A Prospective Student Guide to Choosing a University course

For many prospective students, choosing the right course is always challenging for reasons not fully covered in this article. The pointers explained below could help you decide what to study at a university. Examples used in this article are factual except names of individuals have been changed to protect their identities.

1. As a child, what did you dream to become?

Most people grew up with dreams of their ideal jobs; dreams fed to them by passionate objects, parents or famous personalities. For example, from age seven, John wanted to become a journalist. When he passed his GCE A-Levels, he enrolled for a course in Journalism and Mass Communication. Looking back at John’s upbringing, it is clear to understand John’s decision was an easy one. It may appear John’s parents unconsciously groomed him to love journalism. He sat beside his dad watching TV news or listening to the radio almost daily. After reading a newspaper, his mum would leave it in John’s study table. Often he would thrill his parents’ guests with mock versions of the 7pm news broadcasts.

2. At school or college, what subjects did you love most or excel well at?

Having a childhood-dream job doesn’t mean it is the right course of study at university. Or if you never had a childhood-dream job, you still can identify the right course to study from subjects you did at secondary or further education. Consider the case of Mario, John’s twin brother. Mario loved Human Biology, Biology and Chemistry at school. His love for those subjects was matched with great grades both at GCE ordinary and advanced levels. It is so obvious he chose to study medicine at university, although his chosen field has a striking likeness with his dad’s medical profession. Why then did Mario and John have different course choices despite their common upbringing? Whatever the answer, selecting a course to study is a subjective exercise.

3. The world has many problems, is there a problem you passionately want to solve?

Your course choice may have nothing to do with childhood dreams or innate ability in a subject. It could be influenced by a moral course you want to support, or a social problem in your community, country or another country you want to solve. Maybe you lack the expertise to understand and take an active front row to solve a social problem. Consider John who enrolled for a course in Journalism and Mass Communication. Bitter by decades of human rights abuses and political oppressions in his country, he chose to minor in Political Sciences. He understood a strong grasp of political systems, institutions and processes would enable him to specialise as a political journalist but also wage a campaign against a dictatorial political order. A year after graduating with an honours degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, John decided to enrol for a master’s degree in Peace Studies, burning with the desire to become a peace-activist.

4. Everyone has a hobby, what’s yours?

Cambridge dictionary defines a hobby as an activity which someone does for pleasure. How cool—that you are doing a degree in winery because you love wine; a course in photography because you love scenery; or a course in mountaineering because you love adventure. Fortunately, colleges and universities around the world are expanding their study programmes to include non-traditional courses such as winery and mountaineering.

5. Current and future high demand for talents, are you one of them?

Some have said the days where passion influences the choice of studying for a course have long gone. Economic and social changes have made certain jobs (and courses) obsolete or lessened their value. We now live in an era where students, employees, employers and national governments compete with overseas counterparts. That means jobs that were available in the United Kingdom have moved to Singapore because they can be efficiently and skilfully be done elsewhere. This also means the supply of previously rare talents is now high or very low.

Therefore the mantra for every to-be-jobseeker is to choose a course that will guarantee quick employment or enable you to outrun your peers in the job market. Yearly, thousands of students choose courses for their employability aspect. As a prospective student, you must do an analysis of what you want to study, paying full attention to the skills and knowledge the industries need.

6. Constraining factors

Regardless of your burning need to follow a childhood dream or stay competitively employable, certain forces could constrain the choice of a subject to study. Limited or no funding, or the fear of piling up debts can stir you off your preferred subject especially as tuition fees keep increasing. Your chosen university may not have the subject you want to study, that forces you to settle for something else. This is true with students in developing countries settling for courses just because that’s what the universities provide. For example, Mel dreamt to become a Pharmacist but none of the universities in her country offered courses in pharmacy or related discipline. She settled for a degree in Life Sciences. Sometimes, the entry bar to some university courses is very high which discriminates against some students.