This article will help you decide what to study, and at which university. We provide practical tips on how to compare universities, how to prepare for open days and who to talk to at these events.
When choosing a course, it is important that you are interested in the subject. Although not vital, it also helps to think of what career or further study you intend to pursue in order to give you the best possible chance of success in that area.
Courses are taught via a variety of different methods including lectures, seminars, and practical sessions. Your course may include placement, field trips and residentials which will take place off campus in a wide variety of locations.
Most courses are assessed by a variety of methods which could include exams, written work, presentations, projects, practical assessments. It is likely that your course will include some group work.
You will usually study 6 modules every academic year, these are subtopics of your overall course. Some of these you will be able to choose and some will be compulsory. By passing your modules you will collect credits which will enable you to progress on your course. It is common that all students enjoy and excel in some areas above others, however each module is as important as another and all will contribute to your progression.
How could this affect me?
Choosing the right course for you is the most important choice you make when deciding whether or not to go to University. Being informed about the content of the course, how it is taught and the methods of assessment may help you to decide which course is right for you.
And if you do start a course and you find it is not the one for you, there are options to change or start an alternative course.
Once you have decided on a course of study, you then have the often tricky task of finding a suitable university at which to study it! There are many factors to take into account when deciding on a university; probably the first question you need to ask yourself is, ‘Do I want to live away from home?’ This is a major consideration for any student, and autistic students can find it particularly challenging.
Take up opportunities to visit the different universities, look around the campuses, visit the accommodation, and try and speak to the tutors… really try and get a feel for what life there would be like.
What to do next?
Find out more about the courses you are interested in
It is really important that you find out more about the university and the course, how it is taught and assessed before deciding if it is for you.
Find out what is important to you
If you are visiting several different universities, it can become confusing, and easy to lose track of what was on offer at each; take a camera and note pad, and jot down important details. Some students have found it useful to have a spreadsheet to compare the facilities and courses on offer; you may want to consider things like:
- distance to travel between accommodation and campus/department buildings
- fees (tuition and any other costs you would be expected to pay for equipment etc.)
- cost of accommodation and living expenses
- how many hours tuition you will have a week
- autism awareness of tutors
- autism support by the disability services team (at Sheffield University this is the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service)
- how inclusive the course material is, i.e. does it cater for a variety of student preferences?
- reasonable adjustments typically available
- library facilities
- availability of quiet study areas
- extracurricular activities
Each student will have their own priorities when it comes to what is important for them!
Understand the entire course structure
Autistic students have told us that they often struggle with understanding how the different modules or units in a course relate to each other, and why they are all required. When you go to an open day, ask the relevant course leader to explain this. Often the names of modules within a course do not reveal much about the content – again ask the course leader or module tutor to give you more information.
Speak to students
Often, open days are hosted by current students, sometimes called ‘Student Ambassadors’. Have a chat with them if possible, to get their first-hand impressions of how it is to study there. Our advice is to be open about your autism, and explain what you like, what you don’t like, and what you’re good at.
It is also helpful to contact the Disability Support Service before visiting, to arrange for an appointment with a Disability Adviser on the day (if possible), so that they can explain their support policies. Let the university know about any any particular support needs for the open day when you register, should you require it. The Disability Service might have an information stall at the Open Day where you can go to for general advice and information.
Use our Best Practice Guides to prepare
We have put together a set of Best Practice Guides for academics and disability staff to help them support autistic students better. They are full of practical tips and you can use these guides as references when talking to professionals – to find out what the university already does in terms of support, and what they could do better in the future. You can download the guides at www.autism-uni.org/bestpractice.
Questions to think about
Some points to consider when choosing where and what to study:
- What are you interested in? Is this an area of study that can lead to a career at the end of the course?
- Do you want to live at home and commute to the university?
- Would you be happy living independently away from home?
- Are you aware of the workload that is required for your course? (Remember that much of your time will be spent in independent study)
- How is the course assessed?
- Does the course require you to make additional purchases of equipment? (Some courses require the purchase of high spec computer equipment, for example, which can prove to be very expensive if you are not prepared for it!)
- Have you researched what support the university can offer autistic students?
- What is the social life like? (Not all students enjoy the livelier aspects of university life! Check with the Students’ Union to see what clubs and societies are on offer.)
- Does the University run a Social Group for autistic students?
Additional information and links
- Download the Autism&Uni Best Practice Guides to help you prepare for an open day.
- The Guardian’s University Guide gives students information and tips for choosing a course and university.
- Find out more about the courses offered at The University of Sheffield.