Choosing a degree can feel like a daunting, arduous task and can lead you to feeling like pulling your hair out with all the options out there. I’m not going to tell you the generic ‘do your research’ because, let’s face it, that’s probably the reason why you’re here! If you have been sat at a computer for hours, leafing through endless prospectuses and programmes trying to decide what the right degree is for you, take a breather and check out these quick tips for choosing:
1. Don’t pressure yourself
Now, this is my only ‘don’t’ and something easier said than done, hear me out on this one; yes this is an incredibly important step in your life however, it does not define the rest of your life. Ultimately, it is just a degree, it’s the hard work you pour in and what you make of it that counts. Often, there is so much pressure to find the perfect degree and university. This is a falsehood and will just cause you unnecessary stress when really there is no perfect degree. All degrees are difficult and even if you love the majority of it, there will be parts you will not like, at all. So, the first step in choosing a degree is to acknowledge that like all things in life, it is not going to be picture perfect and there will be blood, sweat and tears alongside the massive sense of reward.
2. Do ask questions
No one wants to be that annoying person that asks a question about everything but when it comes to something like this- you just have to swallow your pride and ask away! If there is anything about any element of a degree you are unsure of or need clarification on, give the university department you’re looking at a call or email (if phone calls constitute the height of awkwardness like they do for me). This may take a while as admin departments with universities can be notoriously slow but be persistent, this is will be worth your time. It would be a shame to miss out through impatience or fear of asking. You will not be the first person who has asked your question and they should be helpful, after all they want to sell the uni because the more students= the more money for them from tuition. Depressing but true.
3. Do visit
If you get an opportunity before sending off your application- visit the universities you are thinking about applying to. Or, even better, try to visit the actual department you want to study in*. This will give you a world of insight into the day to day antics of the university and what it actually feels like to be a student on campus as there’s only so much a biased website/brochure published can tell you. Get involved in a much as you can; talks, mock lectures, Q & A sessions, etc.
Remember that you are going to be living, sleeping and breathing this for the next 3-7 years (dependent on degree) regardless of whether you live on campus or not. If you love the academic side of a certain uni but the environment in itself gets you down, would you be able to live with it for years? Get a feel for the surrounding area and the vibes around campus in addition to the academia- especially if you are going to be living on campus. Trust your gut instincts, it’s what they’re there for! If you love the academic side of a certain uni but the environment in itself gets you down, would you be able to live with it for years?
*Obviously, it is not the case for everyone that they will be able to pop over for a visit due to commitments, distance and many other reasons. If you don’t get to visit before you go it is not the end of the world- life gets in the way of these things and it is no disadvantage. There are other ways to get a feel for the campus life and academia applicable to everyone such as:
• Looking at virtual tours on the university website.
• Reading student reviews from the internet not on the university website to avoid any bias.
• Speaking to alumni of the university in question and asking how they found it.
• Listening to/ watching departmental lectures and podcasts that the university have uploaded to youtube and their website.
• Finding out the names of your potential lecturers and reading publications and books by your potential lecturers and tutors.
• Looking at alumni dissertations in the subject areas you are interested in. Although, don’t get too overwhelmed with this one- remember these students have years of studying before they write these.
4. Do look at a range of information sources
This is the last but by no means least important tip. Make sure you look at a vast range of sources when doing your research about the university and your degree choice. I mentioned this previously and yes, I am a huge cynic- websites and information directly from the university are designed to attract you to go there by a (hopefully) good marketing team so are heavily biased and often motivated by financial reward; i.e. you choosing that university and them receiving payment in some form from you, student loans companies, etc. It goes back to that ancient saying, ‘If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’ Take a look at the suggestions above as to how you can collate information from a range of relevant sources and remember the importance of ex- student reviews!
I hope that these tips have helped you in your pursuit of finding the right degree for you. Good luck with your search! Feel free to comment any additional tips or wisdom you have in degree searching in the comments section below.