Choosing your degree course

You will find opinions vary on the reputation of a particular university. If a university has a ‘good’ reputation, this does not necessarily mean the department you are applying to does or its reputation is based on the quality of its teaching. League tables published in newspapers vary, since the newspaper editor decides how to award the marks; therefore, they are not objective. For you, the most important criteria are likely to be good teaching (with a style that suits you) and that the department has a high rating for research.

Sources to help you decide:

Unistats is an official website that enables you to compare subjects at universities and colleges in the UK. You can also read what over 177,000 students felt about the quality of their higher education experience. If you register on the site, you will be able to save your own shortlist of subjects and universities/colleges, which is useful if you want to refer back to it later.

The Quality Assurance Agency ( QAA) for higher education have assessed the teaching quality of all higher education institutions and courses across the UK. Their report includes what students thought of their university department and what the drop our rate was. You should refer to the report for any university department you are interested in; it will tell you progression rates as well as what students think of the department.

In 2001, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) rated the quality of research undertaken in university departments. This will be repeated in 2008. A high rating (5*) means that the staff publish lots of high quality research papers and are well-known in their field of work. As a student you will benefit as you will have access to high quality research apparatus; however, it may mean that lecturers are more devoted to research than teaching.

The Gocracker website has a full list of UK colleges and universities to give you a snapshot of what it would be like to study in each one. This may be a helpful starting place for your search.


How long?

Bachelor or ‘first’ degrees usually take three or four years to complete full time. You can also study part time or through flexible learning. Many of the science and maths subjects offer four year degree courses, which may be an advantage, especially if you intend to continue on in research or to do a post-graduate qualification.

Engineering courses are often masters courses lasting four years and some subjects can take longer than four years; for example, medical courses usually take five or six years.

Course content

Each course will contain a number of options and modules, find out what they involve and whether they cover areas that you are interested in and what careers options they might lead on to.

Accredited degrees

Some professions approve or accredit degree courses which can then lead to what is known as ‘Chartered Status’ or membership of a professional body. Achieving chartered status demonstrates to employers and society at large that you have attained a high level of professionalism. If you’re looking to pursue a career in a particular area, check your course is one of those approved by the relevant professional body. Every institution that accredits degrees should be able to give you this information.

Chartered Scientist (CSci)

Many accredited degrees will also help you achieve Chartered Scientist (CSci) which can be useful for scientists whose careers move between different sciences rather than being focused on one.