Alumni Advice: Choosing the Right University Course

19/06/202410 minute read
Alumni Advice: Choosing the Right University Course

Choosing the right university course can be nerve-wracking for students, as they make a decision which guides their future years of study and even their career path. There are many factors to weigh, from “big-picture” considerations such as personal interest and job prospects, to nitty-gritty details like eligibility and course length.

However, students can start thinking about course choice in high school, particularly through subject selection and extracurriculars. In this blog, I’ll guide you on how to use these experiences and opportunities to make an informed decision without fear and how I came to the decision to study computer engineering at Princeton University.

Subject Selection at High School

High school subject selection is an important chance for students to explore their interests and prepare for further study, making it critical to choosing the right university course.

Studying a subject at high school offers insight into the concepts, skills, and careers relating to a given field, which can help students identify their university course and career interests. High school subject choices also provide important foundational knowledge for further study, so they often influence which university courses are available to a student. Some courses may have admission requirements, which require students to take specific high school subjects to qualify for entry.

For example, many economics courses require high school mathematics. In addition to explicit subject requirements, many universities also outline expected knowledge, where learning from high school subjects is crucial for setting up success. Some university applications also ask students to detail their interest in a given course, so taking a relevant high school subject can provide helpful background and talking points. Therefore, careful subject selection in high school is pivotal to finding and qualifying for the right university course.

So, how can students effectively select their high school subjects?

For younger students, such as those 3-5 years from graduating, it may be helpful to select a variety of both STEM and humanities subjects, which will expose them to a range of fields, skills and career paths. This can help them build a picture of their interests and the opportunities available to them, whilst opening many doors for later course selection. 

Younger students also showing specialised interests can leverage CGA’s accelerated programs to explore even further into specific subjects. CGA's flexible online learning environment allows students to advance based on ability rather than age, enabling them to take higher-level courses earlier than they might in a traditional school setting.

The Da Vinci Program at CGA offers ambitious students the opportunity to accelerate their learning and explore their interests more deeply. This program can be taken either part-time or full-time, providing flexibility to fit various student schedules and learning paces. The Da Vinci Program offers personalised learning experiences, allowing students to study advanced subjects and participate in unique academic opportunities tailored to their interests and abilities.

"Da Vinci has allowed me to work at a pace that is not determined by a group of students but by my pace that is associated with my strengths and works around my schedule rather than me working around its schedule, which allows me to appreciate my subjects." - CGA Student, Lehlohonolo, South Africa

Students 1-3 years from graduating may benefit from more targeted subject choice, which provide deeper exploration of academic interests and preparation for university. If a student at this stage is unsure of what they wish to study, it may help for them to reflect on their earlier subject choices and wider experiences to identify subjects, skills and topics they enjoy learning about. This can provide guidance on which university courses and careers may play to their strengths and interests.

For students who have already identified a career or university course they wish to pursue, they can tailor subject choice based on the required skills and knowledge or course requirements.

Regardless of whether or not a student has identified a specific course or career, it can be beneficial to maintain some variety in subject selection, taking at least one STEM and one humanities subject. This keeps doors open in case interests shift, and helps build a well-rounded set of skills ranging from problem solving to expression, applicable across many areas of life.

Exploring Extracurriculars to Find Your Passion

Extracurricular activities engage students in unique modes of learning whilst helping them develop broader skills, making them another way for high school students to guide their university and career choices.

A key strength of extracurriculars is that they enable students to engage in subjects which may not be offered in school, which can help discover new interests. For example, covering topical affairs in debating could inspire an interest in politics.

Extracurriculars often challenge students in novel ways, such as by putting them in leadership positions or by offering hands-on problem solving. This can uniquely develop skills and qualities such as management, critical thinking, and empathy, revealing important strengths which can be leveraged when considering university and career paths.

Through extracurriculars such as clubs, competitions, research, and internships, students can also increase their experience in a specific field, which can help cement their interest. Extracurriculars can also deepen understanding of a field and provide exposure to new ideas. This can help students discover more niche passions which may create a clearer idea of future opportunities.

CGA offers a wide range of extracurricular clubs where there is something for every students to get involved. This includes 3D Game Development, Model UN, Math Club, Psychology Club and more. These clubs not only allow students to explore their passions but also help them develop important skills and build a strong portfolio for university applications. Participation in these clubs encourages teamwork, leadership, and practical application of knowledge, all of which are highly valued by universities and employers.

By participating in extracurriculars, students can reflect on the activities, topics, and skills they most enjoy, which can help them recognise potential for future study and work.

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My Top Tips for Deciding on a University Course

  • Reflect on interests and strengths revealed by extracurriculars

Think about what you enjoyed and excelled at during your extracurricular activities. These can give you clues about what subjects you might want to study. For example, if you liked debate club, you might be interested in law or political science.

  • Consider whether the degree and career path are practical with respect to your values and goals

Consider whether the degree and the career it leads to fit with what you want in life. Medical school for example takes many years and involves dealing with medical procedures that might not be for everyone. Make sure the path you choose aligns with what you value and what you want to achieve.

  • Look at different courses that lead to your career goals

There might be several degrees that can help you reach your career goals. Research various programs and see which ones best match your interests. If you can, go on a university tour and try to view the class in action. If you’re interested in environmental science, you could look at degrees in biology, chemistry, or environmental engineering.

  • Consider interdisciplinary paths e.g dual degree programs, minors, specialisations

You don’t have to stick to one subject. Dual degrees, minors, and specialisations allow you to combine different areas of study. You could study business and computer science if you’re interested in tech entrepreneurship. See how you can combine multiple areas of interest without limiting yourself to one.

  • Talk to current students or professionals to get a better picture of what life in a certain course/career looks like

Get advice from people who are already studying or working in the field you’re interested in. They can give you a realistic view of what to expect. You can do this by setting up informational interviews or job shadowing to learn more about their experiences.

Why I chose to study Computer Engineering at Princeton University

Going into high school, I had a whole range of interests, from policy to environmentalism to technology. I narrowed my interests by considering what I enjoyed most in my high school subjects - problem solving and real-world applications. In particular, I enjoyed physics and I could see myself doing something related in the future, so that steered me towards engineering.

In school, I explored my interest in computer science by taking an AP subject. However, I wanted to learn more, so I pursued extracurriculars such as my EPQ and a computer shop internship. Working on my EPQ, I was exposed to ideas about human-computer interaction, and now I want to study it further at university.

At my computer shop internship, I got hands-on experience with computers. Though I had initially wanted to study computer science, my interest shifted, and I realised I wanted to work with hardware too.

Once I realised I wanted to work with both computer hardware and software, I went onto university websites and read through course outlines to find the programs that best matches my interests. When doing this, I considered the degree structure (for example, some had a more theoretical focus whereas others were more hands-on, some allowed for specialisation sooner than others), the courses I found interesting, and career prospects. Through all this, I found computer engineering. I also looked at general program requirements and minors to see if there were ways I could incorporate my other study interests.

Deciding to pursue computer engineering didn’t mean all my other interests vanished; it was more about identifying what I enjoyed most to create a clearer path going forward. I also realised that there’s so much room for interdisciplinary work, so even within computer engineering, I’d still be able to engage my other interests.

In the end, I got accepted into seven top universities, including Princeton University. At Princeton, I found a program that not only had a strong focus on both hardware and software but also offered opportunities for interdisciplinary studies and research. The lively campus community and the support for student initiatives made it the perfect place for me to pursue my passion for computer engineering.