Higher Education

bigstock-university-sign For many of you this will be your first choice after completing your A level / BTEC courses.

Deciding what you’re going to study and where is an exciting challenge that requires time and effort from you in order to help you to feel confident about your choices. It’s important to choose a subject that you’re genuinely interested in and will enjoy studying.

Please see the HE section under the Useful Websites tab.












Ask yourself

* Do I need a degree for my chosen career / career area?

* How will studying a degree enhance my career prospects?

* Is this the best route for me?

* Am I committed to academic study for another 3 years or longer?

* Have I explored student life & would I enjoy it?

* How do I really feel about graduating with a student debt?

* What am I hoping to get out of going to university?

* What kind of experience am I hoping to have?

Attending university is an investment in your future. Despite the high graduate unemployment rates of recent years research shows that having a degree improves your chances of getting a job and over the long term you are likely to earn more money than people without a degree.

It’s okay not to know the exact job you want to do now or even after after graduating. Many students go to university unsure what career they want in the future but university is a big commitment so you owe it to yourself to invest time and effort in finding out what you could do and where it could take you!!


* Enhance your Career Prospects – Having a degree could improve your career prospects by helping you to gain promotion more quickly than non-graduates. Some companies also offer ‘fast-track’ career opportunities for graduates. By 2020 it’s estimated that 70% of new jobs will require degree level qualifications so getting a university education means you’re less likely to be unemployed in the future.

* Choice – There are over 37,000 courses available at over 370 UK universities and colleges and many options other than full time courses such as part time and distance learning, so there is something for everyone, whatever your situation.

* Social Skills – university isn’t just about education – you’ll meet lots of different people from different backgrounds and so you’ll broaden your social and cultural experience.

* Employability SkillsWith academic and extra curricular opportunities available for you to experience, you’ll develop your knowledge and employability skills whilst at the same time improving your job prospects and opportunities.  These will look great on your CV & when you graduate, employers will see you as a more rounded person, having mixed with a variety of people from all walks of life, and developed important life skills such as communication and problem solving.

* Sport & leisure activities – All universities have a wide range of social activities too such as rugby, kayaking, photography, drama etc.  Taking part in activities and getting involved in other social clubs will mean that when you graduate you’ll have a lot to offer an employer other than qualifications as you’ll also have gained valuable life and employability skills such as team work.

* Salary – On average graduates will earn significantly more over their lifetime than people without a degree level qualification.

* Independence – If you attend a university away from home then you’ll learn some invaluable skills for life such as cooking, money management, problem solving and independence.

Many graduates say that going to university was one of the best times of their lives and where they made friends for life.

* Flexibility – Remember many people who have degrees do not actually work in the same field that they studied in, being a graduate means that you have developed a range of skills which are classed as transferable, like research and extended writing skills or working to deadlines.


* Financial – The main concern for most people is the cost of going to university for 3 or more years. Financial worries for prospective students have intensified since tuition fees rose to a maximum of £9,000, forcing graduates to leave university with debts of around £40,000.

However, despite this bleak outlook, try not to worry too much about the money side of attending a higher education institution – there is lots of financial aid out there once you start looking & you don’t start repaying the loan until you’re earning around £21,000.

Certainly do not let costs dissuade you if you are intent on following a career that demands a degree, such as medicine or law. There is financial aid out there especially for students from a low income household.

If you are studying nursing or teaching, you may be eligible for a professional bursary such as the NHS Student Bursary (this includes courses such as chiropody, dental surgery and midwifery) or an initial teacher training grant.

For more information on student finance go to www.gov.uk/student-finance


Don’t put it off!! Use year 12 to do all the research & preparation. Research your career ideas, look through university degree courses, go to university open days and spend time discussing these things with your family, tutors and careers adviser so that when you need to complete your UCAS application, in the Autumn term of year 13, you feel confident about the choices you’re making.

 Did you know?

* 40% of graduate careers don’t require a specific degree subject!

* Universities offer over 900 degree courses and there are over 80,000 course variations!

Remember It’s okay not to know the exact job you want to do. Many students go to university unsure what career they want in the future but university is a big commitment so you owe it to yourself to invest time and effort in finding out what you could do and where it could take you.



Choosing your degree / university is not something you can leave until the last minute! In order to feel happy & confident with your choices you need to spend time & effort researching your options.

Below is some general advice about what you need to consider & where to find further information but, you have to put in the work as no-one can do this for you so….





Most students typically fall into 3 categories – which one are you?

