If you are in Year 12 and thinking of going on into higher education after sixth form, the weeks before the summer holidays are perfect to start thinking about your choices and begin doing some research. Invest your time early on and you will thank yourself for many years to come.

In the first of a mini-series to help you research, we’re looking at degree courses – what are they, what will influence your choice(s) for next year and why you should be starting your research before the summer. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at researching Unis and have some practical tips on how to do this research …

What is a degree?

A degree is a general description for a course that you can apply to study after completing your A-levels or BTECs. It is usually completed at Uni which means at a university, at a college delivering higher education courses or at a university centre – all of which we have in abundance locally.

There are many different types of degree, but the three worth mentioning for you here are:

Bachelor’s degree – sometimes known as an undergraduate degree, an honours degree, a first degree or an academic degree. Usually lasting 3 years, this is the main type of degree that students consider after sixth form.

Foundation degree – usually lasting 1 or 2 years, these degrees are worth considering if you are concerned that you won’t get the required grades to apply straight for a bachelor’s degree – or as a reliable plan-B ‘Insurance choice’ when making your final decisions next year. They are mostly available at colleges and university centres and, on graduating, students have the option to apply to join the remaining 1 or 2 years of the bachelor’s degree.

Sandwich degree – this is worth mentioning because, depending on the course, it either includes an extra year in a relevant workplace or further relevant study abroad.

What will influence your choice of degree course?

There isn’t a set type of degree course, so we’d recommend that you research the structure of those you are considering to determine if they are right for you. And the following considerations could affect your plans to apply for a particular course –

How is it assessed? – how is the degree marked? Is it by continuous assessment or by annual exams? Depending on your study successes, you may prefer one over the other.

Is it modular? – some degrees are divided into specialist mini-courses. There could be a main degree with these modules running alongside or they could perhaps start in year two after your first year on more general topics. Would this be of interest to you? How many are optional enabling you to determine the specialisms you study?

Combined honours? – how many different subjects do you want to study? A single honours degree concentrates on one subject – e.g. History. A joint honours degree will enable you to study two different subjects – e.g. English and History at UWE, Bristol. Whilst some involve three subjects – e.g. History, Business and Management at Bath Spa University. Your decision will depend on the focus of the course and what you want to get out of it.

Other aligned courses? – think as broadly as you can to review the different options available. Go beyond the individual subject that you may have in mind – e.g. History – and consider variations which do not have the same title – e.g. Archaeology at the University of Bristol or at Strode College.

How is it structured? – perhaps also take a look at the timetable. Will you have a full day of lectures, seminars and perhaps practicals – or will you be required to study independently in the library? Again, your study technique will influence your preference for a timetable.

What is your favourite subject? – when trying to choose a degree, start with the subjects you already enjoy. What do you like studying at the moment? And why do those subjects interest you? Have a think about why you enjoy them and then use them as an example to start your research – even if you dismiss it.

Is there a possibility of an interview? – your chosen course may routinely interview candidates. If this is not something you are comfortable with, you may want to look at different pathways, but interviews are hard to avoid these days. Instead, we’d encourage you to prepare well in advance by seeking as much interview practice as possible – such as mock interviews in school – and read articles on techniques such as those we post on the Careersnearhere Facebook page.

What might limit your choice of degree course before you start looking?

We’d also recommend that you research the factors which might impact on the options available to you from the outset –

Sixth Form choices / Uni entry requirements – some Unis will be expecting specific A-level and BTEC courses on application. For example, most will insist on Chemistry A-level if you are applying for Medicine, some will reject General Studies A-level, whilst others may be happy with either Economics or Business Studies, but not both.

Expected grades – if you don’t think you can realistically get the grades for a course there may not be much point in applying so that will also limit your options. Talk to your tutor/subject teachers to find out about your predicted grades: they’ve had a lot of experience and can also help you with tips on how to potentially increase your grade if needed for a particular application.

Suitability – course descriptions often mention a preference for particular skills, interests or experiences. The personal statement format echoes this and you may feel that certain courses are beyond reach because you do not have the right skills or work experience – see below.

Career choice – some graduate career options will require a specialist degree on application. Examples include vocational courses such as nursing, engineering, medicine and architecture. It is certainly worth investigating if you have a particular career path in mind, but a great many employers do not require any pre-determined degree course and others increasingly offer higher apprenticeship options as an alternative pathway.

So why should you start your research in year 12?

The deadline for most applications is not until January, but there are good reasons why you should not leave this until the last minute and – ideally – even start your research before the summer break …

It’s hectic in the autumn of year 13 – when you come back after the summer break there’s not much time for thorough research as you’ll be expected to get your UCAS application completed and your personal statement written. There will also be a lot of academic distractions ahead of your mocks and then actual exams as well as social distractions such as the final year charity events and drama productions. Think back to what the year 13s were doing last Autumn.

Open days season – another reason to give this your attention now is that we have a lot of Uni open days in June/July. These are fantastic opportunities to find out more about the Uni and the courses you might be considering. You can also get a feel for the campus layout, accommodation and student societies that you might like to join.

Summer work experience – and finally, you should really be giving this some thought now because you still have the summer ahead of you to try to get some recent and relevant work experience to talk about in your personal statement and – hopefully – at interview as well. If life is going to be hectic in Year 13, this summer could be the perfect opportunity to get something really meaningful on your CV to make your application stand out.

And finally …

You choose – just remember that it is your choice to go to Uni and continue your studies: no-one else’s. From the age of 18 you will be an adult and can opt for work instead of higher education – or a combination of both with an apprenticeship. Relax in the knowledge that – subject to grades and adequate finance – you decide if you study, what you study and where you study.

Get it right – now you know that you’re in charge of the decision, do also remember that you will be studying your chosen course at your chosen Uni for 3 to 4 years and that’s a long time to be in the wrong place if you’ve made the wrong decision so please do give it some careful thought while you have the time.

Careersnearhere: It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started!

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