Deciding on a degree and a university: which should come first?

Choosing a univeristy and a course

By Nicole Correia,

Last week my sister received her A level results along with hundreds of other nervous students, after a year full of hard work and stress. It’s so strange to think that I was in the same position this time last year. It feels as if I’ve been studying at Reading for a lot longer.

My sister and I are very different despite only being 18 months apart, so naturally our universities and university course decisions have been very different too. This is no doubt similar for many prospective students, and I am sure that it is sometimes difficult to not be affected by the decision your elder sibling has made, or experiences that they have had studying away from home. I am a humanities girl - I love learning languages (chatting lots) and reading and writing, whilst my sister is your more sciency-kind; she loves CSI, biology things, and is interested in how the criminal mind works etc.

Both of us decided not to study in London, where we live. We wanted to move away from home and have that experience, but keep our part-time jobs for when we come back home. My sister, Sophie, looked at universities hours away from London; Keele, Manchester, and Leicester. I chose to look at universities a l little closer to home: Canterbury Kent, Southampton and – of course - Reading. I am glad that my sister has heard about my experiences at university but is ready to make her own. We both, however, really liked Exeter’s university. It seemed very different to what we had seen before but unfortunately Exeter didn’t have the variation of the courses we both were looking for. So, that sadly ruled that university out for us both.

I decided not to research too many league tables as I didn’t want unnecessary pressure influencing my decisions or exam performance, whereas my sister used the tables to motivate her and help her make her decision. Finding the right uni means looking at many different aspects, and many of the aspects you consider important will be different to your best friend’s or your sibling’s.

In both my case and Sophie’s, the decision of which course to opt for was more difficult than choosing a university. I loved all my A level subjects (English Lit, French and Spanish) and Sophie enjoyed hers too (Biology, Psychology and English Lit). Sophie was desperate to get rid of the latter, but in doing so she worried about her degree limiting her to one kind of job sector. After lots of research between us both we individually settled to do joint honours. A year on from studying a joint honours degree, I am switching the degree back to single honours in English Literature, choosing to study only one module in French rather than several. This is because I enjoy my English modules more, but still enjoy learning the language - the cultural modules motivate me less, so in second year I say au revoir to those and focus on the literature. Wish me luck! Sophie has chosen to study Criminology and Law at Leicester, as she realises that Law will probably open up her career options, as like English Literature or History, it is a subject that is “essay-ish” as she describes it, and she is interested in Criminology - the best of both worlds.

We are all different. Study what you enjoy, with a realistic idea towards employment. Then have a look at which unis meet your requirements. Visit them - you’ll soon see what you like and dislike about each and begin to rank them in your own mind. Then you strive hard to meet their requirements. It’s okay to change your mind lots of times – I got to university and changed my mind, but it’s all about being mature and making a decision and step towards your future.