If you've decided that you're ready to study for an undergraduate degree, it's time to ask yourself: what university course should I do? Make things easier by narrowing down your options…
With thousands of undergraduate courses at around 370 institutions in the UK, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the choice on offer.
Add to this the fact that applicants can pick up to five related courses to improve their chances of being accepted at their preferred university, and you'll see that there's plenty to think about.
How to choose your degree subject
For those that have a particular career goal in mind - such as dentist, teacher or broadcast journalist, for example - making this decision might be quite straightforward.
However, if you're torn between a number of possibilities, ask yourself the following questions:
- What subjects do I enjoy studying?
- What am I good at?
- Are the subjects I'm interested in ones that I have studied before?
- What do I see myself doing after university? How would the subject choice affect this?
It's necessary to question your reasons as you go along to try to get it right first time.
While some students do consider leaving their course, you can save yourself a lot of trouble further down the line by exploring your subject choice thoroughly.
Types of undergraduate courses
The subject(s) you pick will determine the qualification you'll study, but the Bachelors degree is the most popular type at undergraduate level.
This may be in the form of a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) and you can expect it to last between three and four years - although shorter courses do exist, for instance, a foundation degree (FD) or Higher National Diploma (HND).
You sometimes have the opportunity to: spend a year in industry as part of a sandwich degree; study more than one subject by taking a joint honours degree; or engage in learning away from the university campus by choosing an online/distance learning degree - for example, with The Open University.
To read about the range of undergraduate course types in more depth, see our guide to qualifications.
To choose the best course for you, consider:
- reputation/ranking of the university for this course and subject;
- accreditation that you'll gain from completing this degree;
- course structure, modules and timetable - assessing whether they're in keeping with your study preferences;
- methods of teaching - for example, the percentage of time spent in lectures;
- A-level grades that you've been predicted against the course entry requirements;
- employability prospects presented by the programme.
In addition, the Key Information Set (KIS), compiled by official higher education course data providers Unistats, is a good tool for course comparison. It has information on:
- study patterns and how the course is taught;
- satisfaction levels with the course's quality;
- typical course costs, including university accommodation and tuition fees;
- what students do after finishing the course - are they studying or working, and how much are these graduates earning?
You can also explore what can I do with my degree?
Finding the right university
Narrow down your list of universities by:
- thinking about location, including the financial and practical benefits of staying closer to home versus the study opportunities further afield - for example, you may be intrigued by the prospect of studying abroad;
- considering local road, rail and air transport links in terms of the ease of getting back home;
- factoring in the distance and daily travel costs in getting from your student accommodation to the university, and whether you'd prefer a campus-based or city location;
- weighing up other costs, including accommodation, tuition fees and general living expenses - for instance, it will be more expensive to live and study in London than Manchester;
- reading prospectuses and discovering the culture of the place, as you work out whether this would be the right study and living environment for you;
- attending university fairs and open days - giving you the opportunity to talk to staff and students, so you have a better idea of what it's like studying there;
- researching the reputation and level of student satisfaction;
- looking at rankings/league tables to see where the universities stand in comparison to others for certain subjects.
The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)
The government has been working on a number of proposals to boost competition and choice in UK higher education, with the TEF introduced to ensure that universities have clearer incentives to deliver value for their students' money.
To encourage teaching excellence, from September 2017, higher education institutions in England will be allowed to raise the level of their tuition fees (in line with inflation) for full-time students, so long as they've met the eligibility requirements and quality criteria set out in year one of the TEF.
Students starting at a TEF-awarded university in 2017/18 will be affected by this legislation, with maximum fees for the year capped at £9,250. However, those who began their studies after September 1 2012 may also find that their tuition fees change, but this is up to the individual university.
At Welsh universities, £9,000 fees have been maintained, although the Department for Education (DfE) has revealed that institutions in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may opt in to the TEF to benefit from ratings, which won't have an impact upon their university funding.
It’s hoped that the TEF league tables will provide better guidance for students deciding where to study, by giving them access to more straightforward information on student outcomes, teaching quality and the learning environment of each TEF-awarded university.
After the first year's grace period, year two of TEF will involve a gold, silver and bronze rating system, with awards set to be more closely linked to fee increases in future years.
For those with a tuition fee loan, the full cost of your university fees will still be covered. See student loans and finance to explore your funding options in greater detail.
View a list of the eligible higher education providers for year one, by visiting the DfE's TEF page. You can also discover more by reading the Department for Business Innovation & Skills' May 2016 report on Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice.