Choosing a Degree Course

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Choosing a degree course will depend on several factors, and one of these must be the motivation and interest to be able to pursue a subject for the next three years.

Some students are ready to make career decisions at 17 or 18 and choose degree courses leading to specific career areas such as law, business studies, surveying, architecture, etc. Others, however, are not sure, and they may turn to their 'A' Level subjects as a basis for future studies.

Whatever the degree subject, the level of degree course to be followed initially is that of the Bachelor or first degree which is offered by universities, polytechnics, colleges of higher education (not to be confused with colleges of further education, which offer courses for boys and girls at 16, as an alternative to staying on at school), institutes of higher education and specialist colleges, e.g. colleges of agriculture, art, etc. The exception to this rule concerns some Scottish universities in which the first degree is a Master of Arts degree (MA) awarded to students in the Scottish system who usually start their courses one year earlier than students at English and Welsh universities. These MA courses normally last four years. An MA in Scotland is equivalent to a BA in English and Welsh universities. The most well known Bachelor degrees are BA and B.Sc. (Bachelor of Arts and Sciences). There are others, however, such as the LLB (Bachelor of Laws), MB (Bachelor of Medicine), B Eng (Engineering), B Ed (Education), B. Mus. (Music), and B Tech (Technology). All these degrees are equivalent to each other.

Honors degrees are divided into 'classes' - 1st, 2nd (sub-divided into 2:1 and 2:2) and 3rd. Ordinary and Pass degrees are awarded to those who fail some exams on the 'Honors' course.

Types of Degree Course

There are six types of courses:

  1. Single Honors courses: This is a study of one subject, although at some universities and polytechnics it may be possible to study other subsidiary subjects for part of the course.

  2. Joint Honors courses: These courses involve the study of two subjects. These subjects might have similarities, e.g. Mathematics and Computer Science, or French and Italian, or they might be quite different, e.g. Geography and Music. It is worth noting that there may be fewer places on these courses and higher standards of entry may be required.

  3. Combined Honors courses: These courses usually involve the study of several subjects, e.g. the combined courses at Leicester and Newcastle Universities and the General Honors course at Birmingham University.

  4. Sandwich courses: These courses consist of periods of work experience which are combined with theoretical study at university, polytechnic or college. Experience with firms and other organizations can be a great asset to the student who may often be offered a job with the firm at the end of his or her degree course. (Sandwich courses in Law are offered by Brunei University and the polytechnics at Bristol, Bournemouth, Nottingham and Sheffield.) The thick sandwich course usually concerns those sixth formers who have managed to obtain a sponsorship. On leaving school, students usually spend a year with their firm on full pay. This is followed by three years at university, returning to the firm in the fifth year.

  5. External Degree courses: 'External' degrees are awarded on satisfactory completion of the prescribed examinations by the University of London to students who have prepared themselves for the examinations on full-time or part-time courses at colleges outside the University of London's Federation of Colleges or by distance learning courses or independent private study. These degrees have exactly the same standing as degrees obtained by full-time study at universities, polytechnics and colleges of higher education. A number of colleges offer courses leading to University of London external degrees and Holborn College, one of the largest independent colleges of law in the United Kingdom and an Associate College of Wolverhampton Polytechnic offers courses leading to the University of London external LLB (Honors) degree in Law and B.Sc. (Economics) degrees in Accountancy, Management Studies or Economics and Management Studies.

  6. Franchised Degree Courses: As higher education evolves in the 90s flexibility is the key to many of the new courses. Many institutions are franchising their courses at various levels to other institutions in the United Kingdom and overseas.
In October 1990 Holborn College in London was validated by the CNAA to take a franchise of the LLB (Honors) Degree from Wolverhampton Polytechnic and is now an Associate College of the Polytechnic. This degree program provides one of the widest selections of course options for an LLB (Honors) Degree available in the United Kingdom. Application has been made to the Department of Education and Science for award status for United Kingdom 'home students' at Holborn College and if this is granted it will amount to approximately £695 fees payment in addition to maintenance grants where applicable.

Holborn College also offers an LLB (Honors) Degree by distance learning with optional support tuition in conjunction with Wolverhampton Polytechnic which gives students total flexibility in the way in which they prepare for a law degree. Students may transfer between full-time, part-time and distance learning modes as personal circumstances change through the period of study.

