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University is an exciting time in a young person’s life, but it also involves a lot of big decisions. Choosing the right university in which to study is fraught with dilemmas, for instance, yet it’s nothing compared to the decision of what to study. You have to think long term and seriously consider how your choice is going to affect the rest of your career – a frightening prospect when you’re leaving home for the first time.
Therefore, it helps to understand what university and college courses can be considered a solid bet, especially if you’re not too sure what to settle on. The degrees on this list are all highly employable, with many of them representing a flexible pathway into a variety of industries; they are also valued in industries that are only set to grow and expand.
So, if you’re struggling to make up your mind, then why not consider one of these nine choices? These are the best courses to study at university.
Deciding to become a nurse is one of the safest career choices there is; wherever you go in the world, nursing skills are in demand. It’s a highly rewarding profession, too, especially if you have the right temperament and mentality, while the salary scale is also highly impressive, especially if you later choose to specialize.
In most countries, nursing has become increasingly professionalised in recent years, with the traditional vocational route gradually phased out; as a result, nurses now require degrees in order to become licensed and registered. This means that there is now no other realistic way into the profession, making a nursing course highly valuable. Many countries offer bursaries and financial assistance, too, especially if there is a shortage of skilled nurses in that jurisdiction.
Some of the top nursing schools include the University of Pennsylvania, King’s College London and the University of Technology, Sydney.
Also consider: If you want to be a licensed medical practitioner, but you don’t want to commit to medical school, then paramedic science is an exciting and challenging alternative.
It may be a cliché but, in 2019, we live in the digital age, where STEM is king. One of the underpinning core subjects of STEM is, of course, mathematics, and a degree course in it can open up a whole range of possibilities.
For instance, you can apply your knowledge of advanced mathematical principles to data science and analysis, risk management, economics or financial analysis – all highly sought-after and very well-paid sectors. You can also apply mathematics to other fields, such as cryptography, cybersecurity and science; it all depends on your particular area of interest.
Graduate numbers for mathematics are relatively low in the UK and the US, so if you have a numerical aptitude, then it could be well worth considering. Some of the top universities for mathematics include Princeton, MIT and the University of Cambridge.
Also consider: A degree in statistics is more in demand than ever and can be studied at most institutions alongside mathematics, while actuarial science is a good choice if you want to pursue a risk management career.
3. Computer Science
The IT industry offers some of the highest-paid roles in the world, and a degree course in computer science can offer you direct access to a lot of them, especially if you can combine your technical knowledge with business acumen and other transferable skills.
Most software engineers hold a degree in computer science, but if programming isn’t your bag, there are opportunities in other fields such as networking, architecture and cloud management. If you’re unsure, then it’s entirely possible to top up and consolidate your skillset as you go through postgraduate study and other sought-after industry qualifications.
Some of the top computer science schools include MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon.
Also consider: Any similar computing qualification, such as IT and Computing, or a standalone specialist degree such as software engineering or cybersecurity.
4. Mechanical Engineering
Alongside the ‘M’ and the ‘T’ of STEM is the ‘E’: engineering. And while there are many different engineering specialisms, mechanical engineering is perhaps the most widely employable.
While disciplines such as petroleum engineering might pay more, mechanical engineering is a much broader field. If there are working parts involved, then a mechanical engineer is required, meaning there are opportunities across a wide variety of industries.
The added bonus of studying engineering is that there are a lot of companies willing to sponsor your tuition, so if you have an analytical mind, enjoy problem solving and are good with numbers, then this could be a very wise move.
Some of the top engineering schools include Stanford, MIT and ETH Zurich.
Also consider: Other employable engineering disciplines, such as electrical engineering, aerospace engineering or chemical engineering.
5. Marketing / Business Studies
There’s an increasingly vocal argument that, to become a successful entrepreneur, you don’t need to waste money on an expensive degree course. However, while there is indeed evidence to suggest that you can conquer business on your own, not everybody is Richard Branson or Bill Gates.
Therefore, a strong grounding in marketing or business studies is a good choice. Besides, not everybody wants to go it alone, and if you’re planning on scaling the heights of the corporate world, then this is a good place to start. Marketing, in particular, is a sector that is evolving rapidly, with talented and creative minds always in demand.
It’s possible to get your business hat on late in the game, too, with many corporate risers choosing to study MBAs or other management qualifications. Top schools in this field include INSEAD, Stanford and the Wharton School of Business at UPenn.
Another highly durable industry that is withstanding the STEM barrage is law. Becoming a lawyer offers a whole range of career options, with the opportunity to specialise in whatever field you find most interesting (or, indeed, financially lucrative).
Although there are now moves in certain countries to make the lawyer pathway more accessible to nongraduates, a law degree is still a highly essential steppingstone towards getting a training contract and passing the bar. Alternatively, if you don’t want to pursue a career in the legal field, a law degree is also highly valued in other industries, including real estate, politics or even client representation.
Some of the best law schools in the world include Harvard, Yale and Stanford.
Also consider: Politics or international relations are a good alternative to law, covering many similar themes and often crossing over. Indeed, many universities offer law and politics as a joint degree course.
Again, you don’t necessarily have to study accounting if you want to become an accountant; there are alternative ways into the field, such as a higher apprenticeship. But you’ll have a lot more time and space to develop your accounting skills as a student, while there is also the chance to build a network of contacts – especially handy when it comes to applying for jobs.
A strong performance in your studies will also allow you to apply for internships at one of the top accounting firms in the world, such as PwC or Deloitte. If you can land a permanent job, then most of these companies will also put you through your remaining chartered exams, too, allowing you to crack on and really start making the big bucks.
Some of the best schools for accounting include Stanford, UPenn and the London School of Economics.
Also consider: Finance, business and economics are all very similar subjects, although if you want to become a chartered accountant, then it makes sense to stick with accounting at an accredited university.
While the construction industry is ultimately reliant upon external economic and political factors, there’s no denying that when the going is good, everyone benefits. And if you have the requisite skills, then architecture is one such highly lucrative and rewarding industry profession.
If you want to become an architect, then there are no two ways about it; you will need an architecture degree. It’s a big commitment, too, with the training pathway lasting upwards of seven years, with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. If you’ve got the right drive and ambition, a strong portfolio and a good network of contacts, though, then there’s no reason why you can’t start making some serious sums of money.
Some of the best architecture schools include MIT, University College London and TU Delft.
Also consider: Civil engineering, surveying and construction management require a lot of the same skills and, as these professions often work very closely with each other on projects, they could be worth looking into.
There are numerous reasons to become a doctor; it is a well-respected and highly rewarding job, with a very sizeable paycheque and the opportunity to pursue your own clinical interests as your career develops. On the flipside, getting into medical school is a notoriously competitive process, with the course itself requiring sacrifice, commitment and a whole lot of studying.
The ends certainly justify the means, however, with doctors all but guaranteed a lucrative role at the end of their training.
Johns Hopkins, Oxford and the Karolinska Institute are all among the best medical schools in the world.
Also consider: Dentistry is just as competitive as medicine, while if you’d prefer to work with animals for a living, then veterinary science could be another option. Physiotherapy and pharmacy are also solid careers.
Of course, it’s difficult to be sure that you’ve ever chosen the right course and, just because there are good job prospects and financial stability at the end of it, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the right course for you.
As a starting point, though, these are some great options to consider and, hopefully, provide you with some inspiration as you start your university application process.
Further university reading:
Are you heading off to university soon? What are you thinking of studying? Let us know in the comments section below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 22 September 2017.