The last year of high school is filled with adrenaline. At least, this is how I felt in 2017, when I was near to the end of my final year. There are so many opportunities when you’re choosing the perfect university course. What if you can’t decide? What if you don’t know which path you want to choose?
I had been thinking about University since my elementary years, but I focused on my social rather than academic life. To put this in context, I was sure I would be a tall, femme fatale. If you think I was a weird kid, you are right. And in hindsight, I couldn’t have been more wrong. This way of organising and thinking in advance has stuck with me. I got to the first day of 5th year already knowing what I wanted to major in and which University I liked best.
If you have followed my story so far, you might know my school did not encourage me to choose the UK as my ultimate destination. I listened to the advice my teachers gave me and “settled” for one of the top University in Italy for Biomedicine. The only reason I’m using quotations is I liked the course I had chosen and the location of its campus. In the end, I didn’t get in – long story short, I was not well prepared to pass the entry exam – and I had to find a quick solution.
While completing an IELTS course in Bournemouth, I approached the UCAS website to find the same course. Go check out How I Ended Up In Southampton to know more about the process. Finally, I’ve decided to attend Neuroscience at the University of Southampton. But how did I choose Neuroscience?
My 5 points to help you choose course
Don’t allow anyone to tell you should already know
When you get to the final year of high school, so many people already know what they want to do next. If you attended the same type of school I went to, you have to go to university afterwards. For those of you who are not familiar with the Italian system, we have different high schools that focus on a variety of subjects: Science, Literature, Foreign Languages, Technology, etc. The biggest difference with UK A LEVEL is that they assess us on all the subject we study during the last year. In my case, I had to revise 8 whole subjects, whereas most of my class mates at the University of Southampton had only 3.
No matter the high school you are attending, the most important aspect of your choice is to not let anyone tell you should already know what to do. It’s a tough decision and it’s fundamental to ponder it. Several high school friends did not have a clue about their pathway and decided on the go. You need time to figure it out.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach. I knew the area of knowledge I wanted to pursue, but I settled on Neuroscience during the last year of high school. The only aspect you need to keep in mind is application deadlines. I would recommend buying a calendar or using Google Calendar, where you can write and set reminders of important dates.
Brainstorm ideas of what you like
Now that you realised you don’t need to rush to your decision, it’s time to brainstorm. Sit down with your laptop and a piece of paper. Think about those subjects in high school that you liked. Reflect on your abilities and on your extracurricular activities. When something pops into your mind, jot it down.
It doesn’t matter what you come up with, there will be something you are drawn to. It can be anything that makes you wonder what your future will be if you pursue it. If you feel you are still far from deciding, go to the next point of this list.
Follow your passions
Have you ever thought your passion can become a career?
While I’m writing this, I have one particular example in mind. One of my childhood friends loved to draw. She was talented and I hated when we drew together. You could see the difference: my drawings were primitive, but hers were advanced for our age. If you asked anyone what she would become, they would have said she was going to be an artist. Fast forward to the present, she’s studying to be a Comics drawer.
This is what I call following your passions. For choosing the path you want to follow, it’s fundamental that you pick something that will make you excited about it. If you chose a course that does not enthuse you, there are higher chances of you not staying motivated enough to carry on. Your choice will determine your life for the next years. Make sure to do what you like.
Think about future opportunities
One other aspect you might want to consider is what you can do with your chosen degree. Let’s take my choice as an example.
I’m studying Neuroscience, a specialisation of Biomedicine. I don’t enjoy working on lab animals, so I want to shape my degree in a way that allows me to stay as far as possible from them. As a result, for the following years I will choose modules, such as Bioinformatics, that will give me the opportunity to work in silico.
When you are reflecting on your options, you need to tailor your experience based on what you’d like to do. If you are interested in a particular aspect of a subject, try to understand how to study it. One of the best ways to understand how to get your dream job is to look at universities websites and roam the “Careers” section. Another way to connect with people in the same industry is to look on LinkedIn, a platform where you can build your resume.
Reflect on financial aspect
Although this is not the first thing to consider when choosing your undergraduate degree, there comes a point where you need to think about the financial aspect of your experience.
I would lie if I told you I am not worried about the amount of money I need to pay for Tuition Fees. University taxes are high in the UK. In my case, I pay £9,250 a year which is ten times higher than what I would pay in Italy for the same course. The quality of teaching is different. Friends attending Italian universities complain about the state of labs, the poor connection with employees and the tough job market. At the University of Southampton I have access to top lab facilities, I can connect with managers through Career Fairs and I study at a Russell Group university.
Even though I wish this was not a limiting factor for anyone, you can ask for Student Loans. As far as I know, the UK Government issues loans to students who would not have enough money to attend university. While you need to repay the debt with a small interest rate, it allows you to complete your studies and find the perfect job. Check if you are eligible for it early in your search, so you know what your options are.
Once you go through this list, you should have a rough idea of the course that suits you best. Despite every other factor, the most fundamental aspect of choosing your path is to do what you like. It’s a cliché and I understand that some do not have the possibility to do so. However, I want to leave you with a hopeful message.
There might be many obstacles in your way and you might think you can’t pursue your dreams. People may be in your way and not support you through your journey, but what matters is that you keep your aim in front of you. Work to find the route to get to it and you will achieve whatever you want. I know many people who need to balance university work and a part-time job. In my experience, they’re the ones who put more effort in everything they do. If they can make it, so do you.