Having decided on the subject area, you now have to choose a course. You will have several options of how to study as courses vary in content, length and structure.
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Course content • Course length • Course structure
Courses can vary in academic content in a number of ways, from the qualification you achieve, to assessment and the teaching methods.
One difference is between the levels of the courses. Most lead to a degree, but some lead to sub-degree qualifications such as a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a Foundation Degree.
Generally, sub-degree courses are shorter, more vocational and with lower entry requirements. Some are linked to degree courses, allowing you to progress to a degree if you perform well enough.
Courses also vary in how they are delivered and assessed. There are differences in how much modules choices there is, the contact hours, how much assessment is coursework or exams and the teaching methods.
Courses also differ in length. Most single honours courses last three years (or four in Scotland) but there are numerous exceptions to this:
- Accelerated degrees – A few UK Universities have degrees that last two years, called ‘accelerated degrees’. These tend to have four terms a year rather than three, allowing you to complete your degree quicker and with less debt. Some universities offer fast track two-year degrees in subjects such as Law, Business & Management Studies and Accounting & Finance. Read more about accelerated degrees.
- Foundation years – It is sometimes possible to add a foundation year to the beginning of a course, making it a year longer. These courses vary in nature and entry requirements. Some act as a conversion course for students who have not studied the required subjects for entry onto the course. Others are designed to take students who have performed below the normal entry requirements for a course to bring them up to speed. These courses will often have lower entry requirements. Foundation courses are common for arts subjects.
- ‘Sandwich’ or placement years – This is a year added onto a three-year degree (usually after the second year). Typically, these are spent on work experience or studying abroad. Read about what it is like to study overseas.
- Integrated master’s – An integrated master’s combines a master’s course with another qualification, such as a bachelor’s. Instead of studying two separate degree courses, students will study a single, longer programme, usually of four or five years. Students may achieve both a bachelor’s and a master’s or just a master’s. These are common for engineering and science courses.
- Scottish universities – Most courses in Scotland last four years rather than three years, though some English students with good A Levels may not have to sit the first year.
- Intercalations – An intercalation is an extra year taken by a student to study an additional degree. Typically associated with Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Medicine, intercalations are becoming more widely available as students look to add to their area of expertise. For example, a Biological Sciences student could intercalate in Computer Science so they can pursue a career in data-driven biological research.
Sometimes the given length of a course does not tell the full story. The length of a course can be misleading if you intend to go on to a profession in the same subject.
After five years of Medicine or six of Architecture you will be qualified to start work as a doctor or an architect respectively (though in both cases there are additional steps before full qualification). However, three years of Law does not qualify you to be a lawyer. You must undertake further training (often at your own expense) before you can work as a barrister or a solicitor.
In the case of engineering, a four-year MEng course will give you maximum credit towards the status of Chartered Engineer, but if you take a BEng course you may have to undertake further study after you have finished. Other BEng Engineering graduates progress well in their careers without the MEng element.
The start of courses may vary, too. While almost all start in September or October there are a few that start in January. Many of these are nursing courses but some universities are offering a spring start in other subjects – partly to fill quotas of places.
Course structure can differ in several ways. There are a number of alternatives to traditional single honours degrees, including joint honours, accelerated degrees and part-time options. If you’re not sure what these different options mean, read on to find out more.
Joint honours degrees allow you to study two separate subjects instead of one.
They are ideal if you want to immerse yourself in more than one subject and they are available at universities all over the UK. It is not the equivalent of doing two degrees – like single honours they take three, or, depending on the course, four years – it just allows students to take a greater variety of modules. Some common combinations include:
- Languages – foreign languages are often studied as joint honours – for example, French and German, or French and Spanish
There are also some unusual combinations as well:
Like any degree, joint honours are not ideal for every student. If you are thinking about going down this route, consider the following:
- You might have an increased workload – Joint honours students do not do twice as much work as their single honours peers, but they can have a bigger workload depending on the course combination. Single honours student can likely use the same information across different modules. If you choose an unconventional joint honours combination this may not be possible for you. What you learn from your Music class is highly unlikely to be applicable to your Philosophy essay.
