Why your module choices matter more than you think

RateMyPlacementon 21 January 2016
Yellow warning sign saying "tough decisions ahead"

Now more than ever, it's important to squeeze every bit of value out of your university degree. If you don't, you're only short-changing yourself.

Why? Because you have to remember that you're paying thousands of pounds in tuition fees – not to mention the fact that you're also probably paying out a pretty penny towards your accommodation (unless of course you're one of the lucky / unlucky ones staying at home while doing your degree).

One of the ways in which you can make the most out of your time at university is by studying topics that actually interest you, as well as areas that can help you become more employable. Modules are the key to this. But just what the heck are they?

Modules – boring word, exciting possibilities

A module sounds about as exciting as a stick of celery, but if you have the chance to select your own modules then it's worth taking the time to look through all your options carefully. Essentially, every year of a university degree course is split up into different modules, which have different values and count towards your final grade for that year.

So, for example: if your whole university year is made up of a total of 120 credits, the value of your modules will have to add up to that amount. That could include two year-long modules worth 40 credits each, plus one extra module in the first semester and another in the second (worth 20 credits each).

Still with us? Good. Essentially, modules are a way of customising your course to make it more interesting and relevant to you.

Choosing modules provides exciting possibilities

Different courses, different rules

We are not exaggerating when we say that there are more university courses to choose from now than ever before. There are literally hundreds - and some are more flexible than others when it comes to what modules you can choose to study.

Generally speaking, each year of your course will consist of core modules that make up the bulk of your studies. While you may not be able to swap these around too much, you often get more freedom to pick smaller supplementary modules that appeal to you, or will help you develop key skills that employers want.

For instance, if you were to study towards a BSc in Biochemistry, you'd expect to start off by learning the fundamentals of this scientific discipline before you move on to more advanced (specialist) areas. However, you'd still probably be given the chance to pick an optional module to study, which could be specifically science-related, though it could be something else entirely, such as a language.

choosing optional modules at university

How modules can make you more employable

Optional modules, while unlikely to make or break your degree, can make a difference to both your final qualification and your employability.

Take, for example, a business degree. While a business degree can be very useful when it comes to helping you learn the skills required to succeed in industries like consultancy, you can use optional modules to add a bit of variety to your skill set and CV.

If you choose to undertake optional course modules in economics, you might find that you have a real interest in finance. Or if you chose to try your hand at modules in public relations (PR) or advertising, you could go into account management roles at agencies.

Going to University makes you more employable

Combine modules with work experience

Placements and internships go a long way towards making you more employable, but there can be plenty of competition for places on these programmes. As such, employers will want to see evidence of how ambitious a candidate is and whether they're a good fit for their organisation when they are looking for students to take on.

Having some relevant (completed) modules under your belt already may help you show that you're genuinely interested in the industry in which they operate. This will help you stand out, and could be the difference between whether you're asked to take part in an interview or not.

Use your crystal ball

The great thing about university is that you'll quickly learn about the importance of planning ahead. While it's totally up to you how much work you do and how much effort you choose to put in, the truth is that, in order to get the most out of the experience, you need to start planning for success from the early days.

This involves finding out what modules you can do in the first year, and also whether this will influence modules you can do in the future (e.g. do any advanced modules require you to have undertaken 'foundation' modules beforehand?).

From the start of your first year, you should be able to find out from your lecturers what the course structure is, as well as finding the information on the university's website.

Planning what to study at University


As the core modules are generally locked in place, when picking optional modules you need to be careful that they don't clash with each other. This shouldn't be too much of a problem with modules on single honours courses (i.e. you are only studying one subject), as they should have been taken into account as part of the course structure (e.g. optional science modules as part of a science course).

However, if you're picking a 'free' module that's not directly related to your degree, you'll need to make sure there are no divided loyalties. This can also be an issue for joint honours students (i.e. students studying two subjects together, e.g. English and Art), as module timetables may be released at different times and clash, so be prepared to change your choice if you have to.

What does the module involve?

As you probably know by now, different modules are taught in different ways. Some will be quite heavy with the lectures, while others may involve smaller group sessions, or certain modules could be very much focused on independent study and research, with minimal lecture time.

As such, take a look at each module's structure, as well as how they're assessed. Some may be entirely exam-based, some may focus on coursework, or they could be a bit of both. So think about how you'd prefer to learn.

Choose what to study at University based on what you enjoy

When picking modules...

Ask yourself the following questions. These should help to point you in the right direction.

  • Is the module relevant to the career you want?
  • Is the subject interesting to you?
  • How transferable are the skills you'll learn (e.g. experience in economics, marketing, business or law is easily transferable)?
  • Are employers looking for those skills?
  • Do the teaching methods suit you (e.g. is it lecture intensive, or more about independent learning)?
  • Is there anyone who can support / guide you (e.g. career / placement officers, personal tutors)?
  • How will the module be assessed?

And whatever you end up choosing, make sure you enjoy it!

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RateMyPlacementon 21 January 2016