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With so many undergraduate courses on offer, settling on just one course to read for three or four years is often a daunting task.

While some applicants know exactly what they want to study at university, for others, the choice is more difficult; particularly if they are strong in several areas or their A-level or IB subjects offer no immediate direction. Another issue for consideration is the desire to go to Oxbridge rather than any other university – sometimes applicants are tempted to pick the course which they think will give them the best chance of being offered a place, rather than the course that speaks most directly to what it is they desire to study and become immersed in. Similarly, some applicants gravitate towards a prestigious-sounding course, where it may not be something

To ensure applicants make the right choice, we’ve put together a list of key questions every applicant should consider when selecting their university courses.


What do I have an inherent interest in? 

Recent trends show that vocational and traditionally lucrative subjects (e.g. Medicine/Law/Economics) are increasing in popularity every year – what must be prioritised by any applicant, however, is an enjoyment for the subject.

Importantly, the subject applicants enjoy the most will not necessarily be the subject they have studied in secondary school – a student excelling in mathematics, for example, may find that they enjoy applying those skills elsewhere, such as in PPE or Economics. Ensuring that course choice builds on not only strengths but wider interests is important to making the most of university experience.

Should I apply for a subject I have never studied?

Students should also feel confident in applying for subjects which they have not previously studied, but should make sure to sample that subject so they can build a clear idea of what they are getting themselves in for.

Admissions tutors do not expect Archaeology and Anthropology or Law applicants to have a wealth of knowledge about their subject from secondary school; on the contrary, admissions tutors at interview measure applicants’ potential to excel in that subject, rather than how much they already know from previous study.

Applicants should read materials relating to their prospective course choice to demonstrate engagement with their subject, and a familiarity with the basic principles of the course, but should not worry about having not formally studied their course choice prior to university.

As early as possible, applicants should try to get a taste of what undergraduate study in possible subjects really looks like. This can be done easily and for free – for example, through online lectures, MOOCs, podcasts, articles, and university subject taster days.

What do I want to do after university? 

Many applicants select their course based on their long-term career goals. 

Recent statistics show that 35% of state school applications were for the five most oversubscribed subjects at Oxford, and the least applied-for subjects were all but neglected with only 13% of state school applicants going for Chemistry, Modern Languages, Classics, Biological Sciences and Biochemistry.

Statistics such as this show that particularly with state school students, there is a drive towards taking vocational and practical subjects, and while this is an important consideration, applicants should be urged to study courses which they will enjoy immersing themselves in for three or four years before considering post-university options.

It is useful to remember that vocational subjects such as Law and Medicine have conversion courses, which allow students to study a subject they enjoy for university and later convert this into a vocational degree for their career needs. Most careers do not have a degree preference, and often the most important thing is that you have a 2.1 or above in your degree. Choosing a course you enjoy will make this achievement much easier.

Have I done my research? 

Students can find a full list with individual course overviews on the university websites for Oxford and Cambridge, along with the other universities they are considering. The majority of courses at both universities will be designed to give students a comprehensive overview of their subject for the first two years, allowing specialisation in the third year of the course. But don’t just check the university course page; also go to the faculty website, as often there will be further guidance and resources. For instance, you might be able to download ‘paper guides’ for each module students take in the degree.

Specialist Support for Applicants

We also work privately with many applicants each year looking to get guidance on their course decisions.

To find out how can support you, or your son/daughter, please contact our Consultancy Team on +44 (0) 207 499 2394 or  email [email protected] .

Specialist Support for Schools

Schools can kick-start their students’ Oxbridge preparation early through our support.

To find out how can support your students, please contact our Schools Team on +44 (0) 207 499 2394 or email [email protected].

Not sure whether applying to Oxford or Cambridge would be the right decision for you?

If you’re still not sure whether applying to Oxford or Cambridge would be the right decision for you, then give us a call on +44 (0) 207 499 2394. or email [email protected]. We all made this very decision a few years ago – so we may be able to help you out with yours.

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Oxbridge Applications, 58 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AJ

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