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How do you actually pick a degree subject?

Whether you’re struggling to pick between two courses at university or asking what's an undergraduate degree, we’ve got all the advice you need.

Eleanor Foulds
by Eleanor Foulds
Last Updated:
15 Sep 2022

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Let’s be clear about this upfront – picking a university degree isn’t always easy. There are many types of degrees, so wondering what degree should you do for the next 3 to 4 years of your life is a big decision. 

Although there are plenty of degrees to choose from, you don't need to be overwhelmed.

How NOT to choose your university degree


Don't let someone pressure you into your choice 

Just because your parents think you should do history instead of media studies, or medicine instead of zoology, it doesn’t mean they’re right. At the end of the day, it’s your choice, not theirs.

Don't copy what your friends are doing

If you’re not sure what degree to do, the last thing you should do is blindly go along with whatever your closest friends or significant other have picked. Make sure you think long and hard before committing to your subject (you’ll be doing it for the next few years, after all).

Don't pick a subject you don’t enjoy

If you think an accountancy degree is your best chance of getting a high-paying job but you don’t enjoy your maths A-level, are you really going to enjoy a career as an accountant?

Now that you know what not to do, here's what you should do to help you pick the ideal degree.

How to choose a university degree

The truth is, there's different factors that come into play when you’re trying to decide what degree to study, and it can all get a bit muddled unless you break things down a bit.

To try and make things a bit simpler, we’ve given you three different starting points:

  • You have no idea what you want to do
  • You’re picking between a few different courses at university
  • You have a specific job in mind

You have no idea what you want to do

As you've seen already, loads of other students don't know where to start when picking a degree subject. So don't panic and feel like you're alone.

If you're struggling to decide, here's five tips to help you make sense of your options.

Draw up a list of subjects you enjoy

One of the most important things when choosing a university degree is that you pick a subject you enjoy, or at least think you’ll enjoy. Obviously whatever you pick is still going to involve some hard work and stress, but if you can choose a subject that you get at least some enjoyment from, you’re sure to get a lot more out of your degree than if you pick something you find dull or uninspiring.

Draw up a list of subjects you’re good at

If you have one or two subjects you really stand out in, the chances are you’ll be able to get on to a fairly good university course in that same subject (and hopefully go on to find a good career in a related field).

Remember step 1, though, and avoid picking something you’re really good at but hate doing (it probably won’t make for a fun three years).

Also, don’t necessarily just think of the subjects you’re doing at A-Level – if you’re a strong writer with good analytical skills, for instance, your skills might be well-suited to a degree in psychology (even if you’re not currently studying psychology).

Think outside the box

Don’t forget to do some research into degrees you might not have even heard of previously. To get started, you can use our ‘What can I do?’ course widget to find out what other students who took the same A-Levels as you ended up studying at university (it’s a great way of getting some inspiration if you’re struggling to come up with ideas).

Make a shortlist

Now it’s time to start narrowing down your options. Based on the subjects you found using the three steps above, draw up a shortlist of five or more courses you think you might like to study at university.


Once you’ve put together your shortlist of subjects, it’s time to find out a bit more about what it’s like to actually do a degree in them. You can read our degree subject guides to find out everything you'll need from A-Levels in order to study the subject at uni, to the type of modules you’ll be focusing on in your first year, and the career options you’ll have after you’ve graduated.

Once you’ve done some research into your shortlist you might find that one particular subject jumps out at you – in which case, you may have a winner!  If not, though, it’s time to move on to the next stage.

You're picking between a few different courses at university

You’ve narrowed down your options to just two or three subjects, but you’re struggling to pick between them. This is where it gets tricky. Whether the subjects you’re trying to decide between are fairly similar, or a million worlds apart, the choice is never an easy one.

To help you make a final decision, your best bet will be to draw up a list of the pros and cons of any of the subjects you’re still considering. Make sure you do as much research as possible; after you’ve read the subject guides look at a few degrees offered by different unis to give yourself an idea of the type of modules you’ll be tackling in your first year (bearing in mind that these can vary quite a bit between different universities).

Once you’ve done your research, chatted to friends, family and careers advisors and drawn up a list of pros and cons, you should hopefully see a winner starting to emerge.

You have a specific job in mind

Got a dream career in mind that you know you want to go into after uni? Congratulations, you’re one of the lucky ones! A lot of people don’t have a clue where to begin when it comes to picking a degree (let alone a job), but by having a future goal in mind you’re already one step ahead of them.

The question is, how do you reach it?

If you’re interested in becoming something like a doctor or an architect, your route is pretty much set (you’d need to do a medicine or architecture degree that’s accredited) – but what if your dream job is a bit less common?

Well, your first step should be to test-drive our ‘I want to be’ careers widget – this basically lets you pick a career you want to aim for, and then tells you the most common degree routes that feed into that career!

If you want to be an accountant, for instance, the top 5 subjects studied at university (in descending order) are accounting, economics, finance, mathematics and business studies. You can even see the percentage breakdown (in the above example, accounting degrees are comfortably in the lead, with 38% of accountants having studied accounting at university).

Once you have an idea of the top subjects, you can find out a bit more about them by reading through our subject guides. With a bit of research, you should be able to narrow the list down to one final choice.

If you're still struggling to pick a uni degree

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends and family are good people to speak to as they know you best, while teachers and careers advisors should be able to guide you on the more academic and job-focused side of things.

Remember, you can ask us too. You can find us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram (we always love a good chat). Good luck with your search!


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