As I've already emphasised in previous blog posts, when it comes to career and study decisions, I'm all for doing as much research as possible.
And the challenge of choosing my preferred university engineering degree was no exception!
Let's face it, your choice of university course is a pretty big life decision to make - so I would always recommend doing lots of research whatever you want to do.
As you're likely to discover too, there are literally so many choices out there. And you may not know an opportunity even exists until you accidentally stumble across it.
So, having been through the process (and having come pretty much safely out the other side) I thought I would share with you my 6 top tips to finding the right engineering degree.
1. Find a subject you like
This may sound like an obvious point, but I can’t stress enough just how important it is to identify the subject areas that you enjoy.
Even if you're not especially into the subjects that you’re currently doing at school, don’t let that put you off, as there are so many degrees out there that cover things that aren’t even available at school level.
In my case, my school didn’t offer engineering as an option, so I had to do some pretty extensive research of my own into exactly which type of engineering it was that I wanted to do.
In addition to this, if you are torn between two degrees, don't be discouraged. You could possibly do a dual honours which means you can study them both alongside each other.
If the workload is too much, or you end up not liking one subject as much as you thought you would, then you can always opt to drop that line of study later on.
And this will be so much easier to manage than starting on a single honours path and then having to redo your first year if you change your mind later.
2. Explore all of the different options
As you're about to discover, different universities have different opportunities, different courses, different modules...there is literally so much choice!
My advice is to make sure you vary your search when it comes to universities and avoid sticking to the same course title wherever you look. Some unis will offer degrees that are unique to them and it might be the perfect course for you - but you may not even know about it unless you have a really thorough search around.
So order those prospectuses. And look on university league tables to see what other universities offer the same course you're interested in. It’s not going to be a short process, but if you do your research right then it will all be worth it in the end – trust me.
3. Utilise all of the resources you have
One of the biggest tools at your disposal is the knowledge and experiences of other people. So take the opportunity to talk to parents, older siblings, cousins, friends, neighbours - anyone and everyone you know who has been to uni - and ask them as many questions as you can.
Your school is also likely to have a record of where previous students have gone on to, what they’re studying and even where they're working now. So if you're after some first-hand insight see if you can drop one of them an email – they’re likely to be more than happy to help you.
4. Don't be ruled by entrance grades
Entrance grades are quite a sensitive topic with a lot of people. My advice? I would always say to apply where you want based on the course you want to do - and don’t ever let the grades hold you back.
Sometimes people are put off by courses if they’re predicted much higher than the entrance grades but if the course is right then go for it. On the other end of the scale, if you only need those one or two grades to push you up to where you want to study, I would still apply.
Obviously you’ll have to work harder for this, but if you really want it, I’m sure you’ll be able to push yourself that little bit more.
Bear in mind as well that you should probably have an insurance or back-up choice just in case you slightly miss your grades. From personal experience I would recommend this. I actually only had one grade different between my first choice and my insurance choice but I think that actually made me work even harder.
My view all along was that I wasn't going to put an "insurance" course down just for the sake of it if I didn’t actually want to go there.
5. Make the most of Open Days
The course may look great on paper. The job prospects could be fantastic.
But if you don’t actually like the atmosphere in which you're going to be studying (and living) for the next three or more years then you’re not going to enjoy anything else.
So make sure that when you go on open days that you see the accommodation on offer so you get a strong idea of where it is you could end up living.
Ask about the extra-curricular activities that are available. Walk around the campus and get a feel for what the place is like. If there’s a town nearby, go take a look and check out the shops, supermarkets and other facilities that are available for you. You don’t want to turn up on your first day of uni and realise that it’s nothing like the pictures.
If you want to to fully understand what your course entails then make sure you go to a course talk as this is an ideal way to compare the courses that you’re looking at. And if you get the chance to talk to existing students, then definitely take it. Other students are more likely to give you a better 'reality-view' of the course from the perspective of someone studying it - rather than hearing just from the lecturers who are trying to sell it.
These talks will also give you an idea of what sorts of projects you could get involved with and what hands-on work is available. Armed with all this first-person insight you'll be in a much better position to make a call about which course you prefer more.
6. Consider all the extra opportunities available
As I’ve already said, every course and every university is unique and will offer different opportunities. Some may offer a placement scheme in the middle of your degree. Some unis may help you find summer placements. Some may have support for work at the uni at weekends or in the evenings. You will never know until you ask.
And if they’re applicable to your course, then these workplace opportunities could be just as helpful in the future as the degree itself.
Placements, whether they’re for a whole year or just for the summer, will give you a flavour of working life and some first-hand experience of a genuine workplace environment. Not to mention the benefits you'll gain from being able to add work experience to your CV, to hone your interview skills, and to experience the assessment centre environment.
As I said at the beginning of this blog post, when it comes to major life decisions such as choosing your university course, the best advice I can offer is to do as much research as possible.
So take your time, read, explore, compare, scrutinise - and speak to as many people along the way as you can. Once you're armed with the right information you'll be in a much stronger position to make the choice that's ideal for you.