University or course - which do I choose first?

university or course which comes first

By Nicole Correia,

Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Which do you decide first: the university or the course? Not everything in life is black and white and as an A Level student you are most likely realising this more and more as important decisions such as choosing a university and degree loom over you. These questions have a way of making us think for hours on end about which is the correct answer and how to justify them correctly; why should I study at a university near home? Is it because it’ll save me money or is it because it’ll be easier to gain working opportunities later on? Or is it both? Perhaps sometimes justifying these life questions is even more difficult than justifying your answers in an A Level practice paper.  Hopefully after we’ve broken it down it won’t be, but for now let’s consider the several factors in your course and university decision.


A good place to start when deciding on a university course is by listening to both your head and your heart: what are you good at, and what do you enjoy? If the answer is a combination of two things then consider a joint honours degree - you’ll be surprised at the variety of broad combinations some universities offer. In doing some research you may find that five universities offer that course and it is then a matter of deciding which you like best.

If you’re struggling with what you want to study then keep open minded - would you prefer a humanities subject, or a science? Try and decide why you are more drawn to certain options and slowly but surely you will narrow it down to a few ideas. Careful research, lots of questions, and patience will ensure that you choose the best degree for you. Don’t rush your decision, just keep asking yourself and others plenty of questions and you’ll soon find the right answer.

Costs of living

The costs of living is exactly what it sounds like - the money you’ll need to spend to eat, drink, be clean, travel,  as well as being happy and safe. This means a total of food shopping, rent,  and leisure activity costs - which soon enough add up to a hefty sum.  Natwest released figures, showing that 46% of UK students do not receive funding from parents, and so decision making really must be well-calculated.

If you’re looking at a university location it’s important to consider your student finance information and if you will be receiving a maintenance loan or grant to help you with your living costs. Some towns have a lower cost of living as their prices and facilities are lower than in other big cities. Generally this corresponds to the wage packets - for example it is probable that city workers will earn more than those living in small villages, in order for them to pay their cost of living appropriately. In fact, London is the most cost-effective city in the country, whilst York is the least; or meet in the middle with a university in Leeds.

For students, cost effective locations are important to consider as it may play a factor in your decision with regards to student accommodation, shared accommodation and getting a part-time job. When finding the right university it’s important to visit the area to get an idea of what your cost of living would be and how realistic it would be to travel and work there during your student years.

Being with friends

Friends are an incredibly important part of university life. Whilst your friends at school have grown up with you whilst you are a teenager, your university friends will be with you as you grow from a school child into a young, educated adult. They will help you when you’re living away from home -during the good and difficult times, when you’ve run out of sugar, when you need someone to proof read your work or a wingman on a night out.

Neither school nor university makes a friend more important - you never know who you will meet at university and so it’s essential that you are “there” for your friends as you hope that they are “there” for you. Sing the FRIENDS theme tune in your head, and apply it you your situation. Miles between good friends means nothing, so don’t base choosing the right university on your best friend. It is essential to support your friends’ decisions and encourage them to go to universities that suit them best, for a variety of reasons - their academic potential, their happiness and their financial situation. You’re not a very good friend if you hold back a friend just because you’ll miss them, and nor are they to you if they do the same. If you’re worried, download Skype, get organised, get a rail card and meet them or arrange to meet back “home” and you can meet up and catch up about your Fresher’s week over a pint at your local.

Importance of night life

How important is a city’s night life to you? Is it more important than studying a subject that you enjoy for three years? Is it more important than gaining the highest degree you can at a university that has the facilities you need? There isn’t a sit-on-the-fence answer for this one. The answer is no. Nightlife is not more important than your degree course, so do not chose to study at a university just because you have heard the nightlife is great.

All university students will say that their university offers a great night out - and that is because they do. Universities are made up of thousands of young people who are ready to enjoy themselves. What happens when thousands of young people want to have fun? They get some alcohol, get ready, and go and party. This happens up and down the country and all around the world. Good luck with finding a university with a particularly bad night life - and if you do find one, it is probable that your priorities are a little confused and going to university is probably not a good decision for you. Don’t be influenced by your excitement to be under the influence.

Career prospects

Career prospects will be something that all universities offer advice in. Getting a degree has been said to increase your wage by up to £12,000 and so it is incredibly important to choose both your course and university with your future career in mind. Perhaps consider work experience, internship opportunities, part time job vacancies and how your university town can help with these. Some university degree courses, however, offer placement years and so it is important to compare these course options and universities together. A job placement within your degree (sometimes called a sandwich degree) is something that employers find very interesting - it is fantastic not only for your CV but also for building contacts. This factor may be crucial when deciding which variation of degree you would like to study.

All-in-all, it is almost impossible to decide if the chicken or egg came first, and if you should choose your university or course first as there are so many different factors to consider. Also remember, it’s perfectly normal to be confused. Make sure that you research as much as you can, so that you choose the course and location that suits you best. Don’t be a sheep and “follow” - in three years you will most definitely regret letting others make the decision for you. Think carefully about what you want your university experience to be like and mould your small decisions around that until you come to a few conclusions and find both a university and a course that is right for you.