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Seven factors students should consider when choosing degrees

What are the things you need to consider when picking your university degree course? These seven factors should help you choose the right degree programme for you

    Kam Stylianou's avatar

    Kam Stylianou

    Headmistress of The Grammar School, Nicosia, Cyprus,
    March 1 2024
    Choosing a chocolate


    When choosing a course it is useful to begin by understanding what your expectations and ambitions are so you can start to explore the options that match these.

    You will need to research course options in detail to ensure you are making an informed decision and avoid any disappointment or problems stemming from a lack of awareness. These are the seven factors to consider when choosing your degree course. 

    1. Course content and structure

    Simply looking at the degree title is definitely not enough because courses vary in content significantly, so you will need to spend time looking at the modules taught in detail for all of the years.

    If you have a particular interest in a certain topic, you should see if the course caters for these specific interests. If the modules are not readily available on the website, you can contact the department and ask for more details.

    It is also important to find out how much of the course is made up of compulsory core modules and how many optional modules you can take. Is the structure of the course flexible or very prescribed? Are there optional modules available from other academic schools, for example? This is important if you want to achieve a broader education. Is there a placement year, a built-in internship or an opportunity to spend a term or year abroad?

    2. Teaching and assessment

    It is a good idea to understand what your own learning style and preferences are and then look into how the course is taught and assessed so that the course works for your learning style. 

    Check how many contact hours there are per week and how much self-directed study time is expected. For example, universities in the Netherlands are usually very clear about this on their websites.

    Check if the course is based on lectures, seminars and small-group teaching and what the proportions of these are. Another very important factor that is often overlooked is the method of assessment. Is it only exam-based? If so, are the exams once or twice a year or more and what happens if you need to be re-examined? Is the assessment based on other methods, such as presentations, oral exams, projects and/or group work tasks? What support mechanisms are in place if you need additional help with an aspect of the course and will you be assigned a personal tutor?

    3. Qualification gained and length of course

    You will need to find out what qualification you will attain at the end as there are many different types of degrees.

    In the UK, for example, some degrees, such as economics, will be a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BSc) depending on the mathematical content of the course. It’s important to check this if you wish to pursue a specific master’s programme.

    Another example in the UK is engineering, where you will need to understand the difference between a BEng (a bachelor of engineering, usually a three-year programme or four years in Scotland) and an MEng (an undergraduate master’s of engineering, usually a four-year programme or five years in Scotland). 

    Most employers prefer the MEng as it indicates a solid level of education from one institution. In the Netherlands, an undergraduate degree from an applied science university usually requires a short pre-master’s course in order to enter a master’s course at a research university. It is important to understand the full picture of your course when making a decision to ensure a smooth progression.

    4. Professional recognition and accreditation globally

    You should always check that the course you are choosing is recognised, first in your own country and, second, by the relevant professional body if there is one attached to their subject.

    As international students, this is particularly important because you are usually investing a significant amount of money in your studies, so finding out later that your degree is not recognised in certain countries can cause significant setbacks and result in having to take additional courses.

    5. Entry requirements and suitability

    Entry requirements might include more than just academic grades, so do check if you are required to complete work experience, in what context and for how long.

    This is particularly relevant for courses in healthcare or veterinary science. You may have to fill in additional forms stating what you have done in detail as part of your application form. Find out if you have to attend an interview so you can factor this into your preparation time.

    Consider the entry requirements, too. If you are only just meeting the minimum requirements, will you be able to manage at that particular institution? This is particularly relevant for countries such as the Netherlands, where the entry criteria do not necessarily represent the demanding level of their degree courses.

    6. Cost and funding

    Always should check if the tuition fees match your budget and if there are opportunities for scholarships or any additional funding opportunities. It is useful to have an idea of the timeframe for these, so you do not miss important deadlines.

    7. Research, research, research

    The main message here is that, to be happy and succeed at university, making the right course choice does require some effort. This commitment is an important part of your academic journey and it sharpens your research skills, helping you ultimately to transition into a confident, independent university student.

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