Head or heart? What should I study at university?

There will be many times in your life when you have to make an agonising decision. Often your head will be telling you to do one thing, while you heart is telling you to do another. Should you go with the seemingly sensible option, or should you go with the option that inspires you and gets you excited?

It can be like this when you're deciding what to study at university, and also when you're deciding which university to go to. Sometimes your head is telling you to do the sensible thing and chase the secure job, the money or the more highly ranked university. But then something pulls at your heart strings and says “But, this is my passion, my joy and my genius. It's where I feel comfortable, inspired and at home.”

What should I study at university

Recently, Aleks (one of my dedicated blog readers) asked me to help with this very dilemma:

“I am at the point where I have to choose the degree I want to do, and write my personal statement before A2 in September. My big dilemma is that I don't know what to do. My head is telling me (and my parents) that an economics degree is safer and I can get a well paid job in London. But my heart is telling me to do an English Lit degree as its something that I'm very good at and enjoy; I'm just scared that its reading I like and not actually literature.
So – should I risk it all for a degree that might leave me unemployed, homeless and £60k in debt? Or should I just plough forward and go count money on a bank for a ridiculous salary?”
Today, I'm going to share with you my point of view on this question.
Watch the video….

What should I study at university?

When you're making big decisions like what you should study at university, you really have to have an eye for the long term. What do I mean? Well, where to you want this degree to take you? What do you want your life to look like when you graduate, or in five years' time, or even in fifteen or twenty years' time?

What's a university degree all about?

A university degree is all about passion and hard work. But, it is also an apprenticeship for higher academic study. You'll find it hard to thrive in the university environment if you don't want to spend the next three years spending several hours per day thinking about the subject you choose. You're also not going to thrive if you don't want to work hard at it.

If you haven't got the kind of passion and interest in your subject that's going to inspire you to get out of bed in the morning, read the extra book on the reading list and re-draft your essay one extra time, then it's the wrong subject for you.

Further to this, you have to understand that your lecturers and tutors are really looking for the people who are going to go on to study for a Masters degree or even a PhD. They're not looking for someone who's going to drop out or switch courses by Christmas of the first year.

If you're feeling ever so slightly flakey about the subject you've chosen, you need to do some more serious thinking.

What's your degree leading to?

When you're thinking about what to study you also need to have some idea about where you want it to lead. If you're set on studying law and becoming a solicitor are you sure you want to sit in an office doing very long hours at the expense of your personal life for years on end? Or, do you see yourself as someone who wants to settle down and have a family?

Look at your long-term lifestyle goals, not just the career options available to you. If you know you would find it difficult to work nights and cope with changing shift patterns, maybe you wouldn't thrive doing a medical degree, no matter how much you want to help people.

I have always been very clear that I wanted to have a family of my own and I didn't want to work weekends or excessively long hours. This has limited by career choices somewhat, but it has also meant that I've been happy with what I've done and the choices I've made because they fit with the lifestyle I want to lead.

Basically, I'm telling you not to start something when you know you won't like where it's taking you.

What are you actually good at?

The best piece of advice I can give you is to choose a subject that you're good at. We all thrive when we are doing things that we're naturally good at and we love. You're making life more difficult for yourself if you choose something that you're not so good at, just because you think it will earn you more money. Instead, you'll probably struggle to get a job at the next stage because it's not your natural aptitude.

When I chose my degree I had to weigh up the pros and cons of lots of subjects. I loved science but my maths was weak and I knew I'd need maths if I did science. I also loved English Literature, but I thought that I wasn't quite good enough at it to get into Cambridge, which was my ultimate goal. In the end I chose geography. It had always come very easily to me, I'd always got good marks in it without having to struggle and it incorporated science and social science, all of which I was interested in. It also meant I wasn't committing to a certain career, I was leaving my options open.

Follow your heart, not your head

Do you want a life where you feel fulfilled and inspired? Do you want to leap out of bed everyday keen to get back to work because you're so passionate about what you want to do? Do you want to feel as if you were born to be doing what you're doing?

Don't compromise yourself by choosing the ‘sensible' option. Follow your passion. At times life might be harder than if you went to work for a large corporate and got yourself into a good pension scheme. But, when you're doing what you love you'll find a way through the difficulties to make it work for you.

“What should I study at university?”

I'd love to know what you're thinking. Are you faced with a difficult decision, or is it very clear cut for you? Leave me a comment to tell me about your dilemmas and your plans and I'll try to help you work through the problem.

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