Choosing your university course

Advice on choosing the right university course for you.

A cheerful lecture There is an overwhelming amount of information out there for applicants looking at engineering and technology courses. For many, the reasons for their choices are "my teacher recommended it", "the course is at the top of the league table", or "I visited it and was really impressed with the facilities".

These can all be good reasons for choosing a course, but you simply can't over emphasise the value of spending time investigating what will almost certainly be a life changing decision.

"The earlier you start to research universities and prospectuses the better, at least one year in advance of applying would be recommended. Universities are always helpful in answering questions on their courses and will do their best to provide any material you need," says Gillian McArthur, marketing and recruitment coordinator for the University of Strathclyde's Electronic and Electrical Engineering department.

"In the field of engineering and technology some universities focus on certain sectors, so it is therefore wise to research your chosen discipline and career aspirations and match these to those universities that can meet them," she continues. "There are a number of independent sources, such as university league tables and the National Student Survey [new window], that offer support and guidance on these and other issues."

What exactly do you want to do?

It may sound obvious, but it's important to give some serious thought to the question what do you want to do? Try and work out two or three industries you'd be keen to work in rather than simply thinking, "I want to be an electrical or mechanical engineer". This will help you to decide on a course containing the modules that you'll A, be interested in, and B, will help kick start your career. Also if you know someone who is an engineer, talk to them and ask for their advice.

"University visits, where you actually see the relevant facilities and talk with teaching staff and students, are particularly valuable. It's also important to work out what differentiates one course from another, even if they have the same title and qualification. In my field, product and industrial design, courses vary hugely, even before factoring in league table positions, quality of facilities and the campus," notes Stephen Green, lecturer at Brunel University's School of Engineering and Design.

Work experience opportunities?

As well as taking a close look at the modules of each course, it might be worth looking at the practical work experience opportunities. Are placements involved? Is there a year in industry option? Adding practical experience to your degree is highly valuable to your career.

"I strongly encourage students to consider choosing a course that enables you to take some kind of work placement," says Rob Power, power and communications business, Mott Mcdonald. "This bolsters your CV considerably and if you're able to get into a relevant company before you finish your degree you're helping to brand your CV early on, while also getting some valuable on-the-job training which will significantly assist you when sitting your exams. Working alongside experienced engineers will broaden your approaches to tasks and will be a healthy addition to your academic studies."

Is the course IET accredited?

Finally, don't forget to check whether a course you're interested in is accredited with the IET. This is a mark of quality, and choosing an accredited course is a great foundation to your career, as well as putting you on the fast track to Chartered Engineer status.

So, as you begin your university research, keep all these points in mind. To help you along we've provided a simple checklist of things to consider as you peruse prospectuses, and be sure to check out the other relevant articles we've provided to help you along.

Which course? - The checklist

  • Which technical discipline interests me the most?
  • What industry do I want to work in?
  • What kind of course will help me achieve my career ambitions?
  • Have I checked the course details carefully?
  • What work experience opportunities are available?
  • Is the course IET accredited?