How to choose a degree – putting it all together

It’s time. This is where you pull together all the information you have assembled to work out what you will be most likely to succeed at and which degrees will set you up to do good.

Working out exactly how to bring together all of the different bits of information is hard and there is no formula for it. Talking through this with someone you trust to make good decisions is often useful. Look especially for people who gave you advice before that turned out to be good. But remember that they might be biased. If they disagree with you about something ask yourself why. Do they have information you don’t have? Maybe they have valuable life experience you’re missing, don’t neglect that. Or they might just care about different things because they are a different person.

As always, respect the opinions of others and try to understand why they believe what they do. Then try to see what your beliefs are once you’ve taken account of the reasons they had.
But even though there’s no formula, I’m going to suggest a way to use a scoring system to structure your thoughts. The results of this scoring system won’t always be better than your gut instinct. But using a system helps you make sure you don’t miss some of your evidence and makes it more likely that you treat your evidence consistently.

It’s time for a new table. For each degree course you’re still considering, you’ll want a score to reflect the following:
– How qualified am I?
– How passionate am I?
– How good are my scores (e.g. relevant tests and GCSEs, AS)?
– How well do my parents/teachers think I’ll do?
– How well does the university think I’ll do?
– How well do I think I’ll do?
– What intelligence does the degree signal?
– What is the average salary of graduates?
– What percentage of graduates are using their degree after 6m?
– How flexible is the degree?
– Does the degree lead easily to careers that make a difference?

Now you need to assign a score for each degree for each point. This is tricky, but it doesn’t matter too much what your scoring looks like. I could go into details about exactly what sorts of distributions you should use, but it wouldn’t help too much. I’d be tempted to assign each a score between 1 and 5 (you don’t need more levels). In each case, a 3 means “this aspect of the degree gives me no reason to prefer it or not”. A 2 means “this is a reason to not choose the degree”. 1 means “this is a strong reason to not choose this degree”. 4 and 5 are the mirror of 1 and 2.

Now you want to weight each of your points. For example, I might clump the first 6 together and say they are all indicators that I’ll be successful at the degree. The next three are indicators of how much the degree is worth to society. The last two are indicators of how good the degree is for an ethical career. Suppose I care about as much about all three of those ideas. Then I should weigh each of the second clump twice as heavily as each of the first six (so that the total weight of each clump is the same). And each of the third clump should be worth three times as much as each of the first 6. So I add up the first 6, plus two times each of the next three, plus three times each of the next two. That gives me a total score for each subject.

Then I would look at all those scores and see how they strike me. Odds are that the scores do represent what’s been unfolding in your head as your best choice. But maybe they don’t. If they don’t, try to work out why. Is it, perhaps, because you actually value something more highly than it is represented in your formula? Is it because the formula only lets you go up to 5, and you think one of the reasons was so strong it should be a 6 or a 7? Whatever the issue, don’t necessarily just go with your table. The table is a tool for thinking things through carefully, it doesn’t always give the right answer.

Also remember that you should feel free to add in your own indicators if there’s something that applies to you that I’ve left out. And, if you found this useful, share it with friends who are making similar decisions.

Using these 10 steps you should be able to systematically work out which degrees you are likely to do well at. Doing well at a degree is an important step towards doing good after your degree. It is probably more important than doing a degree that seems to lead directly towards making a difference.

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