- You may have to switch between writing styles – Different subject areas expect different writing and referencing styles – this can get confusing when writing multiple essays at once. However, this will be give you a more adaptable style of writing which will serve you well in the world of work after university.
- You could miss out on modules – Studying joint honours can make the process of choosing modules more frustrating and time-consuming. With a joint honours degree there is a requirement to do a certain number of modules in both of your chosen subject areas. This can mean that you have to pick modules you would rather avoid and in turn, miss out on doing modules you want to do. The timetable clashes that are the bane of many a student can hit twice as hard when you’re a joint honours student. Be prepared to juggle and compromise with your module selections.
- You may not initially have a strong sense of familiarity – You will likely make some of your best friends at university in lectures and seminars, as you will have multiple modules with the same people. Joint honours student will not miss out on this, but by studying across different subject areas it may take longer to develop familiarity with course mates and lecturers. However, you can become friends with a greater variety of people, get to know the different areas of your university quicker, and be exposed to more different styles of lecturing.
Joint honours and Clearing
Going through Clearing can be daunting. Your instinct might be to start looking for courses that match what you applied for. However, joint honours can be much less popular than single honours and so there are often many places available on joint honours courses through Clearing.
If you start a joint instead of a single honours course do not worry. Further into your course you can specialise more in the area of your course you prefer. In some cases, you may even be able to switch to the single honours you wanted originally.
An accelerated degree is a full bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree that is completed in a shorter time period.
Courses provide the same amount of content as traditional degrees but they take two years (or three in Scotland) instead of the more common three to five years. They can appeal to all kinds of people, including mature and international students.
Accelerated degrees vary in structure across institutions. To find out details of how they are structured, go directly to the university websites. Some examples of course structures are:
- Abertay University — A Scottish student can complete a standard four-year degree in three years. The first year is made up of two terms (30 weeks), followed by two years of three terms each (45 weeks).
- University of Buckingham — Two semesters, made up of two terms each. Each term has nine of teaching and a two-week exam period at the end of terms two and four in both years. This amounts to a total of 40 weeks per year. Buckingham also offers entry points in September, January and July.
- Other universities offer a three-term structure as opposed to a two-term structure, the third term taking place during the summer holiday period.
- Universities regularly allow students on accelerated degrees to transfer onto an equivalent three-year degree.
- There are often work-based learning elements, such as work placements, which form a required part of accelerated degrees.
Entry requirements vary across universities and courses. Like with any degree, it is important to check individual courses before applying to check you meet entry requirements.
Things to think about:
- Lower expenditure – One of the main attractions of an accelerated degree is the prospect of spending less money. Shorter courses mean students spend less on tuition fees, maintenance loans and rent, and they are able to earn money sooner.
- Shorter holidays – Long summer periods that come with traditional degrees mean plenty of time to travel, get a summer job, or do an internship. But with accelerated degrees you will finish your course quicker and get into the working world a lot sooner.
- Only a handful of UK universities offer accelerated degrees – They tend to be provided by small, specialist institutions and newer universities, so there isn't a huge amount to choose from. Some of the institutions currently offering accelerated degrees are:
Accelerated degrees aren't for everyone, but there are many other benefits. We interviewed three accelerated degree students – read about why they love the structure.
The Open University
Many universities offer part-time and distance learning. The institution most well-known for this is The Open University (OU).
Established in 1969, it is the UK's largest university and today more than 30% of part-time students in the UK study with the OU.
The OU does not appear in our league tables because its students are distant learners and comparable data are mostly not available. The data that does exist is included in their profile, so you can compare and contrast their performance with other institutions.
Birkbeck, University of London
Birkbeck, University of London, provides flexible, evening university education and also offers a number of undergraduate-level courses via distance learning.
While there is no central admissions service for part-time courses (as there is for the full-time degree courses), UCAS provide a part-time course search.
If you find a course you wish to follow, you will have to contact the university or college direct to find out about vacancies, entry requirements, fees and funding.
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