What to Consider When Choosing a Degree Subject

Any quick Google search will tell you that choosing your degree subject is a super important decision. Whilst that isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s also not the be-all and end-all that it can sometimes feel like.

These days, there are an increasing number of careers that you can try your hand at with any degree subject, and the vast amount of extra-curriculars that happen at Cambridge mean that, irrespective of your subject, you can still try out a whole host of things you may have never considered. So, with that in mind, here are some things to consider when deciding what you’d like to study.

 

  • Think about what you enjoy

Let’s get the clichés out of the way now and say that yes, it’s true, you should study something that you enjoy. You’ll be applying to 5 universities (not just Cambridge) but what I can say of Cambridge will ring true elsewhere: you will pour a lot of your time into your degree (it’s what you are at university to get, after all), and so you will find it to be much more of a chore than it needs to be if your heart isn’t really in it. Think of the subjects you did at GCSE and the ones you are doing at A-Level; think about what lessons make you feel like you aren’t really ‘working’, but just learning about something you love. When you are looking at degrees, what might strike you is the number of courses that aren’t taught before degree level (for example, I study Education), and these aren’t off limits in terms of choosing something you enjoy - instead, you might just need to do a bit of extra research to check it’s right for you. So, if you really love drawing and designing, you might enjoy studying Architecture. Or if you are more of the debating type, maybe Law might be for you. Make yourself a little diagram of all the things you have a genuine interest in, and then see which degrees seem like they might be right for you!

 

  • Check A-Level requirements

To bring you back down to earth, certain courses have A-Levels that are required in order to apply. This is perhaps most obvious in the sciences region, where you’ll need to have A-Levels in science subjects in order to progress to studying any kind of science at degree level. In particular, you may also need (or have a better chance if you have) A-Level Maths. The humanities, however, are a bit more flexible. Typically, the requirements stipulate that you need an ‘essay-based’ subject, which just means a subject where long writing pieces are how you are assessed; anything from History to English Lit, or even Government and Politics. Whilst it is important not to narrow down your degree subject choices by the A-Levels you have, it will probably point you in the right direction of what your interests are. If you are doing 3 sciences at A-Level and hate the fact you don’t get to do much extended writing anymore, maybe a change of direction towards something more essay-based might be for you. However, science subjects at degree level are likely to require more essay-style writing than at A-level, and certain papers may even be essay-based.  Likewise, if you are taking 3 science A-Levels and love it, then you know something within the field of science-based degree subjects would be a good fit for you. Have a look through the websites of universities you would want to attend and see what their requirements are for courses that catch your interest. That way, you can choose something you enjoy, and also won’t get caught out by the entry requirements later on.

 

  • Think about potential careers

This one is a bit of a balancing act of advice, because whilst it’s wise to have a think about what career paths you might like to take, it is also completely fine to have zero idea of what you want to do, and there are very few career paths these days that mean your undergraduate degree will in any way limit you. So of course, if you’ve wanted to be a doctor for a while, then a medicine degree seems like the sensible way to go. But, if you’ve pondered about being a doctor but don’t necessarily want to commit to it right now, then you can actually take a graduate course in medicine once you’ve finished your undergraduate degree. Some universities like you to have a degree in something science based, but for some grad medicine courses your undergrad degree can be in anything at all! By the same stretch, if you’ve always wanted to be a lawyer and find it super interesting, then a law degree might be for you. If, however, you are also interested in other things, there are conversion courses for after you have an undergraduate degree that mean you can become a solicitor or a barrister irrespective of your degree subject. So, have a think about what you might like to do in the future, but don’t feel as though you must do a course that gives you a profession straight from the off- it’s all about choosing a course that you will get the most out of, and finding a career that’s for you will stem from that.

 

  • Look into the degree modules and how you will be assessed

For any university you are hoping to attend, it is easy to see the name of the course you want to study, at the university you want to study at, and make that one of your options without any extra thought. Beware of this method - if you haven’t looked into what modules you will be studying, and how you will be assessed, then you might have an unpleasant surprise if there’s something you really don’t enjoy on the syllabus later down the line. Some Cambridge courses, as is the case elsewhere, have real flexibility on what you study, meaning you can choose lots of your modules from each year from a list of various options within your subject. Others are more prescriptive, and in many courses it depends on the year of the degree. There may be core papers that you are required to take, and so check that these are something you would be happy studying. Say if you were looking to study English Literature, and you really didn’t enjoy Shakespeare; if there’s a compulsory Shakespeare paper, think about if you would be happy to do this. Similarly, think about whether your strengths lie in coursework, exams or both. All Cambridge degrees will have some exams, but some have significantly more coursework than others. If the subject you’re looking into has a compulsory dissertation, and you really don’t like coursework, it might just be something to think about when narrowing down courses. In all honesty, your reaction to finding out anything like this about a degree you are considering will tell you all you need to know; if there’s a compulsory module that sounds like it wouldn’t be your favourite thing in the world, but you are unfazed and your passion for the course hasn’t budged, then you know your heart is in it. In choosing a course, that’s the best reassurance you could have.

A final thing worth bearing in mind is that many people actually apply for a different course at Cambridge to their other UCAS choices. This is mostly due to the more unusual subjects on offer hear but is also influenced by the university encouraging people to apply for courses they really want to do as opposed to just knowing they’re likely to succeed in it. For example, many people applying for English or History at other universities might apply for subjects like Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, Education, or Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge.

So, to wrap things up: pick something you will enjoy, double-check you have the right A-Levels for it, think about if it will lead to your dream career or if it will keep options open (if that’s what you want), and take the time to dive into researching courses to find out what it is you would actually be learning. Above all else, remember- only you can know what you want to study, so try and ignore external pressures about the job market, or what your sibling studied, and go with what you think is right. Good luck, you’ve got this!

Lauren Carey

 

 

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