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Your choices: university

Updated on 10 June 2020

Choosing to go to university is a big investment, both in time and money – but the academic prestige a university education can offer you is second to none, so if you enjoy reading, learning and discovering things for yourself, and have lots of ambition, it's very likely to be the right direction for you.

Your choices: university

How do I get into university?

If you're studying for your A-levels you'll probably get a lot of guidance on applying for university through your school or college. Maybe you're starting the process early though, and thinking about university whilst studying for your GCSEs. If that case, you'll need to consider what qualifications you need to take in order to get into university later on. The most popular routes into university are:

  • A-levels in 3 or 4 subjects
  • A combination of A-levels and other qualifications, e.g. BTECs

Universities make conditional offers based on A-level results (for example BBC or AAA), and sometimes on UCAS points – points awarded for gaining certain grades or qualifications, or for completing various projects.

How can I choose my degree?

Choosing the right degree for you is a two-pronged process. The two questions that you need to ask yourself are:

What do I want to study?


Where do I want to study it?

Answering both these things at once might seem like an overwhelming process, but in reality it's not too difficult. For some people it's easy - if you've always been a pro at biology, for example, it's likely that you'll pursue this at university and can immediately move on to the question of which university is best suited for your needs.

1. What to study...?

It's not that easy for everyone, though. If you're still lost about what to study, you first need to establish what subject or subjects you're best at, and what you enjoy.

This should narrow your options down a fair bit. Once you've got a few broad areas to choose from, you can do your own research or speak to a careers adviser about the job prospects for graduates within your subject, the best universities to study it at, and whether there are specific parts of the subject that you'd most like to focus on. Back to that biology whizz: maybe they'll choose straight biology, or maybe they'll focus on microbiology, biological science or even medicine. Deciding what to study needs to take into account various different factors.

2. Where to study...?

After you've decided on what to study you'll need to work out where to study it. Start this process by looking up the universities that are best for your subject, then narrowing it down to the ones that you're realistically able to get into. If you're expecting to get Bs and Cs at A-level it's probably not worth your time considering Oxford and Cambridge, for example. Consider your other needs too: is your course vocational, and would you benefit from a year in industry? Would studying abroad be helpful to your degree? Plenty of universities offer sandwich courses or have partnerships with universities abroad, and taking these opportunities can add a whole extra dimension to your degree and give you skills – and experiences – that you'll find invaluable.

Lastly, think about the environment you want to live in for the three or four years that you're study for your degree. Are you hankering after the big city life, or would you prefer to be in a campus university out of town? Do you want a party city or a more relaxed environment? All these things will have a big impact on your university experience, so they're important to consider.

How do I apply to university?

All university application are run through the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). There are clear steps to applying to university, from writing a personal statement to accepting an unconditional offer, and your school or college will be able to help you through the application process. This year, applications for university via UCAS, for entry in autumn 2016, opened on 1st October.

The steps for UCAS application are detailed on the ‘Filling in your application page' on the UCAS website.

Is a degree worth it?

There's no denying that a university education is expensive, with tuition fees in most cases now costing £9,000 per year, living costs rising all the time and changes to the system making life harder – and more expensive – for students across the board.

It's worth remembering, though, that you won't start to pay back your tuition fee loan until you earn £21,000. It's a big investment, but as long as you plan carefully and make the most of your time at university it's likely to be a very valuable one.

It's important to make sure you have a goal in mind if you decide to go to university. Unfortunately, this means it's time for more questions: what job do you want at the end? How will you make yourself stand out from other graduates? If you know what career you want, is your degree necessary to get there? These are all things that you need to consider before applying to university.

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