Make the right choices for a bright future

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 12:00am

Whether you have clearly defined goals, or are unsure of which academic path to take, deciding where and what to study are crucial life decisions

FOR MANY SCHOOL leavers, choosing a university course can seem a daunting task.

What to study and where to study it are among the most important decisions you are likely to make over the next few years.

These decisions weigh heavily on the shoulders of many students. They can cause family conflicts, and are likely to have repercussions for the rest of your life.

The subject you choose to study at university will, to an extent, dictate what career options lie open to you.

The first thing you need to consider is what sort of course to pursue. Is full-time university study the best option for you?

Look closely at your personal goals in life. For some people, three years at university is a long time to wait before getting out into the job market and earning a living. If that's the case, you may find part-time study a more suitable option as you can then study and work at the same time.

But a full-time course will allow you to devote your time to your studies completely. The university experience is about more than just book learning; the friends you make during this time are likely to remain close for the rest of your life.

For some people, the choice of subject is an obvious one; they have a fixed idea of what they want to do and may well have made their decision years before.

But if your goals are less clearly defined, you will need to think carefully about your options.

Which subjects do you enjoy and would be interested in studying further? Is there a particular career you would like to pursue?

If you really don't have any idea, your school's counselling staff should be able to help you. Taking a questionnaire such as Cambridge University's Stamford Test may present you with some interesting options.

The 'employability' of a course is a major factor to consider. Some courses are more directly applicable to the workplace than others. Vocational degrees such as law, medicine or engineering provide students with a clear career path once they graduate. More purely academic subjects do not lead naturally on to a career in any particular field, and many students find themselves unsure of what to do when they finish studying at university.

For many jobs, though, a degree from a good university will stand you in good stead, regardless of what subject it was in.

If you are having trouble deciding between two or more subjects, it can help to break the choices down analytically.

Writing down a list of the pros and cons for each subject will allow you to measure them against each other in a more concrete way. It can also help you to make a list of your own goals in life, and to think about how much each subject will help you to gain them.

Listen to the advice of those around you - family, friends and teachers - but don't simply blindly follow someone else's guidance. You are going to be spending three years of your life studying this subject, and your level of interest in it will have a big influence on your motivation.

Once you have decided what subject you want to study, it is time to find a suitable university.

Which university you go to will have a direct influence on how people - particularly future employers - perceive the quality of your degree. There are 'good' universities and 'bad' universities, and a degree from a good one will seriously improve your chances of getting job interviews.

Pay attention to league tables and the ranking of universities, but remember this is not the only factor. All universities have their strengths and weaknesses. It is possible for a university that is not ranked particularly highly to be the best place to do the course that you are interested in.

Use open days and visits to look around the campus. Student life is about more than what goes on in the classroom. Compare the facilities at different universities - everything from the library to sporting amenities.

If you plan to remain living with your family (as most Hong Kong students do), the transport between home and university could well influence your decision. A long, arduous commute every day could sap precious energy you need for the classroom.