Thinking About University

You've probably heard of university. But do you know what it's all about? Find out why people go and what they get out of it.

University Lecture Theatre

What is university?

After school, many people decide to continue their learning at a university.

A bit like at school, universities allow you to gain a qualification in a subject you’ve chosen to study. At university though, these qualifications – called degrees – are at a higher level, in fact pretty much the highest you can get. With one of them under your belt, you’ll be able to aim for all sorts of jobs that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. 

Why go? 

There are lots of reasons why people choose to go to university: 

Many jobs require you to have completed a university degree before you can start. For a lot of people, going to university helps them get a better, higher paid job.

It might be your favourite subject from school or it might be something completely new. There’s all kinds of subjects you can study at university. Whatever you choose, you’ll spend between 3 and 5 years learning in classes, discussing topics with other students, and producing work of your own.

It’s not all about the work. You’re a young adult, free of school, able to meet new people and try new things… There’s a lot of fun to be had.


We’ve spoken to lots of students about the reasons they chose to go to university. Find out what they had to say: HERE

What kind of subjects can you study?

There’s a big variety of subjects you can study at university. Some, like Dentistry or Engineering, prepare you for a specific career – you’ll need a degree in those subjects if you want a job in that area. Many people study more general subjects though, like History or Spanish or Maths. Degrees like these are useful for all sorts of jobs and will give you skills that will help you in whatever career you choose.

Here’s a few examples of subjects you can study at university. Have a look and see what they involve…

If you want to be a doctor, you’ll need a degree in Medicine. You’ll study for 5 years, learning all about the human body and how to treat illnesses. Outside the classroom, you’ll gain experience in hospitals, putting what you’ve learned into practice with real patients.

Many subjects at university don’t prepare you for one specific career. They give you skills that will be useful in all sorts of jobs and allow you to study something you enjoy in depth. During a History degree, you’ll study different eras of the past, uncovering the changes and the forces that have shaped human society. You’ll look for information in sources and debate the causes and effects of historic events. Many people who study History go on to become teachers, researchers, journalists, or politicians.

A French degree will allow you to develop your skills in the French language to a high standard. You'll also learn about French culture and traditions. During a 4 year degree you’ll spend one year studying abroad in a French-speaking nation. Degrees in other languages like Spanish, German and Italian will involve the same. Many people who study a language at university go on to become teachers, diplomats, or translators.

In Politics, you will discuss and debate how laws are made, how governments work, and how people share and exercise power. A degree in Politics could be an excellent start to a career as a journalist, a politician, or a civil servant.

If you want to be an engineer - using science, maths, and technology to solve practical problems - you’ll need a degree. There are many different types of Engineering that you can study at university, including Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Civil Engineering. You’ll put your knowledge of maths and science into practice, learning how to design, create, and improve the products and the processes that surround us in the world.

Law is the study of the rules and principles under which we live. There are many different areas of law, affecting everything from property to business, crime to commerce, media to human rights. During a Law degree you’ll study all of these and more, learning how to debate and defend arguments. If you want to be a lawyer – a solicitor, an advocate, or a judge – you’ll need a Law degree. Many people move into other careers too, such as politics, social work, or the civil service.

You can study different types of Music degree at university. Some are all about becoming an expert at your chosen instrument - most professional classical musicians follow this path. Others focus more on music history and culture, while some universities offer degrees in Music Technology. People with these degrees very often go on to become popular musicians, sound engineers, or music teachers.

If you want to be a journalist, working in radio, TV, newspapers, or online, a degree in Journalism would be an excellent start. During your degree, you’ll learn how to research and report news, you’ll develop your communication skills, and you’ll work with others on practical assignments, uncovering news stories and presenting them in print or on camera.

Chemistry is the study of matter, of atoms and molecules, and the way they interact. During a degree, you’ll study this massive area in depth, carrying out experiments in labs and learning how chemistry is involved in everything from industry to medicine to the environment. Many people who study Chemistry at university go on to become chemists, working in areas like health, energy, or manufacture.

Some people get jobs in jewellery or fashion design after gaining a degree at a university like the Glasgow School of Art. Many others begin their career at college. A college qualification in Jewellery Design will give you the practical skills needed to enter the profession.

What kind of jobs require a university degree?

Today, a lot of jobs require you to have a university degree. In many cases, it won’t matter what subject your degree is in. Just having one shows that you’re able to work to a high standard. However, there are some jobs that require you to have a degree in a specific subject.

Have a look at these examples…

Whether you want to be a GP or a hospital doctor, you’ll need a degree in Medicine. Doctors spend five years at university learning the science and practical skills needed to diagnose and treat medical problems.

If you want to be a primary school teacher, you’ll need a degree in Primary Education. Secondary school teachers need two degrees: they spend four years studying the subject they want to teach (History, French, Maths etc.), then one year learning how to teach it.

If you want to be a nurse, in a hospital, a doctor’s surgery, or out in the community, you’ll need a degree in Nursing. You’ll spend 3 or 4 years learning the caring, management, and practical skills needed to look after patients.

Architects design new buildings and help to adapt or restore old ones. To become a professional, they need a degree in Architecture. Over 4 years, they’ll develop the skills of design, analysis and observation needed to pursue this career.

Civil engineers plan and design construction projects, from roads to bridges, airports to power stations. Just like mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, environmental engineers and others, civil engineers need a university degree in that subject. They’ll spend up to 5 years developing the scientific and practical skills and knowledge needed to pursue this career.

If you want to be a physiotherapist, using exercises to treat patients with physical problems, you’ll need a degree in Physiotherapy. As well as learning the science behind the human body, you’ll have practical lessons to develop your skills.

If you want to be a vet, you’ll need a degree in Veterinary Medicine. In order to learn how to treat animals, big and small, you’ll spend 5 years training at a university. You’ll learn the science behind the medicine and develop the practical skills needed to perform treatment and surgery in the workplace.

If you want to be a lawyer – a solicitor or an advocate – you’ll need to go to university. Solicitors give legal advice to clients on a whole range of issues, while advocates can represent a client in court. Both jobs require a degree in Law. After 4 years studying the ins and outs of legal practice at university, they then spend one more year taking the exams that qualify them to work as a professional lawyer. 

Social workers work with vulnerable children and adults in the community, helping to provide support, care, and protection. Today, to qualify as a professional, you need a degree in Social Work.

Who goes?

All sorts of people go to university. More than 35,000 students began a university degree in Scotland last year. Most come straight from school; some might be a bit older; some might come from other countries to study here. Wherever you’re from, university could be for you.

And wherever you’re going… Did you know that all these famous faces went to university? Have a look at what subjects they studied.


Have you looked at Thinking About College?