Parents' and carers' guide

Doing research

Higher Education offers students the opportunity to take their learning to the next level and study what interests them. With over 35,000 courses on offer at hundreds of universities across the UK, students can continue to study a subject taught at school/college (English, Maths, Biology for example) or they can opt to study a more specialist course, such as Sports Technology, Publishing or Quantity Surveying. The difficulty can be deciding which subject to choose.

We encourage you to discuss with your son or daughter what it is they want from their future. They need to understand the decision needs to be right for them and making a choice based on those made by friends or other family members can often lead to the wrong option being selected.

So how does a student start to narrow down these opportunities? We recommend an initial conversation to establish some basic facts, consider the points below as they can help focus thoughts.

Single or joint honours?

Some courses are purposefully kept broad and allow students to select from a wide range of modules each year. This is a great study option for anyone who is perhaps unsure about a future career pathway. Other degrees are much more focused, either in the choice of modules or subject content. This is a real opportunity for those who want to explore their topic of choice in more detail.

Joint honours courses allow students to study two subjects side by side but they are not twice the work load as they involve elements of two separate (but often related) degrees. For those torn between two potential courses joint honours may offer a perfect solution.

Teaching methods

University courses can be taught through a variety of methods including lectures, seminars and tutorials*.

The most notable difference between school/college learning and university is the level of independent study required. Students will be required to motivate themselves throughout the duration of their degree to complete their work on time, carry out wider reading and revise their notes. 

*Please see our jargon buster for more details on learning teaching methods

Assessment methods

Courses can be subject to different forms of assessment. Examinations, essays, group projects, presentations and lab reports are just a few examples. Some degrees will feature
a range of assessment methods, whereas others will be more heavily weighted in favour of one style. We encourage students to select a course that is taught and assessed in their preferred learning style.


A degree typically lasts for three years but it is now becoming increasingly common to see four year degrees that offer a placement/study abroad option (these are known as Sandwich courses). This additional year offers students a chance to increase their employability by gaining work experience, developing transferable skills and making industry connections.

Entry requirements

There are opportunities for further study for students from all levels of academic ability. Students need to speak to their teachers and get an idea of their predicted grades and what is required to improve these further. They can then begin to research potential universities whose entry requirements are similar to the grades they are trying to achieve.

It is important they identify any course specific requirements such as certain A Level/BTEC subjects, GCSE performance and/or relevant work experience.


Some degree courses carry accreditation which means that a related professional body recognises that this course equips graduates with the necessary knowledge and skills to begin a career in that industry.

Whilst this can be a real bonus in some industries it is not essential for all and a student should not necessarily discount a non-accredited course. If a student wants to know more about this we would advise them to research “backwards”. Start by researching their intended career and then establish whether or not they require a specific course to have been studied and in turn whether this should be accredited.

Researching institutions

Once a student has decided what they want to study the next crucial question is where. It is really important to pick the right university for them. This will help them settle in quickly and will have a positive impact on their work.

The first area for consideration is how far away from home a student wishes to be based. For some, the right choice is to stay at home for the duration of their studies and commute to and from university each day, whereas for others the opportunity to live away from home is appealing. You should help your son or daughter consider the pros and cons of each before making their final decision.

Once this has been established students can begin to look for universities that fall within their preferred geographical areas. Providing an objective opinion and encouraging students to focus on the elements that are most important to them can help narrow down this choice.

Researching a Course and Institution

How do you decide which subject you want to study and which university you want to attend? Watch our video for some hints and tips on how to make this key decision.

League tables

League tables can be a good starting point when researching a university. They are compiled using a variety of different data looking at everything from research intensity, employability rates and staff to student ratios.

University league tables provide an indication of a university’s overall performance and subject specific tables focus on performance within that degree field. Some of the more widely used include The Times, The Guardian and The Complete University Guide. Other websites, such as WhatUni, are compiled using the feedback from current students – these provide valuable insight into student satisfaction and student experience and for some can be a more useful indicator as to whether or not an institution is a good fit for them.

The top overall performing universities are not always the top in each course area so it is worth comparing both for a more complete picture. It is important to note that just because a university ranks highly it doesn’t mean that it will be the best fit for your son or daughter. League tables should be considered alongside other criteria and not in isolation.

Useful links