Are you stuck deciding which subject, course type, or uni or college is right for you? Read on for our tips and advice on tackling this big decision.
How to choose the right university course
Current students give their tips on how to decide which course is right for you.
What subject is right for me?
It’s important you choose a subject you enjoy and will help you reach your goals. Here are some things to help you choose the right subject for you:
- Think about what you enjoy day-to-day – maybe this could be part of a future job role?
- Explore different job sites and graduate career options to look for ideas on what you’d like to do once you've finished your studies.
- Think about your career goals and the qualifications required as part of a person specification.
- Take a look at our subject guides to get an idea of the types of subjects you could study, and the industries graduates go on to work in.
- Search for courses by subject to see what's available.
UK degree courses tend to be very specialised from day one, allowing students to focus on their chosen subject. However, there are others that allow you more flexibility in what you study. Make sure you read the course descriptions carefully, and click through to university websites for further information.
Thinking about more than one course or subject?
To increase your chances of getting a place on a course we give you the option of applying to up to five courses at once, usually all in a similar subject so that your application is relevant to all of them.
Please note, there are a couple of restrictions though:
- You can only apply maximum of four courses in any one of medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or veterinary science.
- Usually you can only apply to one course at either the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge. There are exceptions – visit the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge websites for more information.
UCAS Discovery exhibitions
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What types of undergraduate course are there?
After leaving school, most students going onto university or college study for an undergraduate degree. These are usually made up of modules (some compulsory and some optional) that add up to a full degree.
Here are some examples of the types of undergraduate courses you can do.
Bachelor degree courses
Bachelor degrees usually last either three or four years if studied full-time (although some courses are longer). You can concentrate on a single subject, combine two subjects in a single course (often called dual or joint honours courses), or choose several subjects (combined honours). Most courses have core modules which everyone studies, and many courses allow you to choose options or modules to make up a course that suits you.
Some bachelor degrees offer a sandwich year, involving an additional placement or year in industry, which forms part of the course. If you're an international student, you'll need to check you're eligible to work in the UK, or that your visa allows you to do a placement course. Most international students on a tier 4 visa will be eligible for a year in industry or work placements as part of their course, but there may be some conditions. Check with the university or college before making this choice in your application. You can find out more on the UKCISA website.
There are also courses which include postgraduate-level study, known as integrated master's. Integrated master's being at undergraduate level, then continue for an extra year (or more) so you're awarded a master's degree at the end. These are most common in engineering or science subjects. If you're interested in an integrated master's, you'll need to include the term 'master's' when using the UCAS search tool.
Some degrees offer a foundation or qualifying year as the first year, sometimes called ‘year zero’. They are generally one year, full-time courses delivered at a university or college, and can be offered as a 'standalone' course, or as part of a degree. You'll still be treated as a full-time undergraduate student.
Foundation years are designed to develop the skills and subject-specific knowledge required to undertake a degree course, and specialise in a subject area.
If your grades weren’t suitable, or you studied combinations of subjects at school or college that mean you don’t meet the entry requirements for your chosen course, a foundation year could be perfect. Not all universities and colleges offer foundation years.
Most students who take a foundation year choose to stay at the same university or college to complete their full degree, but it may be possible to apply for a full-time degree course elsewhere if you complete the course successfully. You will need to check this with the individual universities and colleges concerned. You will also pay tuition fees for your foundation year.
If you're interested in a foundation year, you'll need to include this in the undergraduate keyword field in the UCAS search tool.
Diploma in Foundation Studies (art and design)
This one-year qualification – often shortened to ‘Art Foundation’ – is widely recognised as a primary route to gain entry to some of the most prestigious art and design degree courses. The learning is tailored to a student’s specific area of art and design subject interest, so they can progress to study that area at degree level. For funding purposes, this course is classified as a further education course, so student loans (for tuition and living costs) are not available, even if you take the course at a university or college. However, UK/EU students under the age of 19 on 31 August of the year of entry will not be charged a tuition fee. As a result, many students choose to take this course straight after school or college, in their home town or city.
Foundation degrees are usually two-year courses (longer if part-time), that are equivalent to the first two years of an undergraduate degree. They are not the same as a foundation year.
These can be a good destination for school leavers at 18, as they offer a qualification that can help gain degree entry. This route is a good option for students who need a course with lower entry requirements and fewer examinations, would prefer a vocational degree/to study while they work, or are not yet ready to commit to three years at university.