1 – You already have a career / career area in mind

2 –  You know what you want to study but are unsure about related careers

3 – You have no ideas at all about what to study, perhaps because you haven’t started thinking about careers yet.

Read the section below the category you think you are in


If you know which career / career area you’re interested in and have researched it thoroughly then you should already be aware which degrees you need to be looking at.

Still Unsure?

* Careers interview – Ask for a careers interview or just email me to check you’re on the right track / making the right choices

* Degree career prospects – Look at the Career Prospects / Employability section of any course you’re considering to make sure that degree is the right one for your chosen career / career area. This can also help to broaden your knowledge of career opportunities with that degree.

* Admission tutors – Try ringing / emailing the admissions tutor for advice (you’ll find contact details on univ website course details page).


I see a lot of students who say ‘I want to study X/Y/Z at university but I don’t know what I could do with it’. If you want to study an academic subject but you’re unsure where it could lead then try the following:-

* Prospects website www.prospects.ac.uk  – Select ‘Careers Advice’ and then ‘What can I do with my degree?’’.  Here you’ll find information on the careers linked to your chosen degree subject as well as links to ‘What Do Graduates Do’ website which gives information on employment & further study destinations of recent graduates.

* Careerscape – Have a look at the Careerscape programme on the Cascaid website. There is a ‘Subject Links’ section that lists careers linked to school subjects.

* Subject related careers websites – look at websites linked to specific school subjects that give subject related careers information eg: the Historical Association for History and Futuremorph for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers.

* The Telegraph –  has a section called ‘Subject & Degree Course Guides’ which gives you an overview of a particular subject – qualification, length, what it covers, what to expect, A levels usually required, career prospects, top places to study etc. Approx 50 broad course subjects are covered  www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/degree-courses/

* UCAS – go on UCAS and research some degrees in your chosen subject(s). Click on the university website, find the course then read the Career Prospects section. You can find out what graduates have gone on to do after completing that degree and that can help you to broaden your knowledge of possible career options. You should then research these careers further.

(For all of the above you’ll find links on the Useful Websites tab of this BW Careers website.)

* Subject interests – Think about the subject you want to study and try to identify what it is that you like about that subject, are there any specific areas that you enjoy? eg: statistics in Maths or creative writing in English, you could then use this as a starting point for researching careers.

* Subject tutors – ask them where they see your strengths, what careers could their subject lead to?

* Google – Try simply googling ‘careers with……..’ and have a look at the results. I have found some great information / websites this way.

* Postgraduate study – whilst studying for your degree you may decide what you want to do. This may mean you’ll need to study for a postgraduate course that will qualify you for that career eg: teaching, law or journalism.

* Don’t stress – Remember many people who have degrees do not actually work in the same field that they studied in. Being a graduate means that you have developed a range of skills which are classed as transferable, like research and extended writing skills or working to deadlines

* Ask for a careers interview – Although I don’t usually suggest careers, it can be helpful to talk through your ideas with someone objective to help you to understand what your next steps should be. My role is to enable you to plan your own career not tell you which career to choose.


* Don’t put it off – No-one is going to (or should!) be choosing your career / course for you so if you haven’t started thinking about possible careers yet then you need to start NOW!!

* BW Careers website – have a look at the Career Planning section of this website to help you to understand how to get started with career planning. This needs to be done in stages & choosing a degree course isn’t the first step. It’s much easier to make decisions about degree courses if you have some idea of where you might be heading in the future & you need to do some basic career planning work first.

* Careers interview – If you have no ideas at all then I strongly suggest that you refer yourself for a careers interview as soon as possible!

Whatever stage you’re at I suggest you use the University flowchart to help you understand the next steps you need to take!!



* Common sense – make sure you choose a subject that you’ll enjoy and will help you reach your career goals. If you have no firm career ideas that need a specific degree then it’s better to choose what you love over what you’re good at because you’ll need to enjoy the course in order to stay motivated! Just being good at something doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it!

* Check entry requirements – check these carefully for your chosen courses. Are you able to achieve the grades required? Be realistic and if you’re unsure have a talk with your subject teachers. Look for any specific GCSE / A level requirements, any work experience or entry tests that may be required – this is especially important for subjects such as law and medicine.

* League tables – your chosen university may have a high ranking overall but you need to check the league tables for the specific course you’re choosing as this can be very different between universities. Unistats is a good website for this as they have a useful comparison tool.

* Explore job sites – especially graduate ones to look for ideas for work and study.

* Compare course content – to see if you like what’s on offer and how it’s taught.

