We recently attended a series of international Higher and Further education institutions’ education fairs in Nigeria. It was great to meet very enthusiastic prospective students as well as their parents! We did however identify an area of concern regarding ‘course or program choices’ which is something we have also encountered in the UK. The reasoning behind some of the course applications and choice of courses were in some cases worrying while others were alarming! Why did you choose the course you studied (or are currently studying) at University? Are there things you know now but didn’t know then?

Why does course choice matter?

Well if you consider the huge financial commitment required for studying in Higher Education, you will agree it does. Regardless of what part of the world you come from, going to University is an expensive business. This cost often multiplies by several factors if you choose to study in another country as an international student. The importance of course and University choice can therefore not be overemphasised. A colleague with years of experience recruiting international students often asks applicants an important question, “If you are given £30,000 (convert to your own currency), would you or your parents happily pay for the course you have enquired about or chosen? Why? This question provides food for thought and must always be at back of the mind of anyone making an application to study at College or University. Answering this question can allow you reflect on how your course choice fits in with your life/career goals.

In one of our previous articles, we talked about ‘Beginning with the end in mind.’ This is also important when it comes to choosing a course. Would you invest money (insert education costs) into a business which after 3-5 years would yield no profit, no return on investment and require another huge cash injection to ‘hope’ for some level of success? For majority of us, the answer to that question will be a big, fat, No! Perhaps then, what you study should be given the same type of consideration.

For home students in the UK, what is the point of getting into debt (on average £35,000 – £40,000) to fund your education just to find out that you chose a course you actually hate?

Things to consider when making your choice – do your homework!

Prior to applying for and choosing a course to study, it is important to think about the course in careful detail. Seven times out of ten, when we ask Forensic Science students the reason for choosing their course, their response is ‘I love watching CSI! That in itself is not an issue if you enjoy subjects like analytical Chemistry, but if you do not, well, there may be problems on the horizon. Some courses e.g. Medicine or Dietetics have interviews as part of the application process – if you cannot articulate why you want to get on the course, you may not get a place! If you hate Biology and Chemistry and have never done well in them, why do you want to study Medicine?

How would you answer the following questions?

Why go to University in the first place? – Improved earning potential? Pre-requisite for chosen career? Have fun before entering the ‘real world?’ Develop subject knowledge and transferable skills for the future?

Why this course? – What subjects interest me? What are my academic strengths and weaknesses? How does this course fit into my life goals?

What is the course structure? – E.g. what modules/subjects? How many credits?

How will my course be taught – lectures, seminars, tutorials, lab sessions, how many contact hours etc.?

What is the expertise of the staff at the department or faculty that offers the course?

What are the career opportunities after the course?

Is the course accredited or linked to a professional body?

What support (academic or pastoral) do students get on the course or program?

Some of these questions pertain mainly to course choice but others could help you choose a University as well. We would recommend that applicants, their parents or fee paying guardians reflect on the answers to these questions as they navigate the often daunting application process. Use a Careers service e.g. National Careers Service (UK only) or talk to recent graduates.

Oftentimes prospective students as well as parents are uncertain or unsure how much to ask or are scared to ask critical questions when attending an education fair, open days or speaking to college or university representatives. Our advice is to think about that event as going into a BMW showroom to buy a car – you would not spend that amount of money without asking a few questions. University representatives are usually very happy to answer all your questions and provide you with accurate information.

In some cases, we have had students focus more on the night life and the vibrance of the city or town. Don’t get us wrong, these are important aspects too, but quite often, we meet students who at the tail end of the degrees regret the choice or course or are lost as their course choices seem to have limited and often uninteresting career options.

Parental or family influence in choosing

At an education fair we attended, a lady enquired about studying for a PhD and whilst she came across as interested, it soon became evident, upon further discussion,  that she was fulfilling someone else’s desire not to be the only family member without a PhD!

In other cases, parents have insisted their children study courses to meet with a family tradition etc. Coming from an African background, we can relate! Medicine, Law, Engineering, Accounting are the courses that are very dear to our parents’ hearts. From experience, this is due to the fear their children may be stranded without ‘good’ jobs after studying certain degrees.  Providing clear information to parents about what courses consist of, their value and the variety of career paths upon completion of these courses more often than not changes their opinions. This is why it is very important to do your homework!

Get information – A lot of Universities now offer ‘taster’ sessions to provide a glimpse of what studying your course at their University could be like. You may be able to attend a psychology lecture or conduct an experiment in a teaching laboratory! Attend Open Events and Education fairs – the latter being particularly pertinent for international students.

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