How to choose the right university degree

No idea what you want to be? No pressure! This article will help you decide.

Are you having trouble deciding which university you should choose to attend? Usually, the story goes like this: you’ve been searching for the right university course for months, sometimes years. You’ve taken all the subjects and extracurricular activities that would guarantee you a place at your favourite university. You’ve invested your precious time and money into completing your university degree/diploma, and if you’re in the 30% of the unlucky students that unfortunately never manage to complete their degree (, you find yourself without your dream degree and blaming yourself.

Well, I have good news for you. Not having a university diploma or degree doesn’t have to mean that you’re a failure. Consider the fact that the following famous individuals did not finish their college degrees and went on to become wildly successful: Steve Jobs (the founder of Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook), Oprah Winfrey (the famed talk-show host and TV personality), and Brad Pitt (the actor who left the University of Missouri two weeks before he was due to finish his degree in journalism). This is just to name a few of the great number of well-known people who have left university without a degree and have gone on to flourish anyway, and by considering this you’ll realise that possessing a degree doesn’t equal success. These guys and girls have proved it.

When it comes to choosing the right university degree, the first questions you should really ask yourself are as follows: Do I really need one? Is it the pressure from my family, peers or community which is leading me to think I need to go to university? Am I on autopilot and trying to accomplish something that everyone else around me has? Do I already have what it takes to achieve success? Sometimes, all it takes is one brilliant idea that somebody hasn’t thought of yet. Like Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook, one simple idea that is now worth billions.

Alternatives to a university degree

1. Start a business

If you have what it takes, just do it! With many online business platforms available online to connect you to millions of potential customers, it has never been more plausible to strike out on your own initiative.

2. Apprenticeships

Forty, thirty and even twenty years ago it seemed like a no-brainer to get a college degree over a job as a builder, plumber or seamstress. The latter were jobs you had to work for years as an apprentice before often entering a life of physically demanding work. An office job requiring a degree was less physically demanding and would pay considerably more. But, today that is no longer the case; the wage difference between a carpenter and an accountant is no longer as big as it used to be. In some countries, many people working in the construction sector are doing far better financially than their college-educated contemporaries. So, if you have a love of working with your hands and building something from scratch, maybe consider that carpentry rather than college could be for you.

3. Trainee and entry-level roles

Get your foot in the door as a trainee and you might be able to convert this into a more long-lasting position.

4. Work experience placements

An internship or placement scheme can also be a good alternative to undertaking a university degree. The famed US film director, Steven Spielberg, credits his early success to an internship he took up in the film industry when he was a young man.

5. Foundation degrees and vocational qualifications

Nowadays, many vocational qualifications can be a good way of further evaluating what you may or may not be interested in, without having to commit to a full university degree.

6. Gap year and volunteering

This may not be the best option if you’re the ambitious type and, it may well save you time and money. Rather than choosing the wrong degree, it can be a good choice to instead explore your likes and dislikes. Volunteering in particular is a fantastic way of finding out more about what you are really passionate about.

How to choose the right university

If you're reading this, you're likely serious about pursuing a higher education degree. Choosing the right university is a tricky task indeed. It all depends on what’s important to you (world class education, travel, your career prospects afterwards, etc.) and your personal circumstances (your available income to spend, visa requirements, etc.)

Choose the career, not the subject

Many students make this mistake: they think, I’m good at Geography, so I will complete my BA in Geography. But have you ever considered what potential careers are out there where you can actually utilize your degree? I encourage you to think carefully about your chosen career and choose a course based on that, rather than the subject you’re good at. You may then speak to other people in this profession, ask them what qualifications they completed to get where you want to be. Speak to a careers advisor if necessary, but don’t just automatically choose/pick the university degree because you’re good at it without taking into consideration the other issues involved.

Plan ahead

Planning your career ahead is a good strategy, especially if you’re planning to study abroad. For example, if English is your second language, you will be required to pass the IELTS/TOEFL and some universities will not take you on unless you get a certain score (usually a 6.5 for IELTS). Other factors to consider are the following: savings, accommodation, visa, scholarships, and so much more! What’s more, some university courses are more popular than others and places are often offered on a ‘first come first served basis’, so do your research and apply early to avoid disappointment.

Research the market and its needs

Have you ever wondered why certain universities offer a limited number of places? Well, there are many reasons for this. Market needs, staff shortages and regional trends affect demand for different qualifications. So, for example, if your country is the main supplier of oil and gas, the chances of you finding employment in the sector will be much higher than if you were to study veterinary science. Anyway, the aforementioned circumstances do fluctuate depending on demand, so it’s crucial to do thorough research before deciding on your career path. But most of all, try to do what you love!

Reputation and university ranking

This one may sound like an obvious one, but many students pick universities with very poor reputations. Take advantage of your search engine and read reviews of your university. University rankings are also widely available across countries. The QS World Rankings of the world’s best universities can provide a good start. If you find that your university is right at the bottom when it comes to teaching quality and support available, you may need to think twice before investing in your future by attending a university which is low ranked. Running a simple search will also save you time and money. Wanting to impress your future employers is another thing to consider in this respect. Undoubtedly, someone with a university degree from an unknown university won’t stand a chance during the recruitment process against a graduate from Cambridge. There is also the possibility that a person can be oversold on the overall reputation of a university, but doesn’t look enough at what the specific merits of an individual department are. Say for example that you are living in northern France and you are interested in Slavonic studies (i.e. the study of Eastern European countries like Poland, Russia and Ukraine), somebody might say to you that the Sorbonne in Paris or the University of Amsterdam are great universities within reasonably close proximity and that person would have a good point. These are brilliant universities overall. The Sorbonne consistently rates in the top 100 of the QS World Rankings of the world’s top universities. But this doesn’t make it is the best place to do a course on Slavonic studies. In reality the best place to do this degree would probably be universities like Moscow State University or the University of Warsaw.

Where to study?

Finally, here we have selected some of the most popular criteria when choosing a university by international students:

World class education

The United Kingdom, The United States, Australia, Germany, Switzerland


Norway, Germany, Poland

English as the language of delivery

The United Kingdom, The United States, Norway, Sweden, Germany

Convenient – online

The United Kingdom

Travel and Lifestyle

The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand