Choosing a University and Degree - Looking Beyond The League Tables

I've written before about the limitations of headline data you might be given when choosing a university and choosing a degree. Specifically data you hope will tell you the impact of university on your graduate career prospects, or employability.

Now you know the limits, what can you do? How else can you assess if a particular course and institution is likely to aid you with your career hopes and dreams?

Well hopes and dreams are all about ideas and possibilities. Ideas which may not be fully formed, possibilities careers advisers may not have come across before, dreams that develop during your time at University as you (and the world of work) constantly change.

So you can look at what you could and might do. If that relates to a particular sector or trend then talk to people in those areas, or meet them on forums and online courses. Look at information and events through relevant professional bodies. There are several career websites telling you what a certain degree course could lead to, e.g. Course information may also give you some ideas. These ideas will often be written by marketing people within the institution. Nothing wrong with that, but bear in mind that "this course might lead to a career in..." doesn't mean it ever will or has so far!

If you want something more concrete.. that is, you want to see that a desired outcome has been achieved by someone from that course, within a reasonable time frame, then look at the data. Historically this data was called the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education and 2018 graduate data onwards is known as Graduate Outcomes. Ask about it. Of course that doesn't guarantee the same outcome for you, so you might also ask what else someone had to do (other than the course) to get that kind of result. Ask at the Careers stand not just the department.

The above is more if you have specific ideas, what if you don't?!


Well then, you are probably more typical of someone considering university and choosing your degree. You may still be interested to see what others have done, to give you ideas. But you don't have to have a set career plan to be interested in how much the university experience will develop you - in terms of appeal to employers and in developing your interests and ideas.

Jobs and careers change, who knows what will happen over 3-5 years.

People change - who knows what talents and interests you will discover.

General advice about this or that degree being 'employable' may not apply to you. It certainly won't if you hate that degree and do badly at it!

So these are the questions I would ask of myself and any University course, regardless of it's position in a league table, what the latest headlines say and what my neighbour who works in recruitment thinks.

  • Will I be happy there - location, size, layout, culture?
  • Can I see myself getting involved in the opportunities available or is it too sporty, arty, not enough...Can I afford to get involved here?
  • The University gets great reports but am I sure the course is great?
  • Honestly, however great the course is supposed to be does it suit me in terms of my learning style? Who teaches on it and what are the module options? It may be 'number 1' for Architecture, Psychology, whatever. But, those are big areas, do the staff have the backgrounds and specialisms I'm interested in.
  • How well does the course and institution, including all support services, cater for my specific needs?
  • How accessible is career support, how proactive do I need to be or is it built in, who gives the support and how long does it continue afterwards?
  • What are the employer/ alumni links like - for my areas of interest?
  • If my favourite place is lacking in one of these areas, is it something I can actively plan around and compensate for?

There may be other things I've not thought of but you know will help you to thrive. If you enjoy your time, do well, get involved and develop - in confidence, self awareness, knowledge, networks and skills....well then you're going to have better graduate prospects and be more employable regardless of how fixed or vague your career ideas are.

Remember, many employers don't mind which degree you study and even if they do your plans may well change.

If you would like more guidance to help you when choosing a degree then order my FREE guide and checklist. 

 However many blog posts and guides I write I will never cover any consideration applicable to every individual. Plus if I did you'd be even more overwhelmed and confused!!  So, if you would like to invest in a one to one conversation, do book. For less than the travel costs to an open day I can save you a lot of time, effort and heart ache. 

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