When I speak to international students about their reasons for wanting to study in the UK, they tell me a UK degree is an ‘investment’ that will get them a job upon graduation. But, what is the best university course for getting a good job after graduation? How can you make sure your ‘investment’ doesn’t turn into a  ‘gamble’?

Well, only by doing your homework before applying to university. Here’s how.

1. Speak to people who have ‘made it’


Photo credit: http://bebusinessed.com/

Search for people in your social network who are working in the field that you want to enter.  The degrees of separation are small now:  You’ll be connected to someone, who is connected to someone, who is connected to someone. Find those connections, ask how they got hired and what advice they might have for you on how to get a foot in the door.

2.  Read job adverts

International graduate job adverts

Look up job adverts for positions that you may be interested in applying for after you graduate.  What skills and qualifications are employers asking for? Will your university course help you meet some of these?

3.  Read news and analysis reports

Graduate Skills Shortages

Read government, newspaper and (trustworthy) blog articles. What do they say about where the economy is headed and about the skills that will be needed from the workforce?

4.  Ask people you trust

Ask questions about your future

Speak to your parents, family friends, teachers and anyone whose opinions and judgment you respect.  Ask them about their views on your study and career plans, and for any advice that could help you with this very important decision you’re trying to make about your future.

You will also need to ask“What am I good at?”—and to be specific.

5.  Be specific.

Ask yourself what you are good at

As you choose your subject, the more specific you are about what you want, the better.  Are there any aspects of the subject that you enjoy very much, and are there any that you’re not particularly strong in?

6. Apply to courses that are similar

Choose similar courses

If you’re specific about what it is about the subject that you like, you will find it easier to choose courses that are very similar.  This in turn will make your task of writing one personal statement that fits and is relevant to all your UCAS choices less challenging.

7.  Don’t be misled by the course title

Similar course title doesn't mean similar course

However, choosing similar courses does not mean choosing courses with similar titles.  In the UK, universities design their own courses and decide what to teach on them and how.  Two courses with the same title may be similar—or they may be very unalike.  Their structure may be different, the compulsory and elective modules may not be the same, and they may offer features and outcomes that are dissimilar.

8.  Always look at the course content

What is your course content

Rather than pay too much attention to the title, look closely at the full course description and content.  Make sure you have a good idea of what modules you will or can choose to study during each year of the programme.  Also, familiarise yourself with the learning aims and outcomes.  Only this way will you be able to see what you can expect from studying a course and in what way your UCAS choices are similar.

9.  Make sure you meet the entry requirements

Do you meet the entry requirements

The entry requirements should always be an important consideration when you select the courses to apply for.  That’s because the more selective a course, the more you will be expected to either meet or exceed the minimum entry grades.  However, there are many courses out there that will consider your application, even if you don’t have the exact grades required.  Always pay attention to the university’s student admissions policy.

Final thoughts

Your degree is investment

Some of these questions may seem a little over the top to you. But you wouldn’t believe how many students spend a lot of money, time and effort on studying abroad – but very little or nothing on making sure the course they choose is a good fit for their future goals.

Be smart. Do your research before you commit to a specific university course.

This article has been adapted from the chapter “Avoid Mistake #2:  Don’t decide what before you ask why” in 7 UCAS Application Mistakes to Avoid: A Guide for International Students.

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