Do you see studying abroad as an investment in your future and a ticket to a good graduate job?  You’re not alone.  But how can you make sure that any courses that you apply for will help you reach your goals?  Do your research.

Depending on which country and business sector you plan to work in after you graduate, the job prospects and attitudes of employers may be a big consideration as you choose your courses.  In job markets that are less flexible, you may need a degree in a particular subject or even with a specific title.  However, to choose courses that match your aims, start by asking these questions:

Question 1:  “What are my goals?”

Why are you going to study abroad?  What is it that you want to achieve?  How will your degree help you? Above all, what features must your course have for you to achieve your aims?

Question 2:   “What do employers want?”

Right now businesses may mainly hire graduates in specific subjects.  But, will their demand be the same when you enter the workforce in 4–5 years’ time?   If your degree does not provide the knowledge and skills they are after, how can you convince employers that you can help them meet their business objectives?

Question 3:  “What does the economy need?”

What are the social, political, economic, business, trade, environmental and technological challenges the country is facing?  Will will determine the skills that will be needed from the workforce.

If a degree is a ticket to your dream job, why not ask potential employers what they want?

1. Speak to people who have ‘made it’.


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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?

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 whose views you respect. 

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.  Choose similar courses. 

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.  But careful:  A similar title doesn’t mean a similar course. 

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.  Do 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, especially the one the needs of the national economy.  After all, you are ‘only’ selecting a degree, right?

But, let me ask you something:

If your degree is an investment in your future, how can you make sure that it will be a good investment, and not just a waste of an opportunity or—worse even—a gamble?  Only by doing your research.  Take a few extras days to do your homework and only then decide which courses to apply to.

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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