Foundation degrees often combine academic skills and knowledge with workplace performance and productivity. They may have been designed in partnership with employers, and therefore focus on a particular job role or profession, enabling you to gain professional and technical skills to further your career. They can be used as a standalone qualification for employment, but are more commonly used as the basis for progression to a final ‘top-up’ year, leading to a full bachelors degree. The final year may be taken at a different university or college.
Degree or graduate level apprenticeship
This is a new type of higher level apprenticeship, which can lead to a bachelors degree as part of an apprenticeship. It is important to check the full details of a given job and apprenticeship with the employer and training provider. These courses are a good fit for students who want to gain work experience rather than studying full-time at university, but would like to achieve the same degree status.
Students need to be highly committed – competition can be fierce and entry qualifications can be high. If you’re considering this option, you may want to keep your options open by making an application to a full-time bachelors degree through UCAS at the same time.
Find out more about degree apprenticeships
HNCs, HNDs, and other incremental routes
The Higher National Certificate (HNC), a one-year work-related course, is equivalent to the first year of a university degree programme. The Higher National Diploma (HND) is a two-year, work-related course, which is equivalent to the first two years of a bachelors degree. As with a foundation degree, it is possible to progress from these courses to complete a full bachelors degree at a university, either through a specific top-up course, or by directly entering a degree in year three.
If you wanted to study a degree in stages, or exit after one or two years of study, the following qualifications may also be suitable. They don’t directly lead to a degree, but you may be able go on and join the second or third year of a full degree (perhaps at the same university/college, or elsewhere) if you change your mind and want to graduate with a bachelors degree after all.
- One year of a degree – a Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE)
- Two years of a degree – a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)
Higher Technical Qualifications
Higher Technical Qualifications are being introduced in 2022. They are either new or existing Level 4 and 5 qualifications (such as HNDs/foundation degrees/Diploma HE).
Higher Technical Qualifications are for students over 18 who want to study a subject to prepare them for skilled jobs, and also for adults looking to retrain or upskill. They’ve been developed by awarding bodies with employers, so you’ll get the right training, knowledge, and skills to succeed in the workplace – and might suit you if you want a more practical, employer-led programme.
More about Higher Technical Qualifications
If you need a visa to study in the UK, you need to check your visa status allows you to do a part-time course, and/or work in the UK. Check if you need a visa and find out if you’re eligible to work on UKCISA's ‘Can you work?’ website.
Looking to study performing arts?
As well as university and college courses, you can also choose to study at a UK conservatoire. Courses at conservatoires are more performance-based than you will find at a uni or college. Conservatoires offer courses in music, dance, drama, and musical theatre.
Find out more
How do you want to study?
Most students study undergraduate courses full-time, however this is not the only way. There are lots of different modes of study, designed to fit around your own circumstances.
Home or away: where should I study?
Some students set their heart on a particular university, while others just want to choose the course they like the sound of best. Either way is fine, but make sure you do your research, as changing your university or college once you’ve started isn’t always easy.
Find the right accommodation. Finding somewhere you'll be happy to live is an important consideration when you're deciding where you want to study. To help you make the right choice, use our accommodation search to research your options and find both uni and private student accommodation.
You could choose to study at a UK higher education college instead of a university – find out more.
Here are five top tips to help you when choosing where to study:
- Attend an open day or if you can't visit in person, you can go to an online open day – we cannot recommend this enough. It’s an opportunity for you to meet the course tutors, see the facilities, and explore the area.
- If you can’t attend an open day, explore the campus with a virtual tour.
- Check the application deadline – some universities and courses have a different application deadline, so make sure you know the deadline associated to your chosen course or uni.
- Check the entry requirements – different courses and universities will have different entry requirements, which you can check on the course listing in our search tool. Some universities and colleges make contextual offers. This is where the university or college considers any barriers you may face, and will either reduce their grade requirements or give extra consideration when deciding whether to give you an offer. Check out this blog for more information.
- Read our tips to help you choose between courses and universities.
How and when to apply
Where can I find out more?
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If you find yourself torn between a few different universities, you may also find it helpful using Unibuddy to speak to some of their current students:
Chat to students like Clara on Unibuddy!
Ask me about why I chose my particular course and university, or anything else uni related you can think of!
You can filter students to speak to on Unibuddy by using the 'Universities' drop-down menu.