Course Guidance: Avoid the purists' path in a spirit of adventure: Combination courses offer a wealth of interesting degree subjects and they're in less demand. Karen Gold reports

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The Independent Online
HEALTH STUDIES, coaching studies, tourism management, regional science - course titles such as those suggest that the days of the conventional single-honours English or history degree may be numbered. If the A-level system stuck less rigidly to three named subjects, often in restrictive arts or science combinations, even more students would be pushing for places on the most recently created degree courses.

Those who look widely definitely reap the benefit. About 20 per cent of all students who started Pcas degree courses in 1992 had found their places in clearing. But the overall figure hides a big variation: only 15 per cent of students on creative arts courses had come through clearing, whereas on combined social science courses the clearing entrants made up 53 per cent.

So where should would-be students look for opportunities? Grades required for combined courses may be higher than last year, but they are still often lower than for single subject courses. At Bradford University, for example, a maths and management course has been offering places for two grade D A-levels, whereas straight management courses are inaccessible to anyone with those grades.

Supposing you want to study French or German? And, perhaps, add a new language as well? At Thames Valley University, applicants for applied language studies with two language A-levels must have two Cs. But because fewer people have the courage to apply to start another language from scratch, they ask applicants with one language A-level for two Ds.

Disappointed entrants for teacher training may also find hope here. Bachelor of Education courses, which have in the past taken candidates with the lowest A-level grades, are more competitive this year. But a four-year BEd is not the only route into teaching: universities increasingly offer three-year honours degrees in some thing-plus-education. With carefully chosen subiects (be wary of social science or philosophy, which may not be acceptable in schools) this can be followed by a one-year postgraduate teaching certificate (PGCE).

'There's nothing like the same crush for PGCE places, because everyone applying is sure they want to be a teacher,' says Michael Newby, professor at the Rolle faculty of education, Plymouth University. He also points to the university's new BA Education Studies, which takes students into schools and looks at 'how the education system works, how people learn, different teaching styles'. It is not a teaching qualification but it will certainly help you decide if you want to teach.

New courses are the next undiscovered opportunity. Although they are often slightly shambolic early in the autumn term, they can be the most exciting once the administration has settled down, because they have usually been developed by keen and committed staff in response to changes in the outside world. You will not find them in the prospectus, but their vacancies will be advertised in the Ucca/Pcas listings, and the universities will send you details if you ring for them. At Bournemouth University, for example, the latest arrival is BSc land-based enterprises, a four-year sandwich course looking at businesses based on land - farming, market gardening, forestry, tourism. Students need a science A-level - biology is ideal - and 14 points for a subject that combines business studies with the the great outdoors.

But the widest opportunities remain in the uninspiringly titled modular or combined studies degrees. People are often put off them because they think they may end up studying a hotchpotch. Not so. Most modular or combined studies degrees offer two or three subjects in the first year, one or two in the second and third.

Your main subject will remain the same throughout - unless you decide to change it. You can usually pursue the same minor subjects in greater depth or try out new ones. 'It means people can sample things in the first year and then increase the amount of the subjects they prefer later on,' says John White, deputy vice-chancellor of Wolverhampton University, where the modular scheme offers 50 different combinations.

As a last resort, if there are no places left in your favourite subject as a major component of a modular degree, you may still be able to start with that subject as a minor component. People who are desperate to study psychology, for example, will find that access to psychology courses is virtually unattainable by now. But if you are prepared to combine psychology with, say, Russian, Wolverhampton is almost certain to have places.

At this stage an open mind and a spirit of adventure are the best policy, says Mr White: 'Most students aren't purists. Obviously we have conversations with applicants where we test out how committed they are to their main subject and what the peripheral areas of their interest are. But, in my experience, if we can offer them something close to what they wanted, then they'll seize that and go for it.'

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