The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

Choosing a course to study: The basics

With thousands of courses around the world to study, how do you pick the right one for you? Find out the key questions you should ask yourself when seeking out higher education possibilities abroad...

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As you can see on our site, there are a lot of courses to choose from. With so many options, it can be difficult to decide what to study. So much rests on choosing the right course, including your time, money and your career hopes.

 

So, to make things a little easier we’ve come up with some questions to ask yourself which might help clear a few things up. Hopefully, after you’ve asked yourself the following questions, you’ll have a better idea of what you should study...

 

What am I good at? What am I not good at?

An undergraduate course lasts three to four years – that’s a long time to spend studying something which you don’t enjoy, especially at a more intense level!

 

First of all, ask yourself what you have enjoyed studying at school. In fact, your application to a related course will be improved if you can get a reference letter which reflects your current or proven academic strengths. For example, if you’re a stellar science student at school, your application to a physics course at an overseas university will be stronger if your science teacher can recommend you for the course or talk about the work you’ve done in their class already. It’s likely that you have a good relationship with those teachers whose classes you perform well in.

 

Alternatively, you can also think about subjects you definitely don’t want to study at university level and which you can’t wait to say goodbye to. Crossing these off will make your list of options smaller and less overwhelming.

 

What qualifications do I have already?

You may already have an idea of the area you want to study and find a career in, which will have dictated what subject(s) you chose at school, college or for your undergraduate degree. So, it’s good to look at the qualifications and grades you have (or are predicted to have) to see what you are already eligible to study. You should look into this before you plan to commence your studies abroad, so if you need to take extra classes to satisfy the requirements, you can decide to do so.

 

If you are thinking of continuing your education further than undergraduate level, you may need to think carefully about your choice of modules. When applying for a master’s degree, it will be useful to relate your choice of subjects in undergraduate study to the desired postgraduate programme. For example, if you study geography at undergraduate level, you’ll probably need to decide between the human and physical variations of the field depending on what you plan to do after university. However, you can of course choose a course with little idea of what you want to do next, it may just help to think about this if you do know what you’re aiming towards.

 

What are my interests?

If you can’t think of an academic subject which you’re especially strong at or one which you would want to pursue at university-level, think about your non-academic interests outside of school. It’s likely that you’re much more passionate about these but you’ve never even thought about studying a course related to these (or pursue a career in this area). This could be along the lines of photography, film, sport etc.

 

New courses are being created all the time to prepare and develop talent for growing industries, such as ethical computer hacking and social media marketing. Projects, events and knowledge related to these interests can all contribute to a university application to show that you’re passionate about this area and eligible to study on a course which can prepare you for a related career. Look at who you idolise and what/where they may have studied to give you ideas about specific courses to study (that person may even sponsor a scholarship at a particular university which you don’t know about).

 

Do I want to study more than one subject?

It’s quite common for students to choose two subjects at undergraduate level. For example, you could do both French and politics, or English literature and linguistics. If you just can’t decide between the two, a joint honours might be the perfect route for you. It’s also a good idea to choose two subjects which complement each other for your own learning and to show employers that you put thought into the subjects you chose.

 

What do I want to do for my career?

You may have a clear idea of what you want to do which makes choosing a course to study easier, particularly if you want to become a doctor or lawyer. You can browse through our advice section to see if we’ve already written about your dream graduate career and how you can achieve this.

 

In other cases, there may be several routes to your dream career, some of which may allow you to study something different before transferring. Talk to those who are already working in this area to see how they got to where they are now, including what they studied (or even what they wish they had studied).

 

Another great way to pick a course is by looking on job sites to see which route you may want to take after university. Try writing out a list of careers that you would be interested in as this may help with the process of picking a degree. You can see which skills are required for different roles and aim to develop in this area throughout your course.

 

What’s out there?

There’s only one way to find out: search and see! School can be quite limiting as to what you can study – usually it will come down to the core subjects like English, maths, history etc. However, at higher education level, you might be surprised to find a whole course built around something which you only briefly covered in your school (or a course which expands on your interests).

 

Search on our site using the floating search bar at the top throughout the site or search our articles to see if we’ve written about a possible course or career path already.

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About Author

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Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.

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