How to choose what to study at university

For some, knowing what you want to study is obvious. Some are driven by what they’re most passionate about, some by what they get their best grades in, some by what they want to go on to do as a profession. For most it’s a combination of some or all of those elements. However, it’s not as clear. 

  • Perhaps you’re good at several things. 
  • Perhaps you don’t know what you want to do after university
  • Perhaps your prospective career path doesn’t have any obvious subjects that lead to it

So, how do you choose what to study at university?

Don’t choose a subject just because you think it will get you a job

There are certain careers that do require you to have studied certain subjects. However, your degree is going to cover three or more years of your life, and being interested and passionate about it is vital to really making the most of it. It’s also a big financial commitment – probably one of the biggest of your life. So, try not to think of it as a means to an end. Choose a subject that really gets you excited at the prospect of going to that next seminar, debating points with your tutor or your classmates and that you want to get truly invested in.

Don’t let someone else choose for you

Lots of people feel under pressure to follow in a parent’s footsteps or to live up to the expectations of a favourite teacher. Others might feel as though they want to study something similar to close friends. Choosing your university degree has the capacity to be defining for you in so many ways, make sure you make a choice for yourself. That said, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. There’s a difference between getting guidance and doing what other people want you to do.

Explore courses and make an informed choice

One of the great things about going to university is that there are so many different courses available – so many more than were on the curriculum at school. Not only that, but as we mentioned in our last article about choosing a university, courses in similar subjects vary enormously from one university to the next. Really take the time to explore which courses are available – whether there’s a very specific area of a subject that you like (natural sciences perhaps) or something completely different, like architecture.

Consider a joint degree

If you like more than one subject, you might want to consider a joint degree. Oxford is famous for its Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) degree, which has traditionally been favoured ​​by those seeking a career in politics, public life (including the Civil Service) and journalism.

Make sure you have the right qualifications for the course

To avoid disappointment down the line, make sure that when you’re looking at a course, you have the qualifications you need in order to apply for it. For example, if you want to study medicine you need A levels in chemistry, biology and either maths or physics (or both). If you want to study engineering, you must have maths at A level, and usually a science. After that, it’s important to check the grade requirements of different universities – these two things will significantly help to refine your search.

Our university mentors are experts in offering guidance on finding the right subject, course and university for you. As a starting point, you might also find this introduction from Oxford University helpful: