Before you can start with the application process, there are a few fundamental questions, chief among which is: what subject should I study?
This is a big question, as it will directly impact what you do for at least three years at university, as well as what you do afterwards. If you find yourself completely lost with regards to what you might want to study at university that is completely fine! Let’s go through some advice that will help you narrow things down a bit.
Many universities offer subjects that aren’t taught in schools, or which have slightly different names, so we need to at least start by thinking of the broad subject area that you want to study.
For now, the differences between ‘Biology’ and ‘Life Science,’ or ‘Accounting’ and ‘Finance’ are not important. There are three questions that you will want to ask yourself before you start your application in order to make a good subject choice:
- What am I interested in?
- What am I good at?
- What can I do with the subject?
We’ll go through these one by one, which will lead you closer to knowing what subject you want to apply for at university.
What am I interested in?
When it comes to your school timetable, there will invariably be lessons that you look forward to more than others. We should start thinking about and defining our interests academically, as university is an academic space after all. The question you should first ask yourself is which of the subjects that you are currently studying do you like the most?
But it goes deeper than that, you might generally enjoy your history class the most, but are fascinated by the topic of genetics within biology.
Understanding which individual parts of subjects excite you will also allow you to make sensible choices about what to study at university. Remember that you will be studying a subject for at least three years, so think about whether you like the subject as a whole, or just the individual topics you have studied up to this point.
To continue the example from above, perhaps you are studying 20th Century German history, and Tudor British history as part of the A Level curriculum, which you like, but are not interested in the prospect of having to learn any American history or ancient history. Do you think that you would continue to be engaged throughout a history degree that will require you to deal with many different historical topics and eras?
On the other hand, you find yourself completely engaged by the topic of genetics within biology, and would love to learn more about that. Perhaps, while you don’t like the other topics quite as much as genetics, you still wish that other subjects within biology went deeper than the A Level syllabus allows. You may then at least want to consider biology as a university subject, as it will allow you to explore the subject in much greater depth than you do at school.
Better yet, you could consider studying genetics at university, as that is the topic that interests you the most. If there is a specific topic within any subject you study that you are particularly fascinated by, it is worth thinking about the possibilities of studying that individual topic on its own, if it is offered as a university subject.
What am I good at?
This one is slightly easier to measure. While it is often the case that our interests and our skills match up, sometimes we might find our grades are higher in a subject that we are less interested in than those in one we are.
In general, focusing on your interests will be more important than going on a purely ade-based system, as studying something for three years means that you won’t want to be bored when doing it, but if you are interested in maths, yet not achieving as highly as you might need to do for university it is worth tempering our expectations, and maybe think about a different subject that will marry both academic achievement and interest.
Ultimately, you don’t want to study something that you find boring, even if you excel at it, so this question should be used more as a tie-breaker if you are stuck between a few different subjects that you are equally interested in. If you love both history and biology, but are getting an A* in one, and a B in the other, it would be best to opt for the subject you are more likely to succeed academically in the former subject.
What can I do with it?
You don’t have to have your whole life planned before university, but it can help to think about the possibilities of post-university life based on the subjects that you are interested in studying. Certain jobs or postgraduate degrees will require you to have done particular subjects, while other university subjects often lead to very specific jobs. If you have a particular career that you would like your studies to lead to, it’s important to consider that.
Specifically within the sciences, having the right degree will directly decide which jobs you will and will not be able to do. If you want to work in engineering, studying engineering or physics at university will be key, while if you want to work in pharmacology, chemistry or biology will be more important. Understanding the options available to you after graduating will help you make any tough decisions regarding which degree you think you will be more interested in studying.
Furthermore, studying a degree in medicine will almost always lead to a career as a doctor. It doesn’t have to be the case, but in general, you will study for six years, and then you will begin your formal training in a hospital. If this is what you want, then that is fantastic, and you should opt for a degree in medicine, but if you are primarily doing the degree because you like the topics studied, you may be better placed to choose a degree in biochemistry, or another related subject, as this does not pigeonhole you in the same way.
It’s worth remembering that plenty of jobs do not ask you to have a specific degree; you can work at many companies regardless of if you studied history, biology, maths, or anything else. This means that you can always default to focusing on studying what you are interested in, and what you will get the best grades in.
In short, your main focus when choosing subjects should be to think about what you most want to learn more about. There is no point studying something for three years if you aren’t going to be interested in it, as it will likely result in a worse academic performance. Once you have narrowed down the subjects that you could see yourself studying for such a long time, you can start thinking about how well you will do in those subjects academically, and what futures they might lead you to.