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Young Person's Guide to University: Year 8 - 11

You may be thinking why do I need to think about university now?

People choose to go to university for different reasons; this could be to study a subject they are passionate about, to improve their job prospects, to meet new people and/or to gain independence. Or all of the above!

It may be that for some careers you will need to have a degree in a specific subject and for others a good degree will be enough.

The information on this page should help you start thinking about your own options and choices. For more detailed information please download our Young Person's Guide to University pdf.


Year 8 or 9: Selecting Key Stage 4 options

So you have been given the opportunity to choose what you want to study for the next few years. Make sure you spend time considering your options.

Year 10: Deciding your next steps

You are in the middle of Key Stage 4 and you are starting to think about what you want to do next.

Year 11: Final decisions

If you’ve decided you want to carry on studying you need to start applying for places. Your school or college should give you guidance on this, but it will be the first time you get a real say in where you go to study.

What about an apprenticeship? If you’re applying for one, consider what you will get out of an apprenticeship. Look at pay and work hours, as well as considering the reputation of the company and whether you will receive a recognised qualification at the end

Year 12: Researching

Start researching universities and courses and visit Open days

Year 13: Applying

Start applying through UCAS

Alternatives routes to University:

The most traditional route to university is to sit your GCSE exams and then take A levels, but there are other alternative routes. Always check with an advisor and individual universities if you wish to take an alternative route to make sure you are not limiting your options.

Making choices for GCSE

GCSEs are important because they determine what you’ll be able to study at A level. Check with your local schools and sixth form colleges what entry requirements you would need at GCSE to study their A level courses.

English, Maths and Science - Even if you’re not intending to go onto A levels or university, good GCSEs in these subjects are often a requirement for jobs.

Making choices after Year 11: Essential subjects: It is important to remember that some university courses require specific subjects at A level. Some courses (such as Medicine, Law and Maths) may require you to take extra entrance exams, but this differs by university. Lots of universities and colleges accept BTEC qualifications, but to give yourself the most options consider combining BTECs with A level subjects.

Try it and see

Four things to do to make the most of your school holidays:

  1. Study - Use the holidays to get ahead on your school work or to learn about something completely new.
  2. Work experience and volunteering - You might be a little young to take on paid work but you can ask local businesses if they’re happy for you to volunteer with them for a few days or even a few weeks. There are also many charities who are always looking for help. Look on for vacancies.
  3. Meet new people - Whether you go to university or into a job you’ll have to meet and interact with new people. See if you can take part in anything with people outside your friendship group.
  4. Travel - If you have the opportunity to travel then remember to try to experience local cultures and practise the language while you’re there. It will make for a great experience that you can talk about in interviews for jobs and university. Online Courses:

Online courses are a great way to learn more about a specialist subject. In particular you should look for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These are courses, run by universities, which are free and only require a small amount of commitment so they do not obstruct your school work.

On campus activities

Summer schools can help you to get experiences of university and a real taste of what it’s like. Often residential, universities such as Warwick, have summer schools which you can apply to attend. Alternatively you might look into attending University Taster Days, Academic Masterclasses and Open Days as these will give you an idea of what the University and subjects are like, as well as the chance to meet new people.

Choosing your university

When thinking about choosing your university it’s important to think about you, and what you like.

Moving away from home to study can mean greater independence, however some students prefer to stay closer to home or even travel to study whilst living at home. The biggest deciding factor will be whether the course you want to study is offered by an institution. Remember: not all of the colleges and universities offer the same subjects or the same subject combinations.

Courses at University

There are around 37,000 undergraduate courses you can study in the UK so choosing the right one is a difficult task! Here is some of the jargon you need to know about university courses.

Foundation degree

A course intended to give a basic knowledge of a particular subject area that, on satisfactory completion, allows the student to progress to degree-level study.


A Diploma of Higher Education is normally a two year qualification that is equivalent to the first two years of a degree course.

Honours degree

An undergraduate degree is called a ‘Bachelor degree’, e.g. BA (Bachelor of Arts) and BSc (Bachelor of Science).

Single subject degree

This degree is the most common and focuses on just one subject area e.g. Maths or History.

Joint or Combined degree

This degree is a mixture of subjects that normally complement each other. If a degree course uses the word “and” (e.g. Politics and Economics) it normally means the course is a 50/50 split between each subject. If it uses “with” (e.g. English with American studies) it normally means that most of the course will focus on the first subject and less time will be spent on the second. (Sometimes a combined degree is referred to as a major/minor combination.) However each course is different so check the course content thoroughly.

Elective Choice

Sometimes referred to as options or optional choices within your degree. The fun part of the course, where you get to choose from a range of topics to study from within your subject. Most universities also offer you the flexibility to choose from modules outside your own subject as well. It is always worth finding out how much elective choice you have on a degree at each institution if module choice is important to you.

Costs of University

At university, you’ll have two main costs:

Tuition fees

The tuition fee is a charge for your course at university, as well as giving you access to university buildings such as the library and computer rooms.

Living costs

Your living costs are all the things you need to pay for day-to-day, such as rent, food, bills, travel, books and study equipment.

If you are studying at university for the first time, you should be able to access student finance so you won’t have to pay anything straight away.

Student loans

Student loans are provided by the government to help towards your tuition fees and living costs. The amount of loan you are able to receive will depend on how much your family earns, where you live and that you study.

Scholarships and bursaries

Scholarships and bursaries are offered by lots of different types of organisations. If you are eligible for scholarships or bursaries, you won’t have to pay them back. Some are cash payments whilst others contribute towards your tuition fees.

Part-time job

Earning while you learn is a good way to gain experience for your CV as well as providing much needed funds. Universities are large employers and there will be job opportunities aimed specifically at students.

Top Tips

  • Remember how important the right education options are to your future choices.
  • Make sure you research whether your university course has any compulsory subjects and work back from there. If you don’t know what you want to do, then make sure your options are balanced and not too limiting.
  • Think about your career... ...but if you don’t know what job you want to do in the future don’t worry! Remember 60% of the best jobs in the next ten years haven’t been invented yet. Who knows what you could end up doing? Focus on doing the things you love and eventually you’ll find the perfect job for you!
  • Choose your course carefully. Make sure it’s something you love and you want to learn more about. You have to study it for the next 3-4 years so you need to be interested enough to get out of bed every morning.
  • The sooner you research universities the better.
  • Look at individual university websites as well as more general sites like UCAS. This will give you information on courses and entry requirements, as well as giving you a feel for the university as a whole.
  • There are hundreds of HE institutions in the UK. Make sure you chose the one that feels right for you: right course, right location. Don’t let anyone else influence your decision.