How to choose your course


25th Mar 2020


Online study


Thinking about studying? Great decision! But where do you start?

There are thousands of course options available, from free courses that take just a few hours to complete, to more in-depth and rigorous formal qualifications such as Bachelors and Masters degrees. And in terms of subject, the options span broadly, across the sciences, social sciences and humanities. You could choose a very practical course or a very theoretical one, or something in between.

So where do you start? Our handy guide to picking a course will help guide you through the process, and if you need any further help, our Admissions team is always available to help you make the right choices for your educational needs.


Choose your subject

This is probably the most fundamental decision you will need to make – what subject to study. Generally people choose a subject based on either their personal interests or their professional aspirations.

If you have a personal interest in a subject, this is a great way to ensure you stay motivated to study. Completing a qualification, particularly a full degree, can be a challenge, and it’s a lot easier to meet that challenge head-on if you are passionate about the topic.

What’s more, studying a subject is a great way to turn a hobby or interest into a career. Perhaps you are already working in a particular field, but have a desire to move into a different one – completing a relevant qualification is a great way to prove your commitment to a new industry to potential employers, as well as giving you the necessary skills and knowledge to make a new start with confidence.

Gaining a qualification is also an excellent way to move ahead in your existing industry – it establishes your expertise in a technical field or enable you to access more senior roles.


Choose your level

So you’ve chosen your subject! The next step is a little trickier, because it requires a bit of research.

For any given subject, there will be a vast array of course options available. There are free options, which don’t usually confer any recognised qualification, but can be useful if you want to see if you are suited to a particular subject.

Then there are short courses, such as a CertHE, PG Cert or PG Dip. These courses normally run for a few months, and are made up of some of the constituent modules that make up a full degree. These are often cheaper than a Masters or Bachelors, and sometimes have lower entry requirements than full degrees. They also demonstrate to employers that you are committed to, and have a decent grounding in, the subject you studied.

And finally there are degrees. At undergraduate level you would study a Bachelors degree, such as a BSc, BA, LLB; while at postgraduate level you’d study a Masters such as an MSc, LLM, MPH or many others. These courses will take at least a year to complete, and many much longer, but are highly regarded by employers and a massive achievement to complete.

If you intend on getting a formal qualification, you will need to consider whether you should be studying at undergraduate or postgraduate level. Here’s some advice on making that decision.


Choose your mode of study

Once you’ve decided to study a short course or degree, the next important question is how you will study. There are a few options available here.

You can choose to study full-time on campus. This is a common route for those just leaving school, although it is also available to mature students. You may be able to fit full-time study around your existing work, if you have flexibility, but it is more likely that you will need to take a break or cut down hours from your current job in order to study full-time. You may also need to relocate to be close to the institution of your choice. This form of study is normally the quickest to complete, with full Bachelors degree usually taking around 3 years and a Masters taking around 1 year.

Alternatively, you can choose to study part-time, either on campus or online. Studying part-time allows you to keep up with your existing work and family commitments, and it usually means that a Bachelors degree will take 4-6 years to complete, and a Masters 2-3 years.

Part-time campus-based study can be a good option if you have a local university that offers the course you are interested in. However studying online offers the most flexibility, as you can study anywhere in the world and access your learning materials 24/7.

Some online courses may require you to travel to an assessment centre in order to complete graded examinations, but online courses with University of Essex Online are entirely remote – the majority of our courses are assessed completely by assignments, and the courses that do include exams allow you to complete them from home.


Choose your institution

Once you’ve nailed down the what and the how, the next question is who to study with. Normally by this point you will have a course title, or a few options, so your best bet is to start researching institutions that offer your chosen course.

When considering potential providers, you should consider a range of factors. It’s likely you will start by looking at the reputation of the institution, including its ranking in league tables and any awards it has received.

It’s also key to investigate the level of support provided. Studying a degree is a challenge, and you will need plenty of academic and pastoral support. This is just as essential when studying online as when you are on campus. A great measure is the National Student Survey, which gathers opinions from final year undergraduate students on the quality of their course, institution and level of support provided.

If you are studying on campus, you will also want to consider practical factors such as transport and living arrangements.

If possible, try to get a taste of what student life is like at your preferred institution. This may be by visiting an open day or trying a taster course.


A few more things to consider

Once you’ve worked through the above factors, you might have your course! But here are a few final considerations.

Firstly, do you want to study a combined degree? These allow you to explore two, usually complementary, subjects at the same time. This can be a great idea if you want to keep your options open regarding your future career, or if you want to go into a more specialist field.

Secondly, when do you want to start your course? Most campus-based courses will have just one intake a year, normally in September, while online courses usually offer multiple start dates throughout the year.

Thirdly, how will you fund your studies? There may be funding or scholarships available for certain courses rather than other ones, or you might be able to convince your employer to sponsor you to study a course that is relevant to your job role.

Finally, is this definitely something you want to do? Studying a degree is a big undertaking, and you will need to be very committed to seeing it through. Here at University of Essex Online, we want to make sure you are 100% happy with your choice, so we offer a 21-day moneyback guarantee.


If you want to find out more about the courses we have available at University of Essex Online, you can download our prospectus. If you’d like to talk your options through, our friendly and knowledgeable Admissions team would be happy to help – just get in touch.