With so many university courses to pick from, choosing what to study can be a long process - so start by narrowing down your degree options
What undergraduate qualifications are available?
The subject you choose will usually determine the type of qualification you'll be studying for. Bachelors degrees are the most popular undergraduate route into higher education, and they span the range of subject disciplines - from environmental sciences, health and psychology, to law, history and English literature.
Most Bachelors degrees last from three to four years, with assessment made through a combination of written exams, assignments and group projects. In many cases, they'll include opportunities to spend a year abroad or in industry.
Shorter courses also exist in the form of foundation degrees, the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) and the Higher National Diploma (HND). If you're an aspiring social worker or engineer, you may be better suited to a vocational award.
To find out more about the full range of UK qualifications, read our guide to qualifications.
What degree should I do?
For students with a particular career in mind, such as medicine, law or journalism, finding a suitable course for your chosen subject should be fairly straightforward. However, if you're torn between different possibilities, asking yourself the following questions might be a good starting point:
- Which subjects do I enjoy studying?
- Are there any subjects I'm particularly good at?
- Are the subjects I'm interested in ones I've studied before?
- What do I see myself doing after university? Would my choice in degree affect this?
Many graduate jobs require candidates to be educated to degree level without specifying a particular discipline, so finding a subject you enjoy that develops your transferable skills means you're more likely to obtain a high standard degree while having fun achieving it.
Plus, while changing or leaving your course is possible, finding the right course that motivates and excites you will save yourself further trouble down the line.
How can I compare university courses?
No two universities in the UK will offer identical courses for the same degree. When comparing courses, it's important to consider:
- the reputation and ranking for the course, via QS World Rankings or Times Higher Education (UK)
- course structure, modules and timetable - assessing whether the course matches your studying preferences
- additional opportunities the course offers, such as studying abroad or a year in industry
- your employability prospects.
The Key Information Set (KIS) is a useful course comparison tool managed by higher education course data providers Unistats. To give an accurate judgement of courses, it compiles information on:
- satisfaction with the quality of teaching
- the destination of graduates six months after completing their course, and how much they're earning
- typical course costs, including university accommodation and tuition fees.
An important part of choosing the degree and university for you is considering where these choices will take you once you've graduated. For more guidance on the most employable degrees, visit what can I do with my degree?
How do I find the right university?
It was revealed that more than half (76) of the UK's 150 recognised universities featured in the QS World University Rankings 2019. Some useful things to bear in mind when comparing universities include:
- the costs of travel to and from university
- the university culture, including the students' union and what it can offer you
- the city or town the university is based in
- student satisfaction scores.
Submitting an application for full-time higher education through UCAS allows you to select up to five related courses, giving you scope to explore a number of institutions and improving your chances of being accepted.
There are many ways to research which university would suit you best:
- Open days - utilise the opportunity to ask questions to current students and alumni about their experiences and get a feel for the university before you apply.
- Visit websites - a university's official website and its social media presence are a great way to assess how the university presents itself.
- Attend university fairs - if you can't travel to university open days, these local fairs are a way to make contacts, ask for advice and explore the wide range of higher education options available to you.
To discover the latest opportunities around the UK, visit open days and events.
Why should I check the TEF university ratings?
Renamed as the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), this national exercise, introduced by the government in 2017, is designed to assess excellence in teaching at universities and colleges.
For students, the straightforward ranking system helps you to compare universities according to their standards of teaching and learning, so you can make an informed choice as to which option would be best for you.
While it's still voluntary, around 300 institutions in England, Scotland and Wales choose to participate. For a full list of TEF-registered UK institutions and their rankings, see the Office for Students' (OfS) TEF outcomes.
The TEF awards are as follows:
- Gold - for delivering consistently outstanding teaching, learning, and outcomes for its students. Gold is the highest quality standard.
- Silver - for delivering high-quality teaching, learning, and outcomes for its students. Silver institutions consistently exceed rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education.
- Bronze - for delivering teaching, learning, and outcomes for its students that meet rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education.
- Provisional - if the institution meets rigorous national quality requirements but doesn't yet have sufficient data.
The majority of participating institutions for June 2018 have received silver status (135), with gold (72) and bronze (62) closely matched. There are also 30 TEF institutions currently holding provisional status.
The framework enables the higher-ranking English institutions to raise their tuition fees in line with inflation. In 2018/19, those with a TEF award were able to charge up to £9,250 per year as opposed to a maximum of £9,000 without.
While universities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have the option to participate in TEF, the award has no effect on the tuition fees these institutions can charge.
Students receiving tuition fee loans from Student Finance will find these still cover the complete amount, regardless of any fee increases.
Visit student loans and finance for more information on tuition fees and funding.