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Types of university course

A three-year, single honours course is not the only way of studying an undergraduate degree.  

There is a huge variety of courses available, meaning you can study in the way that you want to.  Not all universities will offer courses within your chosen subject area, taught how you want. Deciding on the type of course you want to study narrow down your options further.

Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc)

During your research pay attention to if the course is a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc). English and History courses will always be BA honours while Physics and Chemistry can only be taught as a BSc (or an MPhys or MChem if studying for four years). However, there are some subject areas which will have courses taught as one or the other including:

  • Archaeology

  • Economics

  • Geography

  • Psychology

  • Social Policy

There will be differences in the teaching and assessment of a BA and a BSc even if the course name and subject areas are very similar. For instance, an Economics BA will have a strong focus on economic theories and history, while an Economics BSc will place greater emphasis on maths and statistics. The emphasis of the course will likely be reflected in the entry requirements.

Sandwich years and studying abroad

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Studying abroad adds to your uni expereince
and boosts your employability 

Two of the most popular ways you can add a year to your course are ‘sandwich years’ and studying abroad.

A sandwich year is a year spent away from the classroom, undertaking a placement or internship in an industry relevant to your course of study. The year will usually take place after your second year of study and are intended to inform your studies

With many graduate employers looking for students with work experience, a sandwich year can really strengthen your job application as well as helping you decide what career you want to go into.

Study abroad involves spending up to a year at an overseas university. They are designed to show you new ways of teaching and studying as well as providing a new perspective on your course. Study abroad programmes are available all over the UK and are not limited to any particular subject areas. Like sandwich years, studying abroad is excellent for your employability as well as generally adding to your university experience.

Joint honours

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Joint honours let you study two subjects (but you
don't get two degrees!)

Joint honours (also known as combined honours or dual 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. They take the same length of time as single honours but give you a greater variety of modules to choose from.

Before deciding to study a joint honours, there are a few factors to consider, including:

  • Increased workload. You can have a bigger workload if you choose an unorthodox degree combination such as Music and Philosophy or a modern language with Business. This is because you will have less scope for recycling information gained from one module to be used in a different one.

  • Different writing and teaching styles. Different subject areas expect different writing and referencing styles – this can get confusing when writing multiple essays at once. They will also be taught in different ways but this will help you become more adaptable.

  • Missing out on modules. Studying joint honours can make choosing modules more frustrating and time-consuming. You will be required to take a minimum number of modules in all your subject areas. This can mean that you have to pick modules you would rather avoid and, in turn, miss out on some modules you want to do.

Joint honours are not as popular as single honours degrees, making them an excellent option if you go through UCAS Clearing. There is also a chance to specialise more on the area of your course which you prefer further into your degree.

Integrated masters

An integrated master’s combines a master’s course with another qualification, such as a bachelor’s.

Instead of studying two separate degree courses, you will study a single, longer programme, usually of four or sometimes (such as in Scotland) five years. You may achieve both a bachelor’s and a master’s or just a master’s. These are common for engineering and science courses.

Foundation years

You are sometimes able to add a preliminary year at the beginning of your course. This is what is known as a foundation year, sometimes referred to as ‘year zero’.

There are several different types of foundation year which target different student groups.  Broadly speaking, foundation years target four main groups:

  1. Students without the right subject. In this instance, the foundation year acts as a conversion course, giving you a grounding in a subject before you start your degree properly.

  2. Students who did not meet entry requirements.  This time of foundation year is to ensure that you are ready to make the step up from A Level to degree study.

  3. Mature students. If you took a break from education and are looking to start university a foundation year is an excellent way of getting used to studying again.

  4. International students. Some university courses will require some international students to take a foundation year combining academic study with English language classes to prepare you for studying in England.

Foundation years will vary in content. Some will cover a broad range of subjects which will allow you to get a feel for what you want to focus on for the rest of your degree. For instance, if you want to study Philosophy but don’t have the required grades you may be offered a foundation year in humanities in which you study the fundamentals of subjects including History and Politics as well as Philosophy. Others will be more specific to the course you want to eventually study.

  • Foundation years are particularly common for Art and design courses. Read more about these foundation years.

Make sure you look at the details of the course such as modules, assessment and teaching before deciding on a foundation year as universities will have different offerings.  

Foundation courses will usually have lower entry requirements than traditional degrees. This makes them a useful option if you want to go to a university but are unable to meet the grade requirements for the course you like.

Scottish university degrees

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. It is important to remember this if you are considering applying to a Scottish university, especially if you are not from Scotland, as you may have an extra year of tuition fees to pay.