Applying to UniSchool and College

“What should I study at University”? Choosing a Course

Finding the right course can seem like an impossibly big task, let alone narrowing down your options. You feel like you’re changing your mind too often, maybe you’re simply torn between two similar sounding courses, or the polar opposites. Sound familiar?

John Palmer, an alumni, has written about his experience in unexpectedly choosing a different course than he original had himself set on, and his advice in helping you choose yours.👇

When I finished university and joined the world of Banking, I would often meet other graduates and the first question anyone would ask was “what did you study at university?” Many had studied the typical degrees you would expect of a graduate working in the City; Economics, Business Studies, Accounting, Finance. What struck me though was the number of people who had completed studies in fields that I would not have considered linked to the world of finance, degrees such as Biology, History, Sociology and the one that surprised me the most, Art History. Was there any link between the degree undertaken and performance at work/career progression? It didn’t seem so, in fact, it seemed as if everyone’s degree had in some way given them a set of skills required to be successful in their own way. This is not to say that you can get any job with any degree, some jobs require specific qualifications (lawyers, doctors, architects), but from my experience of working in finance the question “which degree should I pick?” is not as simple as I might have once thought.

My experience picking a degree

Rollback to 2007, I was in my final year of school, struggling through A-level maths and IT but enjoying my new found love for Business studies. Me and my friends were wading through hordes of prospectuses from different universities, trying to find that blend of course and university that ticked the most boxes. Me and one friend, in particular, had decided that it would be fun if we could go to university together and we both liked the look of Nottingham Trent University, so we decided it would be worth a visit. There was one degree that stood out to us both; ‘Business Management and International strategic Enterprise’…what a mouthful! Before we could visit the university the deadline passed to submit our choices to UCAS, we both applied for the course and I also applied for economics as a backup in case I was not accepted on the course I wanted.

On the day of the visit we both beelined straight for the course lecture (leaving our parents at the lecture where they tell you how much it will all cost!), once inside, the lecturer, who was a young man in a sharp suit, gave us an overview of the course and where it might take you. I could see my friend was completely sold, I, on the other hand, did not feel excited about the course. It certainly had a lot of aspects I liked and I knew I would enjoy the course, but something was missing which I couldn’t work out. I met back up with my parents and I told them how I felt and they recommended we go together to listen to the economics lecture. I must admit I was not thrilled about the idea, from my a-level course I much preferred the business side to the small amount of economics we had learnt.

We got to the lecture hall and I remember being greeted by an older looking man, the contrast could not have been starker. He went through the course modules and explained how economics worked, and its links with politics and history, both of which were interests of mine. I came out of the lecture feeling very conflicted, on the one hand, there was the course I thought I wanted to do before I arrived and which my friend was doing, on the other was a course I had, until 15 minutes ago, never given any real consideration. I spent weeks deliberating, both in my head and with my parents, did I pick the course closer to my current studies or did I pick the course that sounded perfect but which I had little prior knowledge about. In the end I picked Economics knowing that I could always change if I could not cope with it, I decided to go with the course I thought I would get the most out of personally, and which would engage my brain and keep me interested for 3 years. 

My top tips for picking a course:

My own personal dilemma of choosing a course mixed with my real-world experience of meeting other graduates in my industry has taught me the following when helping young people pick their degree: 

  • Try not to focus too much on which degree will help you best in your career: Unless the job you want requires a particular degree such as medicine or law, don’t place too much focus on the specifics. All degrees will give you a number of valuable transferable skills which are in many cases more important than the theory that you learn. I can’t remember some page long formula from advanced microeconomics but I still know how to write a structured report and critically analyse information presented to me, both of which are key to my job. 
  • Pick a degree that appeals to your personal interests: 3 years is a long time to study one thing so make sure the course modules appeal to you. 
  • Don’t be afraid to be adventurous: Py lack of A-level economics did not hold me back (I got a first), you might have to work a bit harder in first year but that will give you a great work ethic going forwards. I also noticed that people who did A-level economics were prone to making errors due to preconceived and often misplaced wisdom on the subject… 
  • Art History can get you a job in finance!!!

Blog Administrator. Currently ran by co-author Emilia Denis. Emilia has studied Fashion Communication and Promotion at NTU between years 2017 and 2020.

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