It’s that time of year when schools are encouraging students to finalise their degree plans, complete their UCAS form and commit to three or more years of studying one subject which to a certain extent will have a massive impact on the rest of your life. While some students have known since birth that they wanted to be an astrophysicist or doctor, the majority have not. So, if you’re still undecided what are your options?
Take a gap year
This is probably the first thing that comes to mind and is a very popular choice. Having a year out from formal education gives you the opportunity to travel, get some work experience, save up for university, volunteer, or simply have more time to consider what you want to do now that you have your A level grades. There are some risks however, for example for heavily maths-based subjects some universities recommend not taking a year out as it is easy to forget important skills (although doing a bit of revision and perhaps a short maths course during your gap year should counteract this). Additionally, there is a risk that you end up spending the whole year sat at home watching TV with no more ideas as to what to do with your life – so try to start off your year with some plans and goals. Remember that some universities and courses require interviews and you’ll need some time to write your UCAS application, so don’t book up the whole of Autumn with holiday plans. Don’t forget to check out the database section to search for STEM related opportunities for your gap year!
Pick a flexible course
If you’re certain you want to start university this year (but really don’t feel rushed into it) and have an idea of what kind of course/ subject area you want to do, picking a flexible course which allows you to finalise your exact subject later on could be an option. Examples are the Natural Science course offered by several UK universities, liberal arts courses in America, and joint-honours degrees. These often allow you to delay your final decision until the end of second or even third year. However, check carefully the requirements for particular subject choices – they may have first year prerequisite subjects and sometimes it is not guaranteed that you’ll get the subject you want. Having the opportunity to try out studying various subjects at university level during your first year before committing can be really helpful – indeed from my experience studying Natural Sciences many students ended up finding a passion for a different subject to that they originally envisioned, for example I initially thought I’d end up specialising in Physics but ended up picking Chemistry.
Consider an apprenticeship
Perhaps you’re unsure if you want to commit to three years of writing essays, attending lectures and sitting exams, and have a more hands-on career path in mind. Apprenticeships are fantastic opportunities to have a more vocational education, get paid while you learn, and often come with a guaranteed job at the end. In an age where university students are graduating with tens of thousands of pounds of debt and no job, apprenticeships are definitely worth considering. Big companies such as Rolls-Royce offer high quality, well-organised schemes which are very popular (some even link with universities to offer you fully funded degrees), but smaller local companies may also be worth checking out. Make sure you are aware of what is required of you and ensure the company provides you with appropriate learning opportunities. A good place to find out more information is the official government website.
Get a job
Perhaps you’ve had enough of education and feel you have the skills required to enter the workplace as a full employee – then getting a job is also an option. You can always go to university later on in life if you feel a need to, and having that solid work experience behind you will put you in a good position for further study. As with apprenticeships, you will avoid a mountain of student debt and start to earn money from the start. Be aware that promotion opportunities may be limited however, although this very much depends on the industry and company you are working in.