen profession will give you more of an objective insight into which degree would be most useful to you and which has the most direct benefits to your desired career.
9. Your chosen university
If you’ve already chosen which universities to apply to, and you have a firm favourite among them, it’s worth looking in detail at the course pages for your two possible subjects to see how the university approaches each of them. There’s a lot of variation in how courses are taught from university to university, even for the same subjects, so if you have your heart set on a certain university, see which of your two possible courses you most like the look of. In particular, look at how the course is structured, taught and assessed, what topics you’ll cover, what travel opportunities there are, and so on. Also, look at the biographies of the academics who teach each course, and see what they have to say about it: whose views resonate with you the most? While it’s not a good idea to bank on a particular academic being there when you are (they often go on sabbatical, or move to a different university), they may well have had some part in shaping the course, so it’s still useful to know their views.
10. Open days
If there are any, it’s well worth going to some course-specific open days at your shortlist of universities for each of your possible subjects and chatting to the academics who teach them. You’ll get to go on a tour of the facilities for each subject, which will help you imagine yourself studying each course so that you get a feel for what it would be like. You should also have the opportunity to talk to current students of each course, who will be able to give you more of an insight into what it’s like studying the courses you’re interested in.
11. Talking to current students
Open days aren’t the only way of talking to current students. Try an internet forum such as The Student Room, where lots of current university students hang out, and ask questions in the subject-specific forums. Ask how they’re finding their course, whether it lived up to their expectations, what the workload is like, and so on. Gathering the opinions of those ‘in the know’ will add to the body of information you have upon which to base your decision.
12. The best of both worlds
If you’re really stuck, and you’ve considered all these questions and still can’t make a decision, have you thought about a Joint Honours degree? These give you the best of both worlds by allowing you to study two subjects, normally within the same timeframe and workload as a normal undergraduate degree. A Joint Honours degree could be a great choice if you want to keep your options open, and will give you more strings to your bow on your CV. What’s more, the variety of studying two subjects may even help you maintain a fresh approach to each – and it’ll be good practice for juggling tasks when you come to be employed. You’re likely to have to choose two related subjects, such as English and French or Geography and Geology, but there are Joint Honours degrees in less closely related subjects, such as History and Spanish.
13. Gut instinct
Ultimately, you should pay close attention to your gut instinct. If you feel a natural pull towards a particular subject, this is your instinct telling you that this is the right course for you.
Ignore your gut instinct at your peril; if you do so, you may end up on a course you don’t enjoy, wishing you’d chosen the course you were originally drawn towards.
We hope this has helped you come to a conclusion about which course is best for you. If you have any other tips on how to make this difficult decision, feel free to share them with us in the comments below.