How to choose a biology degree course

We asked undergraduates studying biology at Universities around the country for the advice they’d share with A-level, IB and Highers students on how to choose a degree course. Here are their honest opinions and thoughts.

They don’t all agree, so use this as a starting point to think about what’s right for you.

Think about broadening your options

Taco – Look at all the degree programs: for example, I’m doing Forestry. It took me two years out before I had even heard of it. And my second point is take a year or two out! Also do you like the city, that is just as important.

Hannah – I study Biomedical Science and when I went to open days they seemed quite keen that students on these degrees should specialise and change onto specific degrees by third year but I have no intention in doing so. Unlike what many open days led me to believe there is no pressure or unsaid rule to specialise and the breadth of modules I get to choose from is what I like most. So don’t worry, coming out with a ‘general’ degree is just as good

Matt – I would say choose a course / university that doesn’t force you into a subject. Had I not done Natural Sciences I would have been a biochemist. Yet, I found biochemistry is worse than either biology or chemistry individually. Nor did I even consider Plant Science as an option, which I’ve now specialised into: so think about subjects school doesn’t offer and go for a course which lets you test the waters.

Alice – If you know you want to do a specific subject in Biology, then don’t be scared to go for it. I wasn’t sure about studying Plant Science instead of Biology, but for me it was a great decision. Look at specific modules, and whether they interest you (biology degrees vary a lot in content) and how much time there is in the lab/field, if that interests you. Also make sure you like the university, don’t just chose what you think looks best. You want to enjoy your time there! And have a look at all the modules they offer and see if it’s what they like. A wide range of subjects is always good.

What’s on the course?

Will – I like courses that are pretty flexible in terms of modules etc. Sheffield has let me study stuff that is relevant (GIS, remote sensing) that might not ordinarily be included with biology

Boris – Courses in biochemistry tend to be very diverse despite having the same name. You have to be careful to pick the right one for you as some of them are literally degrees in enzymology and some are more or less wide molecular biology programmes. Also make sure you have enough chemistry content otherwise you may have to catch up on your own

Sarah – Take a close look at the modules on offer. I loved the Gatsby Summer School and developed an interest in plant science, but there are hardly any plant science modules available on my degree programme.

Pat – If you like lab work then look for a course focused on practical experience.

Keep it flexible…

Charlotte – If you’re unsure of the direction they want to take within biology, look at courses that offer a broad range of modules where you can pick a wide variety to suit your interests.

Louisa – If you’re not convinced about Biology consider Natural Sciences which allows you to choose modules from Biology as well as Chemistry, Pharmacology, Physics and Maths. They can vary a lot from Uni to Uni so do your research!

Check out the research

Katy – It might also be an idea to look at what kind of biology research is going on at the different unis. If there’s a particular area of research that’s strong at a uni (and that you’re interested in!) there might be a possibility of gaining experience in that over the summer or as a third year project.

David – Look at the research areas the university focuses on. If you’re particularly interested in plant science for example, it would be beneficial to find a university which in renowned for research in that area as you’re more likely to get modules or projects in the areas that the university researches most.

Andrea – If completely clueless, it can be helpful to have a look at rankings. You want to look for a uni that has a good reputation, especially in biological sciences (That said one shouldn’t read too much into rankings either). Presence of various research institutes within the uni is definitely a plus if present, means active research taking place. Definitely have a look at the website of the department and look for information on range of biological sciences degrees offered and the structure and content of each.

Mike – Go along to open days and ask about opportunities to volunteer, and what help that the uni gives with applying for and doing work placements, which are both really useful for showing you have extra enthusiasm in the field, and are what they can ask about in postgrad interviews.

And finally… feel confident

Emily – I remember when I started at University I was nervous that I wouldn’t be as good as the other students and wouldn’t be able to make friends. That was completely wrong and I haven’t noticed any difference between those who went to a ‘good’ school and those who didn’t. It’s more general advice, but I’d tell them to have confidence in themselves and apply for courses they love in the place they want – I almost didn’t apply to my University because I didn’t think I could do it!

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