What are the most popular courses for students in the UK?


What are the most popular courses for students in the UK?

With esteemed universities, steeped in history, and thousands of course options to choose between, the UK is an excellent place to embark on further education. Whether you are interested in a particular university or a specific course really stands out to you, it is a wonderful time to approach further study.

More students than ever embarked on university courses last year. Naturally, this means that courses are more competitive than ever. But which degrees are the most appealing, and to whom? We look at some of the most consistent degree choices, and some that have fallen out of favour with the millennial bunch in education today.

Find out which courses are the most popular

Medical-related subjects took the prize for the most popular areas of study during 2018/19. This includes students studying pre-clinical Medicine, pre-clinical Dentistry, Nutrition and Pharmacy with 254,000 applicants. In second place was Biological Sciences with 221,000 applicants and in third was Business and Admin Studies with 207,000.

‘Non-European language, Lit and related’ courses on the other hand, saw a stark decline of applicants, proving to be the least popular area (with only 4,070 applicants)This low figure has contributed towards some universities considering closing the course altogether.

Do delve further into these patterns, Newcastle College gathered some interesting information from its 19+ students. According to the college (which has published the Newcastle College Ofsted report), around 187,000 students are currently studying a higher education course at a college in the UK, highlighting a high number of people wanting to retrain or improve on qualifications at a later age. Out of the subjects that they have available, 30% enrolled onto Access to Nursing and Midwifery, with the next popular being Bio-chemical science (20%), Art and Design (15%) and Law (15%).

The results of their enquiries show that practical courses (e.g. engineering and construction) are the most popular among older learners. The construction industry leads the way, then Health followed by Automotive.

The numbers speak for themselves

A record-breaking number of applicants applied to university during the 2018/19 entry year — 511, 960 UK students to be precise! This equates to 41.9 per cent of the 18-year-old population in England, a new record, with 321,220 out of 765,845 taking the decision to go to university.

So, does that mean students are achieving higher grades than ever? Or, are universities being more flexible and allowing more students through their doors than they have in previous years? Or perhaps simply more teenagers are considering continuing their academic experience as a bridge to getting the careers the want.

In response to this trend, the chief executive of UCAS, Clare Marchant, said “These numbers confirm the enduring appeal of the full-time degree experience in its own right and as a gateway to a fulfilling career. The significant increases in applications from EU and international students demonstrate the continuing popularity of UK higher education.”

What about the STEM gap?

The STEM subject divide is clear, and there are a whole array of reasons why this is the case. One could be a pipeline issue, where the encouragement in schools for girls to take these subjects isn’t as apparent as it is for boys. Other more traditional perspectives points towards the biological differences between men and women, but recent meta-analyses of this area of focus show that girls in fact match or outperform their male counterparts in STEM subjects in this country, although tend to perform worse on timed tests.

Of course, this divide could also be socially fabricated. ‘Social belongingness’, where students pick the subjects they wish to take at Further or Higher Education as a result of more of their gender being present, feeling they would fit in better and succeed more. If this is the case, then self-efficacy could play a part in the popularity of courses for women. Even in one of the most gender-neutral countries in the world, Sweden, and despite the evidence that their marks weren’t necessarily lower and better than their male counterparts, they still seemed to be succumbing to the stereotypes that women aren’t as capable in these subjects.

Does gender contribute to the decision?

Another thing that has been found to influence applications for certain courses is gender. For a number of years now, a widening gender gap trend is occurring in the UK. UCAS figures from the year 18/19 show that there were 98,000 more female applicants than males, with similar figures for the previous year, and double that of 2007 statistics.

Nursing is the degree in which female applicants most overwhelmingly outweigh male applicants. The second biggest is Psychology, followed by Social Work, Education and Design. The flipside to that is the continuing trend of less women choosing subjects related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). The subject that favoured women the most was Medicine, with 208, 460 applicants, and the least popular was technologies with only 1,230 applicants.

Business and Admin Studies proved to be the most popular course for male applicants. Around 117,650 applying to take the course. The least popular was Non-European Languages, Literature and related studies, mirroring that of the overall student population.

Gender divides and stereotypes famously begin in the classroom. But in order to attract more girls into STEM subjects, these stereotypes need exposing and quashing. One way to do this has been to exaggerate the role models available in these areas to women with many groups and organisations, one being Speakezee, sending female STEM graduates into schools and colleges to inspire the next wave.


No matter what the statistics tell us, the perfect course is out there for everyone. The options are truly endless!










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