Choosing a degree course other than Law could stem from considering 'A' Level subject options. In the first instance you could choose your favorite 'A' Level subject or subjects (at least you have a good idea of what they involve). Talk to your tutors about a possible degree course in these subjects and read through prospectuses to obtain a better idea of the topics to be covered.

However, it is not just necessary to choose the 'A' Level subject you enjoy the most. Each 'A' Level subject is part of a larger family of similar subjects, and with your interest in other 'A' Level subjects there could be several obvious connections which will produce alternative ideas.

Let us take a look at some 'A' Level subjects and appropriate degree courses which would enable you to go on to train as a solicitor or barrister after graduation.

Arts and Humanities Subjects

Ancient History - Archaeology, Biblical Studies, Greek, Latin, Classical Studies, Religious Studies and Philosophy.

British Government and Politics - Economics, European Studies, History, Law, Public Administration, Strategic Studies.

Economics - Accountancy (Actuarial work), Banking, Business and Business Finance, Estate Management, Operational Research, Planning, Quantity Surveying, Social Studies.

English - Anglo-Saxon, Drama, European Literature, Journalism, Languages, Librarianship.

Geography - African, Asian and European Studies, Earth Sciences and Geology, Environmental Studies, Estate Management, Fisheries Management, Land Economy, Meteorology, Oceanography, Town and Country Planning.

History - American Studies, Anthropology, Biblical Studies, Law, History (covering various countries and continents of the world).

Languages - Apart from those languages being studied to 'A' Level it is also possible to start new languages from scratch on many university courses, e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavian, East European, Near Eastern and Far Eastern languages.

Religious Studies - Archaeology, Education, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Social Administration.

Science Subjects

Biology - Agricultural and Animal Sciences, Biological Sciences, Dentistry, Dietetics, Ecology, Environmental Science, Forestry, Horticulture, Marine Biology, Medicine, Nursing, Nutrition, Occupational Therapy, Pharmacology, Pharmacy, Psychology, Speech Science, Veterinary Science, Zoology.

Chemistry - As above and also Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Color Chemistry, Food Science, Fuel Science, Oil Technology, Textile Chemistry.

Geology - Geography, Mining and Mineral Exploitation, Mining Surveying.

Mathematics - Accountancy, Actuarial Science, Business Studies, Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, Operational Research.

Physics - Building and Building Services Engineering (Heating - Refrigeration -Acoustics), all engineering subjects, Materials Science, Naval Architecture.

Other Subjects

Having read through these lists you may form ideas about some course options but beware. Do not reject courses you have never heard of and do not assume you know very much about those courses you think are familiar! The following list will give you just a taste of what might be involved when choosing some subjects to study.

Agriculture - The choice may lie between the very practical type of farming courses or those which have a greater emphasis on agricultural science.

American Studies - This covers the history and literature of the USA (and including Canada at Birmingham University).

Archaeology - This usually involves a study of archaeology in the British Isles and the Mediterranean countries. These courses sometimes include Ancient History.

Art - Practical work courses are offered at some universities as well as at the polytechnics and colleges. The History of Art, Architecture or Design may also be studied; in some cases both practical and theoretical work is done on the same course.

Biology I Biochemistry - Choices include a bias towards Medicine, Nutrition, Agriculture, Pharmacology, Biotechnology, Marine, Plant, Fishery and Animal Sciences.

Business Studies - This is a very wide field (see The Way In - Business and Management (HLT Publications)) and covers accountancy and financial management, management services, marketing, sales, personnel work, retail management, textile management, estate management, and hotel management. In some universities, Business can be combined with a language, at Birmingham, Leeds, Loughborough, and in some polytechnics, at Birmingham, Kingston, Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham. European Business Studies is an option in several polytechnics and colleges, at Lancashire, Humberside, Middlesex, Nottingham, and Leeds Polytechnics and at Buckinghamshire College. London University's external degree in Management Studies or Economics and Management Studies (both BSc Econ) can be studied on a three year full term program at Holborn College. It is also possible to take a one year London University Diploma in Economics at Holborn College and to transfer to the degree course at the end of the year. (Offers for all these courses are in the DD-EE range.)

