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5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing Your Subject 

24th April, 2019

Once you’ve decided you want to apply to university, you need to make a big choice; what subject do you want to study there? This is perhaps the most important decision you will make in the entire application process. Remember, you’re applying to spend three (or more!) years of your life becoming an expert in this subject area, so it’s important to make sure you’re applying for something that suits your interests, skills, and career aspirations.

Although a few students never even question which subject they’re going to apply for (maybe you’ve dreamed of being a Chemical Engineer since you were a child), most must spend a bit of time considering their options. If you are one of the many students struggling to make the decision, help is at hand.

Here are 5 questions you should ask yourself to find the university subject that is right for you. 

Tutor teaching an enthusiastic history student on our summer school in Oxford
Tutors and students socialize together in Oxford on our summer school

1. Would I enjoy studying this subject? 

It may seem like an obvious starting point, but it’s easy to get so wrapped up thinking about grade-requirements and career options that you forget to consider whether this subject genuinely interests you. If you enjoy what you are studying, you’re more likely to engage with the academic material on a high level and achieve top grades.

If you don’t even know where to start, consider subjects that suit your skillset. A sciences degree would suit someone with strong problem-solving, logical reasoning, data analysis and investigative skills, whilst those who enjoy reading, writing and critiquing academic arguments might be better suited to a humanities or arts subject. 

2. Does this subject fit with my A Levels or equivalent studies? 

If the subjects you are studying at A Level or equivalent have already given you an idea of what you want to study at university, that’s brilliant. However, it’s important to remember there is a big difference between school and university level study and to research those differences before you apply. For example, if you enjoy your Maths A Level and think you want to carry it on to degree level, you may want to compare Mathematics courses at a few different universities to get an idea of whether they focus on applied or theoretical mathematics, or have a balance between the two.

The subjects you study for A Level or equivalent will limit which subjects you can apply for, so make sure to check out the subject and grade requirements for each course you’re interested in. For example, you need two science A Levels or equivalent to apply for medicine, however, other related subjects like biomedicine and biology are less prescriptive. 

A doctor holding a stethoscope
Two businessmen shaking hands in an interview

3. What kinds of careers do graduates go into? 

The good news is that most employers will consider hiring graduates from a wide range of subjects, so whichever degree you choose will give you a huge variety of career options. 

Certain career paths – often those in the sciences – do require specialised training in the field in order to practice. Medicine, engineering, law and architecture are some obvious examples. However this training is often available as a postgraduate degree (i.e. a course you can study after completing your undergraduate degree), so if you’re unsure whether you want to go into medicine – for example – you might consider taking a biomedicine degree and then taking a graduate entry medicine programme afterwards.

Even if you don’t want to go into one of these specialised fields, reading about graduate destinations for the subjects you’re considering can give you an idea of the possibilities awaiting you after graduation. 

4. Are their similar subjects that might suit me even better?

The subjects you are currently studying can be a great place to start when looking for a course you will enjoy, but many universities offer related subjects you might not have had the opportunity to study at school, and may never even have heard of before, but which could be perfect for you.

Some of these are specialised degrees closely related to subjects you have studies at school – for example, if you are interested in Biology you might want to investigate related subjects like Natural Sciences, Biomedicine, Biochemistry or Zoology.

Examples of other subjects that might be completely new to you, but could be worth exploring include Law, Engineering, Human Social and Political Sciences, Politics Philosophy and Economics, Land Economy, Theology, Architecture or Classics. Once you have a rough idea of the kind of field you are interested in, get googling, or check out our subject guides here. 

An ariel view of a patch of land
Logos of top universities including Oxford and Cambridge

5. Which universities offer this subject?

Finally, once you’ve settled on a subject that fits your academic background, career aspirations and – most importantly – that you think you will enjoy, look at which universities offer a course in that subject. If your application is successful, and you choose to accept the place, you’re going to spend at least three years at this university, so make sure it’s somewhere you can imagine yourself thriving.

Open days can be a great way to meet students currently studying your subject who can share their first-hand experience of what it’s like.

Unsure where to start researching subjects? Check out our subject guides, as compiled by experienced Oxbridge graduates here.

If you're still unsure about the subject you want to study, then try one of our courses on the summer school. We offer a range of subjects, including ones you may not have studied before, like Coding, Engineering and Psychology! 

Once you’ve decided which subject to apply for – congratulations! You’ve taken the first step to making a successful university application. After a well-deserved break, it’s time to think about the next big decision, which universities should you apply to?