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 had taken all the subjects and extracurricular activities that would guarantee you the place at your favourite university. You invest 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 fall flat to the ground, often 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.

Do I really need a university degree?

So, probably the first questions any person needs to ask themselves when it comes to choosing the right university degree, are the following: Do I really need one? Perhaps it’s the pressure from my family or peers and community which is leading me to think I need to go to university? Perhaps you’re on automatic pilot and trying to accomplish something that everyone else around you does/has? But, hang on, you don’t want to be like a sheep. Perhaps you 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 as 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 and the wage difference between a carpenter and an accountant is no longer as big as it used to be. Indeed, in some countries, with the new housing crisis developing across Europe and North America, many people working in building trades 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 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. School leaver programmes

These programmes are often a great way of figuring out what you might want to do in the long term.

6. Foundation degrees and vocational qualifications

Like the foregoing items, these degrees and qualifications are a good way of further evaluating what you may or may not be interested in, without committing to a full university degree.

7. Gap year and volunteering

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

How to choose the right university

Well, if you’ve got this far, then it probably well means that you’re pretty serious about gaining a higher education degree. That’s great, but I wish that the answer to the question of which university you should choose was simpler. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t a clear answer to this question. Choosing the right university is a tricky task indeed. It all depends on what’s important to you (e.g. world class education, travel, your career prospects afterwards, etc.); your personal circumstances (e.g. your available income to spend, visa requirements, etc.), just to name but a few – other than that, the choices and the benefits are many.

Choose the career, not the subject

Many students make this mistake, they think, I’m good at Geography, I will complete my BA in Geography then. But have you ever considered what potential careers are out there where you can actually utilize your degree? I encourage you to think carefully of the chosen career which will follow from a specific course, rather than the subject you’re good at. You may then speak to other people in this profession, ask them what qualifications they completed in order 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 others issues involved.

Plan ahead

Planning your career well 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, which is 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 limited number of places? Well, there are many reasons for this. First of all, this well depends on the market needs, staff shortages and regional trends. 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. 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, 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. See, for instance, the QS World Rankings of the world’s best universities. 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 like this. 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. But, conversely 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 the person would have 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 these 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:

Criteria no 1: World class education

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

Criteria no 2: Affordable

Norway, Germany, Poland

Criteria no 3: English as the language of delivery

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

Criteria no 4: Convenient – online

The United Kingdom

Criteria no 5: Travel and Lifestyle

The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand