With so many undergraduate courses to choose from, finding the right degree can be a long process - so make a start by narrowing down your options…
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the thousands of degrees on offer to students in the UK.
Add to this the fact that applicants can pick up to five related courses to improve their chances of being accepted into university, and you'll see that choosing the right degree is no simple task.
Types of undergraduate qualification
The subject you choose will determine the type of qualification you'll be studying for. For example, if you're an aspiring social worker or engineer, you may be best suited to a practical course such as the Higher National Diploma (HND) or National Vocational Qualification (NVQ). Bachelors degrees are the most popular undergraduate route into higher education, but they aren't your only option.
A Bachelors degree is assessed by a combination of written exams, assignments and group projects. In many cases, they will include opportunities for a year abroad or in industry.
Most Bachelors degrees, with some exceptions, last three to four years - although shorter courses do exist, such as foundation degrees (FD) and the Higher National Diploma (HND).
To find out more about the full range of UK qualifications and how they relate to each other, read our guide to qualifications.
Choose your degree subject
For students who have a particular career in mind, such as medicine, law or journalism, choosing a 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 will require candidates to be educated to degree level without a specific discipline, so finding a subject you enjoy that will develop your transferable skills means you're not only more likely to obtain a degree of a higher standard, but you'll also have fun doing so.
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.
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, visit what can I do with my degree?
Find the right university
As of 2016, there are more than 150 recognised universities in the UK. Useful things to consider when narrowing down your options 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 courses, giving you scope to explore a number of institutions. There are many ways to conduct your research into 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 upcoming opportunities around the UK, see open days and events.
Consult the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)
If you're struggling to decide between universities, you may benefit from referring to the TEF's straightforward system of ranking universities and colleges according to their standards of teaching and learning. The framework allows the higher-ranking English institutions to raise their tuition fees in line with inflation.
Currently in its second trial year, a higher education provider is rated:
- Gold - for delivering consistently outstanding teaching, learning, and outcomes for its students
- 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 is awaiting examination, due to a lack of sufficient data.
The majority of participating institutions for 2018 have received silver status (116), with gold (59) and bronze (56) closely matched. 64 TEF institutions currently hold provisional status.
While universities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have the option to participate in TEF, their tuition fees will remain capped at £9,000. Changes to fees may apply to existing students who started their courses after 1 September 2012, as well as those who begin their courses in the 2018/19 cohort.
Students receiving tuition fee loans from Student Finance will find these still cover the complete amount, regardless of any fee increases.
For a full list of TEF-registered UK institutions, see the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)'s TEF outcomes.
Visit Student loans and finance for more information on tuition fees and funding.