* Course content – are the modules on offer interesting and do they relate to your career aims? If you’ve never studied the subject before it’s really important to do as much research as possible.

* How is the course taught? – how much time is spent in lectures? How much group work is done in seminars?

* Graduate destinations – find out what graduates from your chosen course have specifically gone on to do after graduating.

* How is the course assessed? – what combination of exams, coursework and presentations is the course assessed by?

* Who are the tutors? –  are they experts in the areas you want to study?

* LinkedIn – new features help you find out about real graduates from the courses / university you’re interested in & the kinds of jobs they have gone onto. Also helps you to find out which is the best university for the employer or industry you’re interested in.

* Remember – not all courses with the same title are identical!



* Single Honours Degree – one subject

* Joint Honours Degree – 2 major subjects – 50/50

* Combined Honours Degree – 2 or 3 subjects eg: major in English – 70% and minor in History – 30%

* Modular Degree – flexible – allows you to ‘construct’ your own degree

* Sandwich Degree / Placement Year – 4 year degree with (usually) the 3rd year spent working in the job sector related to your degree / career aspirations.

NB: Universities agree that a sandwich degree course definitely improves your job prospects after graduating as you are able to develop employability skills, learn more about your chosen career sector as well as make useful contacts for the future. You could also spend a year abroad especially if you’re studying a foreign language / international business course.

* Foundation Degrees – these are usually for 2 years and offer a combination of academic study and workplace learning. Very practical courses related to a specific career area including new technology areas such as ICT, multimedia and e-business.

* Cert of HE – a 1 year course, usually vocational.

* Dip HE – a 2 year diploma of higher education, usually vocational.

* HND  (Higher National Diploma) – 2 year full time course usually in vocational subjects such as business, retail and engineering. After completing a HND it may be possible to transfer to the 3rd year of a degree & so convert your HND to a degree – a possible option if you don’t get the A level grades required for a degree.

* Foundation Year / Year Zero – a one year full time course that enables you to convert your A level qualifications to another career area eg: if you want to study dentistry but haven’t studied the required science A levels. Be aware that there is usually a strict criteria for this option.

* Art Foundation Diplomas – If you’re planning to study an Art and Design course at University, many universities will require you to complete a one-year Foundation Diploma in Art and Design first. These are generally available at Colleges of Further Education and universities. They are diagnostic courses and enable you to study a broad range of disciplines in art and design before specialising and preparing a portfolio of art and design relevant to what you want to study at university.



You’ll be living and studying at your chosen university for the next 3, 4 or even 5 years so it’s important to find somewhere that you’ll be happy & ticks as many of your boxes as possible!

What To Think About

* Specialisms – What subject areas do they specialise in?

* Placements – Can you study abroad or get help with work placements?

* Graduate destinations – look at graduate employment prospects and further study destinations

* Where is it? – Think of distance in terms of time & cost. Do you want to be in a city, near the sea or somewhere more rural? In 2012 330,000 students chose to stay at home & study at a local university – could this be an option for you?

* Social activities – If the social side of university is important to you then you need to find out what this is like. If you have any special interests such as sport or any other extra-curricular activities then you need to find out what’s on offer.

* Student Support – You need to know that if you have any special learning, personal or health problems that there is good support in place.

* Student accommodation & housing – Go to an open day and have a look at the accommodation. 1st year students usually stay in halls on the university campus. Talk to the university or current students about local housing. Look at websites (such as The Student Room) offering advice and information on this.

* Atmosphere – Everyone is different and only you can decide if a university / town / city feels right for you. It is essential to visit in person to find out if it’s right for you & whether you could feel at home there.

* Are there any career development opportunities?  – for internships, mentoring or recruitment fairs? Details at open days or on university websites.

* How good are they? – Check league tables that rank degree course providers.

Why not create your own league table for both your course & university based on the factors that are important to you?!

What Students Wished They’d Known Before University!

(from Birmingham Aimhigher Conference 2013)

* The importance of English writing skills

* How competitive it is to get onto some degrees / into some universities

* That work experience – paid or unpaid – is really important

* The extra costs involved – travel / food (!) / travel to and from home / other unexpected expenses.

If you haven’t already started your research then start NOW!! You can use the summer holidays to research so that you’re not rushing to get things sorted next term. You might find it useful to create a HE folder either online or paper where you can keep everything.

Now see the Useful Websites section for links to HE related websites.



Some universities will ask for grades such as ABB but others will ask for a certain number of UCAS tariff points. See the table below for details.

