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How to choose the right university and degree

Before applying to uni, there are some BIG decisions to make – but where to start? With this guide, your choices about what and where to study will feel a helluva lot easier.

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If you've already started thinking about university, you'll have probably been told by a lot of people that it will be the best few years of your life. We think they're right.

At uni, you get to be independent, meet loads of new people and have a generally great time. Oh, and you can learn a few things while you're there, too...

But, we do know that the period leading up to uni can also feel pretty daunting at times. In this guide, we'll talk you through how to find your ideal uni and degree. We want you to arrive at uni for freshers' week and know it's the right place for you.

To start your degree on the right foot, read our 34 things to do when starting university.

Choosing the right degree subject

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First things first: before you make any decisions about which uni to go to, you'll need to think about which degree would best suit you.

You might already know what you want to do after uni – in which case, lucky you! If you want to become a lawyer, nurse or engineer, deciding what to study should be simple.

But, for most of us, the choice will be a bit trickier. Maybe you're interested in more than one career after uni, or there might be a few different degrees which have caught your eye. Either way, there are loads of ways to narrow down your degree options.

Don't rush to make any decisions before you're ready. If you know you want to go to uni, there will be a degree which suits you. You might just have to do a bit of searching.

How to research your degree

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  1. It's best to do as much online research as possible to find out which degrees are open to you based on your A-levels
  2. Once you know your options, take a gander at course syllabuses to find out which topics you'd be studying in each degree and how you'd be assessed (i.e. are the courses essay-based or practical?)
  3. Think about your specific skills and knowledge – what are you gaining from each A-level subject that could help you in a degree?
  4. Get advice from friends, family and professionals working in your goal industry – find out what they studied and how they've got to where they are
  5. Start doing work experience in a job you're interested in and, while on placements, ask for advice from your managers about what and where you could study
  6. Talk to teachers about your options – they'll know which degrees are available to you based on your A-level subjects and predicted grades and, from knowing you, they should be able to identify a degree you'd do super well in
  7. The UCAS subject guides are also worth having a look through – they have handy info about the general entry requirements and desirable A-levels for each degree
  8. Once you've narrowed down possible degrees to a choice of one or two, attend as many university open days and taster days as you can – seeing example lectures and chatting to uni staff will help you know whether a degree's right for you.

One very important factor to consider when choosing a uni course is how much money you can make from it. You can find out the average graduate salaries for degrees here.

Deciding which universities to apply for

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There are over 160(!) universities in the UK – whittling your choices down to five is not easy.

The key is to be selective. What are your predicted grades? If you find out which unis ask for these grades as entry requirements, you've got yourself a pretty good list of options to start with.

After you've made this list, find out as much about each one as possible. Order their prospectuses, attend open days and, if possible, talk to people who have been there. If you know any family, friends or even friends-of-friends who went to a university on your list, ask them about what it's really like to go there.

And, if you've got your sights set on the top unis, make sure to check out the top 10 UK universities for 2020.

Think about the location of universities

Once you've found a number of unis you like the look of, you should think about their location. Whether you're planning to move away for your degree or commute from home, the location matters.

At open days, think about how you feel about the campus and uni buildings. You will be spending a lot of time here during your degree, so it's hugely important you feel comfortable and happy.

It's also a good idea to spend some time wandering around the local town or city centre. Have a look at the shops and bars, find the local tourist attractions and ask yourself if you'd like to live there for three years. If the answer's yes, you'll know you've found one of your five choices!

Ever thought about studying abroad? We've got a guide for UK students looking to study in Europe.

Be realistic with target grades

When unis look at your application, they'll want to know if you can achieve the grades they're asking for.

It's a good idea to apply for three places who ask for similar grades to the ones you're predicted. Then, you can choose one with slightly higher entry requirements as a goal, and one with lower requirements as a back-up choice. That way, you've got an even better chance of getting snapped up!

Which universities offer the best student lifestyle?

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Everyone has a different idea about what makes the ideal student lifestyle.

If you're hoping for great nightlife at uni, look online for the local student club nights. When you see loads of clubs boasting weekly events for students, this is a very good sign. And, if you're shown around the campus by students at open days, have a chat with them about the nightlife – they're the experts, after all.

For sporty students, think about the sports societies and facilities on offer. Some places might be particularly geared up for your favourite sport, so it's worth looking into. Loughborough University is highly thought of for its world-class sports facilities.

Students who are more into the arts can look for unis with art, music and theatre to see (and do) on campus. For example, have a look at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham to get lost in art, or the Cambridge Footlights if you're craving time on stage – there are so many options out there.

Whatever your interests, if you want to go to uni, there will be one for you.

What to do if you're unsure about university

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Although uni can be great if it's what you really want, the truth is, it's not for everyone and that's okay.

You should never feel like you have to go to uni just because your friends are going or you feel it's expected of you – there are so many other routes you could take. If your gut's saying that uni's not for you, it's a good idea to listen.

Our guide to the alternatives to university has everything you need to know about your other options, like taking a higher apprenticeship or starting a business.

Whether you're going to uni or not, taking a year off to go travelling can be an amazing experience – here's how to do a gap year on a budget.

If you're starting a degree in September, have a look at our 14 skills to help you survive university. It might come in handy.

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