17 February 2022

How to choose the right programme of study

education

Are you interested in pursuing an education in the sciences, or in the humanities? Do you feel like commuting to the university every morning, and do you prefer group work or individual assignments? Here, UCPH researcher Henriette Holegaard helps you learn more about selecting a programme of study by focusing on important considerations when making this frequently difficult choice.

Photo of an young female student
Photo: Getty Images'

Are you the kind of person who knows exactly what you want and feel it in your gut without a shadow of a doubt? If so, this article may not be relevant for you.

However, if you are one of the many people who breaks a sweat at the thought of deciding which line of study will unlock an incredible career and future for you, the following will inform you about what to consider before making that choice.

“Selecting a programme of study can be extremely frustrating and many young people feel very alone with the responsibility of making the right choice. Therefore, above all else, it is important to share one’s thoughts with others,” says Henriette Holmegaard, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Science Education. Among other things, Holmegaard’s research investigates study choices.

Some young people have the tendency to “shut out the noise of other people’s opinions”, because they are afraid of being influenced by others with regards to what’s best for them. However, engaging in endless research online doesn’t necessarily make a person more certain about their final choice either, she says.

"Instead of going around and struggling with thoughts on your own, it can be helpful to share these thoughts with friends and family while consulting a student guidance counsellor. Student guidance counsellors can also bring young people together in counselling sessions where thoughts are shared among people in similar circumstances," says the educational researcher.

Are you considering an education in natural sciences? Don’t think you have to be nerdy or wear specific clothes. Students at Science can easily listen to Ariana Grande and use lipgloss, states UCPH-researcher Henriette Holmegaard. Photo: Getty Images

Are you considering an education in natural sciences? Don’t think you have to be nerdy or wear specific clothes. Students at Science can easily listen to Ariana Grande and use lipgloss, states UCPH-researcher Henriette Holmegaard. Photo: Getty Images

Come out and experience the place in real life

Besides sharing thoughts with friends and family, it is a good idea to contact the educational institutions that a person is considering. Holmegaard points out that while this can be accomplished by phone, it is best done in person,

"Call the university’s student counselling office, go to Open House events or better yet, sneak into a lecture and experience what it’s like to study psychology, physics or computer science," she says.

Interest in a particular field is not necessarily enough when it comes to educational choices, explains Holmegaard.

"Sure, there needs to be an immediate interest, but that can rarely stand on its own. Factors such as long commutes or whether you will need to be far away from family and friends, the study culture – for example, whether the studies are mostly practical or theoretical – as well as what type of employment after beyond graduation also come into play. The best way to get a feel of these considerations is to visit the actual programme," she says.

Science or the humanities?

If you are lucky enough to have a sense for both poetry and proteins, choosing between the sciences or humanities can be tough.

"Many young people are tempted by both directions and there are many examples of students hopping from one scientific field to another over the course of their studies. Here, it isn’t just the course content that’s important, but whether one has many hours of scheduled coursework – the hallmark of a number of science programmes – or whether a person prefers independent study, which is more frequently the case in the humanities," says Henriette Holmegaard.

Again, she underscores the importance of visiting the programmes in person, observing the study environment, investigating courses to find out if they mainly involve group work or independent assignments, etc.

It’s a good idea to consider if you are primarily interested in a more individual student environment with few lectures or if you prefer working in groups, says Henriette Holmegaard. Photo: Getty Images

It’s a good idea to consider if you are primarily interested in a more individual student environment with few lectures or if you prefer working in groups, says Henriette Holmegaard. Photo: Getty Images

SCIENCE students can easily wear lip gloss and listen to Ariana Grande

Stereotypes about ‘science types’ abound and are well-worth challenging, according to Henriette Holmegaard.

"There’s a sense among some people that one has to be exceptionally smart and that science programmes are outrageously rigorous. These perceptions begin early on in schooling, when youth are presented with images of nerdy, clever, male researchers who have a certain look," she explains, adding:

"Notions of what science is and who the sciences are for can prevent some young girls from seeing themselves in the field. The fact is, is that we in the natural sciences need all kinds of students, including girls who listen to Ariana Grande or wear lip gloss. We need to change the narrative about the sciences as only being the domain for very nerdy students with particular clothes  -  the sciences are for everyone.”

Can a person avoid the wrong choice?

While careful consideration is vital prior to deciding on an educational pathway, it is no guarantee that you'll make the right choice on your first go. It is important to remember that you as a student can steer your programme towards what interests you along the way, explains our learning expert.

"There is no singularly right choice. If you choose to study something and regret it along the way, you can often change electives or your graduate education down the road. Indeed, educational programmes aren't as rigid as one may think. And with regards to future employment, a single line of study can lead in many different directions," she says.

When students drop out of their programmes from time to time, it is often because their expectations of a programme and the reality of it do not match, explains Holmegaard – a view supported by research.

"If a programme fails to live up to what the student expected, they will drop out. That is why it is vital for universities to communicate as objectively and realistically as possible about their programmes. And as a student, the best thing you can do is to get out and get a feel for the programme’s atmosphere yourself," she concludes.

To find out more about the University of Copenhagen’s various programmes of study, visit: https://studier.ku.dk/

Contact

Henriette Tolstrup Holmegaard
Associate Professor
Department of Science Education
University of Copenhagen
+45 35 32 03 86
htholmegaard@ind.ku.dk

Ida Eriksen
Journalist
Faculty of Science
University of Copenhagen
+45 93 51 60 02
ier@science.ku.dk

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