Chemistry - Courses can be taken with one other subject in Year 1, e.g. at Bristol, Liverpool, Lancaster; or with a language, at Nottingham and East Anglia; or with a year in Europe or USA, at East Anglia, Surrey; or as sandwich courses, at Bath, Aston, Loughborough, Brunei.

Drama - There is a practical performance bias at Aberystwyth, East Anglia and Hull. (Dance is offered at Surrey, Birmingham and Bretton Hall College).

Environmental Science - This subject has an emphasis on Biology/Geography, at Bradford, Sheffield universities or with Chemistry/Geology, at Kent and Sussex, or with Physics, at Lancaster, or with Geography/Planning, at University College London or Sheffield (Poly), or a study of Environmental Health, at Salford, Leeds (Poly), and Thames (Poly).

Engineering - Many specializations are offered, e.g. Electrical/Electronics (including telecommunications and systems), Chemical (including Nuclear, Fuel and Energy), Mechanical and Production, Civil and Structural Engineering.

French - Courses could have a bias toward literature, at some universities, such as Oxbridge and Durham, or alternatively as European Studies courses, at Surrey and Bath or Cardiff (European Community Studies).

History - Courses may offer a choice between British, European, Ancient, Medieval or Modern History or the History of the World, e.g. Newcastle (Russia and Latin America), or Warwick (Mexico and Cuba).

Materials Science - This is an ideal course for those with equal interests between Physics and Chemistry and leading to careers in metallurgy, polymers, glasses, ceramics. (There is a real shortage of graduates in this subject area.)

Mathematics - A choice is available from Pure Maths, Applied Maths, Statistics and Operational Research.

Psychology - This includes Social or Human Psychology, e.g. at Bradford and Loughborough, Educational Occupational and Clinical Psychology, at Bangor and Cardiff.

Religious Studies - This subject may cover the origins of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, but studies may also involve Biblical Studies and Theology.

Social Administration - This subject covers aspects of public administration, housing, health and mental illness and other similar topics.

Social Studies - Courses involve the nature and development of modern society (Economics, Politics, Sociology, and Geography) and methods of social investigation.

Law Degree Courses

If you decide to choose a law degree course it is useful to start by understanding what qualities are sought by admissions tutors. Here are some quotations:

'We look for qualities of perseverance, a logical mind able to exclude the irrelevant, patience, and, ideally, common sense.'

'Law as a degree should really be regarded as a liberal education, rather than a vocational subject.'

'The primary criterion applied in selecting applicants for interview is evidence of general ability. Clear-mindedness, a conceptual approach and a high level of oral facility are also advantageous.'

'Four qualities are highly desirable, exactness, conciseness, strict relevance and system. The best school subjects to take are those which encourage these qualities; the worst are those which ensure success not by the exercise of the grey matter, but by wordy expositions of memorized facts of a merely descriptive nature. A widespread notion which has to be scotched is that science is a worse preparation than arts subjects for law.'

The following is taken from the Bristol University prospectus.

What Qualities of mind do you need?

The academic study of law involves the acquisition of the basic knowledge of a subject, the understanding of it, the ability to apply such knowledge relevantly and accurately, and a willingness to criticize the existing law intelligently. Students must be prepared to think for themselves and to develop their own ideas.

It follows that successful law students will have the ability to:

  1. Understand and assimilate many concepts, principles, rules and large amounts of detailed information;

  2. Apply their knowledge in a logical, accurate, intelligent manner;

  3. Analyze subtle legal distinctions; and

  4. Develop their critical faculties so that they can approach the study of law from a reforming, constructive viewpoint. The student who has assimilated the necessary materials and has learnt to think accurately about legal concepts will have the necessary tools to speculate on what the law ought to be - an important part of legal study.

A Popular Misconception

Despite all the attention given to Criminal Law in the newspapers and on television, a brief glance at the Bristol prospectus will reveal how misconceived it would be to equate the study of Law with an analysis of the Criminal Law. In fact, in the Bristol Law Faculty, Criminal Law is only one of the 14 courses which students undertake for the LLB degree. This is not to say that the study of Criminal Law is unimportant: rather, it is to emphasize that any law course involves a study of various categories of law. One important area of law relates to the obligations that citizens owe each other (studied, for example, in Tort and Contract); another body of law is concerned with rights over property (for example, Land Law); a third is the relationship between the citizen and state institutions (for example, Administrative Law). Students may expect to undertake courses in each of these areas.

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