Supporting students to choose their higher education route

Thursday 3rd October 2019

A huge (and belated) welcome back for the academic year from the HEPA team. We’re delighted to be out and about delivering activities in your centres this term, with a particular focus on supporting students to make competitive HE applications.

As such, we thought it would be timely to include some key questions that you can be encouraging students to ask themselves – and potentially helping them to answer – to ensure that their HE choices are appropriate, well informed, and lead to fulfilling futures

Key questions to think about – course / programme choice

How do the programme characteristics (e.g. structure and content) compare with their preferences?

How students prefer to learn, be taught, and the type of environment they favour is an important consideration for them to make in their choice of HE course and institution. For instance, do students prefer researching, reading and theories, or ‘learning by doing’; what sort of assessment suits them best; and what sort of support will they receive whilst on their course? Open days and open events can be excellent ways for students to find out some of this information for themselves.

The content of the programmes that students consider should also influence their choices. For example, for students interested in studying English Literature at university, what authors would they have the opportunity to study? For prospective Economics students, the content of a BA degree programme is likely to be very different to that of a BSc; both are commonly offered at the same university. Paying close attention to what they will learn – and in particular not assuming that courses with the same name will be identical – is a vital part of students’ research.

What are the entry requirements?

With as many as five course choices to make on UCAS, it’s a good idea for students to make course choices with a range of entry requirements – some higher (‘aspirational’), and some lower (‘back up’).

However, it’s also important to remember that entry requirements go well beyond grades at Level 3.

For instance, since the changes to the GCSE grading system, some universities ask for a 4 in GCSE English and Maths for entry to their courses…and others ask for a 5.

A (non-exhaustive) list of other entry requirements that HE courses commonly have are:

We’ve included a list of resources below that will help students do some of this vital research for themselves.

The new Discover Uni website has arrived

A new website called Discover Uni has replaced Unistats as an official source of information about higher education.

Students, their parents and advisers are encouraged to use the site to obtain and compare official data on a variety of factors related to HE courses and institutions – from student satisfaction rates, to average graduate salaries.

Other helpful resources

As well as providing a comprehensive HE course search tool, UCAS have produced a video about choosing a course and HE institution (mainly applicable to universities).

For an instant indication of what students who studied certain combinations of subjects (A levels and BTECs) do at university, students can use the WhatUni? ‘What course should I do?’ tool.

And for a more in-depth personality questionnaire that produces HE course suggestions for users based on their answers, students can use the TARGETcareers Degree Explorer tool (takes roughly 20 minutes to complete).

Key questions to think about – career implications

How does it fit with their longer term career ambitions?

This point is quite a broad one, and worth examining.

For some careers, it’s essential to have a certain type of qualification, and to have studied in a certain type of way to enter associated professions – e.g. doctor, dentist, veterinarian. For others it may be an advantage, such as certain engineering disciplines.

We also know, however, that the majority of graduate jobs recruit from a broad range of disciplines, and similarly that a significant number of graduates go on to work in industries that do not have direct links to their subject; for instance, 60% of law graduates go on to work in other areas such as teaching, journalism and business.

If students have an interest in specific careers, it’s important that they know what qualifications may be required or favoured, or what choices can help to keep a variety of options open to them in future. The National Careers Service, Prospects and the UCAS ‘Explore jobs’ tool are all great resources to help them do this research.

How do people in careers they aspire to get there?

Answering this question can help students understand the routes that people take in to specific careers that they may interest them. Video case studies like those available on icould or careersbox provide real-life examples of such professionals, and can be particularly effective when used with students who are interested in areas where progression pathways in to associated careers aren’t linear or well-established.

What sorts of jobs do people who have taken their preferred pathway go on to do?

Conversely, for students who don’t know what career they want, but who are interested in a particular pathway, answering this question can help them generate some ideas for what they may want to do after their HE course. The Prospects ‘What can I do with my degree?’ resource can support students to do some of this research. The University of Sheffield also have a great tool that lets anyone see what their graduates from different subjects go on to do after university.

HEPA Choices and Pathways