AS levels  grade & points – A* = 70    A = 60    B = 50    C = 40    D = 30    E = 20

A2 levels  grade & points – A* = 140    A = 120    B = 100    C = 80    D = 60    E = 40



  1. H.E.Higher Education
  2. U.C.A.S.Universities & Colleges Admissions Service
  3. UCAS Tariff Points are used as a points system eg: grade A = 120 points
  4. Admission Tutors The person responsible for applications & enquiries
  5. ClearingThe system that helps students find a place on a course after the A level results have been given. This is to help students with lower grades than expected but sometimes for students who have achieved higher grades.
  6. Scholarships are grants of money (not repayable) made to a student, usually based on academic merit & excellence rather than financial need.
  7. Bursary a non-repayable grant of money paid to a student on application
  8. Tuition Fees These cover the cost of study & vary depending where & what you study. Students can apply for a ‘tuition fee loan’, this is paid directly to the university & paid back when the student has graduated & is earning a certain amount of money.
  9. Undergraduatesomeone who is yet to complete their first degree
  10. PostgraduateSomeone who has completed their first degree & is studying another course eg: PGCE (Post Graduate Cert in Educ) or at Masters level
  11. First Degree a first degree!
  12. Combined Honours –  a degree combining 2 or 3 different subjects
  13. Joint Honours a degree where a student studies 2 subjects
  14. Sandwich / Placement Year a year or less spent in industry related to your degree to enable you to gain valuable work experience, an insight into your chosen sector & helps you to make useful links with employers.

Note: students who take a placement year have higher employment rates than other graduates & often achieve a higher grade overall for their degree.

  1. Major / Minorif you study 2 subjects you may major in one eg: 70% English 30% History
  2. Foundation Degreethese are usually 2 years & tend to be in vocational areas such as Business, IT, Engineering etc. More practical than some other degrees.
  3. Vocational Degree just a term for degrees directly related to a specific career. / career sector eg: Business, Nursing, Teaching. Entry requirements are usually lower than for a degree.
  4.  Foundation Year / Year Zero this is a foundation or a qualifying year aimed at people who don’t have the necessary subjects required for a particular degree
  5. H.N.D. Higher National Diploma – 2 years, similar to a Foundation Degree. A HND can be converted to a degree by doing a one year top-up. Entry requirements are lower than for a degree.
  6. Dip H.E. – Diploma in Higher Education – a qualification awarded by some universities after 2 years of study. Entry requirements are lower than for a degree.
  7. B.A. (Hons)Bachelor of Arts, undergraduate degrees
  8. B.Sc (Hons) Bachelor of Science, as above
  9. B.Ed (Hons)Bachelor of Education, as above
  10. B.Eng (Hons)Bachelor of Engineering, as above
  11. Masters Degree eg: M.Eng Masters in Engineering – an academic degree granted to students who study their subject to a high level. These usually take 1-3 years either full or part time. Students must already hold an undergraduate degree.
  12. PhDA person who has a degree, has undertaken years of research, has published their work and been assessed may be awarded a PhD and can use the title of Doctor. This is a specialist degree that is usually awarded for at least 3 years of supervised, but original research work. All research students starting Ph.D. research would expect to hold a good degree first. A person with a Ph.D. degree uses the title “Dr”.
  13. Semesteranother word for term, an academic period of study
  14. Campusthe university site(s) / buildings
  15. Facultyacademic departments grouped together for teaching, resources & administrative purposes eg: faculty of Business
  16. Conservatoirethese are for people who want to study their composing &/or  performing to a professional standard. They combine practical training, academic study & professional development in the arts.
  17. Lectures / Seminarsteaching / presentations to a large group of students by academic staff
  18. TutorialsA small group meets to discuss with each other and their tutor the work they are doing and more general course issues. Tutorials can also be on an individual basis with a student discussing their work with a tutor.
  19. Dissertation an extended piece of writing based on extensive reading & independent research completed in the final year of a bachelors degree or sometimes a higher degree such as a Masters.
  20. Freshersthe term given to 1st year undergraduate students
  21. The Student Union Each university will have a Students Union (which will probably be part of the National Union of Students). The Union will represent the interests of students and works in their interest about a whole range of issues. The union can also provide the focal point of student activities.
  22. Halls of Residence university accommodation usually for 1st year students
  23. AlumniPeople who have graduated (i.e. completed a course and gained a qualification) from a particular university are described as alumni. Being an alumnus can give you ongoing access to Careers Services. Most universities have active alumni associations that enable past students to keep in touch with each other and the university.