Finding the right course

Some students know exactly what course they want to study or have a specific career in mind. For others, it can be more challenging, especially with more than 50,000 courses available at 395 UK higher-education providers. We help you through the maze.

It helps to think of the university selection process in two stages:

'Find Five' Initially, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) allows your child to apply for up to five course choices; they don’t have to be at five different universities. Ideally, you should start helping your child find their top five in Year 12. You can submit your child’s application to UCAS in September, just as they go into Year 13.

The universities will look at your child’s application, including their projected grades and personal statement, perhaps ask for an interview, then decide whether to offer them a place.

'Take Two' Once all your child’s chosen universities have responded, you now have to narrow the field down to two: a ‘firm’ choice (your child’s preferred choice) and an ‘insurance’ choice (their back-up choice, in case they don’t meet the requirements for their firm choice).

Here, we’re focusing on 'Find Five'. If your child has already applied for their five courses, go to Take Two

Parent and child

Find Five: our plan of action


Your child may already have a clear idea about this so you’re off to an easy start. If they are waiting to be inspired, there’s plenty you can do to narrow it down.

  • Try to pin them down about a subject they enjoy by asking what it is they find enjoyable about it. If they want to take Art, for example, because they ‘love being creative’, ask them what they like about Art as opposed to other creative subjects
  • Once you have a subject area or two, start marrying subject to course. For example, if your child loves sport, they could consider studying Sports Science. If they love sport and English, what about Sport Journalism?
  • Do they know what career they want to go into? If so, look at courses that would take them in the right direction. If they’re not sure what they want to do, look at degrees that could lead them to a range of careers, such as business-related courses
  • Consider how your child learns best. Are they good at listening and learning? Or more hands-on? At Bedfordshire, we offer courses to suit all kinds of learners including traditional lecture-based paths. But we also have a strong track record in developing skills for the workplace with courses requiring more hands-on learning and practical skill building. Your child could even work towards a degree via an apprenticeship. See our chart below showing the different study paths your child could take in higher education
  • Bear in mind course entry requirements (usually UCAS tariff points) and compare them to your child’s predicted grades. All universities publish entry requirements for each course; you will find our entry requirements on each course description. Using your child’s predicted grades, you can work out how many UCAS points they are likely to achieve using UCAS’s tariff calculator
Higher-education study paths explained

Traditional Bachelor degrees (BA, BSc, BEng) 

Foundation degrees 

HNC or HND 

Higher/Degree Apprenticeships 

Studied at universities and university colleges 

Studied at universities, university colleges and FE colleges 

Studied at FE colleges, university colleges and some universities 

Part-time study at university or college combined with work with a chosen employer 

3 years 

2 years 

HNC: 1 year full time 

HND: 2 years full time 

2-6 years 

Huge variety to choose from; your course could offer study abroad, work experience and internships 

Usually a mix of academic and workplace-based learning 

Vocational focus; hands-on learning, preparing your child for a specific career 

Equal standard to more traditional degrees; in paid work throughout 



Once you have a good idea about the course, there are plenty of resources around to help you find the ideal university for your child.

UCAS

UCAS processes undergraduate applications for universities across the UK. Once your child has decided on their course, you can use the UCAS site to find universities that offer it.

UCAS also runs exhibitions at venues across the UK between March and June. Many schools and colleges organise trips and most universities will have representatives there.

Stats and league tables

Important but don’t get bogged down - there are thousands of statistics used in the university sector to benchmark and measure the performance of each institution. Leagues give rankings but each one is based on different criteria. To know if a uni is right for your child, it’s essential to get a personal feel for the course and the place.

University websites

You’ll find all the courses offered by a university on their website along with information about the university itself. You can also download a prospectus. When looking at course descriptions, check:

  • the teaching modules or units (do they fit your child’s expectations of the course?)
  • how learning is assessed (written assessments, projects, practical assignments, work placement etc)
  • who is in the academic team (how expert or actively involved are they in their subject – perhaps through research, published work, experience or qualifications?)
  • the facilities (do they meet your child’s needs for the course?)
Talk to other people who can give you insights

Start with your child’s subject teachers and careers advisers at college. What about family and friends who have been to university or work in a profession your child is interested in? What do they think is a good path for your child?


Location can be important enough to be repeated three times so it should have a bearing on your decisions. Does your child want:

  • the buzz of a big city or friendly bustle of a town?
  • a centrally based campus or leafy suburbs?
  • to be close to home or is distance no object?
  • good public transport links or free campus parking?
  • pumping town nightlife or on-campus social activities?
  • great sports facilities or big choice of clubs and culture (or both)?

Yes, your child is there to study but uni life should offer so much more.

  • What sports does it offer?
  • What leisure facilities – such as a gym - does it have on campus?
  • What about non-sport extra-curricular activities?
  • How active is the Students’ Union?
  • How does the university support its students’ physical and emotional wellbeing?
  • How does it ensure its students are safe?
5. Pay a visit

…and find out what the universities are really like!

  • Go to Open Events. You will have the opportunity to meet the tutors and discuss course content in detail, as well as meeting current students and seeing the facilities. At the University of Bedfordshire, we host Open Days throughout the year.

  • Look out for other events like campus tours, Q&As and webinars. At Beds, Q&As and webinars can be about the application process (for example, writing a personal statement), support services like finance or course specific.

We hope your child has now got their five university choices settled.

The next step is to apply

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