You have an enormous number of courses to choose from, over 30,000 at the last count as you will have gathered if you have tried lifting the UCAS Handbook or the University and College Entrance Guide. Ending up with the six that will go on your UCAS form sounds daunting but you have a number of ways of making it easier.

The first is to use the ECCTIS database. This is available on CD-Rom either at your school or college or, failing that, your local Careers Advisory Service.

If you key in the courses you might be interested in it will give you a listing of every university and college of higher education in the country that offers them, along with entry requirements and content. If you browse through them you will save a lot of time wading through piles of prospectuses.

Services such as Centigrade are also useful. For this you fill in a paper questionnaire about your interests, abilities and personal qualities, send it off and you receive a detailed personal report including a profile of the courses that might be best for you and a list of universities and colleges that offer them.

When you have a preliminary, and probably quite long, list of universities and colleges that interest you, get hold of their prospectuses, either from your school or college's careers library or by using the UCAS/Heist personal prospectus service, of which your school should have details.

Look closely at the descriptions of the courses. No two are alike, particularly at the advanced stages. But they do often have the same names.

Prospectuses are not everyone's idea of a light read, especially if studied one after another, but they do provide the kind of detailed information you need before deciding on your own short(ish) list of courses.

lt will also help if you can get some inside information. The best informants are usually the university or college's current students, because they will be experiencing the course as you will. They will also remember what it is like to be an applicant and know what questions you need answered.

Your teachers may also have useful information, particularly if they are in contact with former pupils who are doing courses that interest you. But beware of taking advice that is based on what it was like 25 years ago.

You need to take time over this stage because it may be your first opportunity to think hard about what you want to do. The advent of modular courses is making it easier to change course after you are at a university or college, but don't rely on this, particularly if you want to study only one subject or a course leading into a profession. lt is still highly undesirable to get somewhere and then want to leave. Apart from the obvious impact on your morale, it can also affect your grant entitlement if you want to start again somewhere else.

Common reasons why people choose the wrong course:

- the course content is not what they expected, for example more maths than expected in a science programme or more science than expected in a Green degree

- fewer options than you expected

- inadequate social or academic facilities


Some people go to university or college to prepare them for a particular career. If that's your reason, you need specific advice, either from the Careers Advisory Service or your school or college's careers teacher. They should be able to help you identify the courses that will be the best preparation for what you want to do.

However, many people go to university or college without having a clear idea of what kind of career they want. Every institution has its own careers advice and information service to help its graduates get jobs. It's worth knowing that 40 per cent of employers advertising jobs for graduates don't mind which subject was studied. They are more interested in finding people with good communication and problem-solving skills.


The traditional Scottish degree programme consists of two preliminary years and two honours years. Candidates offering good A-levels may gain admission directly into the second year particularly in science and engineering areas, but many of them opt to enter the first year and benefit from the opportunity to find their feet academically and socially.


These degrees are particularly common in science and technology subjects and include a chance to spend a year developing skills related to your subject while finding out what it is like to work in a particular industry. The experience frequently has a strong influence on people's career plans and motivation and graduates with this extra dimension to their degree often find it easier to get jobs.


Opportunities exist for students to spend a year in almost any part of the globe. The majority, however spend their time in mainland Europe on exchange arrangements. To make the most of these you are going to have to study in a foreign language and it's worth remembering that the cost of living can be higher than in Britain. Your local authority can offer some help but there are still likely to be extra costs


M-Something-or-others are cropping up all over the place. First to be established was the M. Phys; awarded after four years of study. Now other science and technology subjects are following the same path. Most offer the chance to "stop-off" after three years and be awarded a BSc, but its worth having a close look at everybody's version.


The entry requirements for a course relate more to its popularity than its difficulty. As a rule of thumb, requirements will be highest for those subjects that are having to ration places and lowest for those that do not. However, the ratio of applicants to places on a course does not necessarily predict the severity of the entry requirements, because of the different sorts of qualifications and personal qualities that are being sought.


The number of degree courseslasting more than three years is steadily increasing. Local authorities are usually happy to provide an award of this length, so long as you tell them that's what you are going to do. The main kinds of four-year course are:


Teaching styles can vary considerably between institutions and between subjects. The trends are towards greater use of computer-based learning and encouragement of students do at least some of their learning away from the university or college.

However, you can still expect to sit in plenty of lectures and seminars. The latter is a small(ish) group of students who have come prepared to discuss a pre-agreed topic. Science and engineering students are also likely to spend between 10 and 20 hours a week in practical classes.

Modularisation leads to considerable changes in the way that courses are assessed, with significantly more emphasis being placed on continuous assessment and less on examination. In fact, in some institutions final exams have become extinct. If an institution is running a two- semester year there are likely to be exams at the end of both semesters. It means that you sit quite a lot of exams, although there is the advantage that you have a good idea of how you are coping with a particular subject and can make adjustments to your programme if necessary.

In most cases you have to pass your first year but the marks do not count towards your final degree classification. Don't be too anxious about failing the first year. Fewer than 10 per cent of people do, and in many cases it's not for academic reasons.