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Choosing a degree: reconcile your interests with what you study

How can students maximise their potential and interests, against expectations or pressures on them? A law student with distinctive interests shares her story.

  • Student life
Noorin Malik's avatar

Noorin Malik

December 18 2015
Lone bird on telephone wire


When I picked my A-Levels my subjects ranged from what might get me into an accounting career, a languages career, a politics, or law career. I have always liked the idea of a diverse career path, or so I believed. I kept my options open because I didn’t know what I wanted, not because I had enjoyed the variety in the first place.  When I applied for a law degree I based my decision on nothing other than the highest grades I had achieved. My achievement had shown me what I would be best at. Which is great, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t. It isn’t, because my achievement hadn’t reflected my interests, and it took me my first year at university to realise this. I had picked a career path I was not interested in pursuing.

Dealing with uncertainty

So what do I do now? Do I throw away a year’s effort for another degree? Did I just spend £9,000 for nothing? Is it worth starting afresh? I was plagued with uncertainty over the summer holidays and my end of year results didn’t make me feel any better: A 2:2 sitting on the border of a 2:1. I was gutted. I was confused, angry and disappointed with myself because now I was not only on a course I didn’t enjoy but I had gotten a grade I was not used to. If you have been a straight As student all through your studies, a 2:2 feels like the end of the world, but then again, many feelings are temporary.

If I had to point out the lesson I have learned it would be that interdisciplinary interests are the key to success. In other words, try to think of a way in which you can reconcile your interests with what you are studying. What are your hobbies? How can you use your degree to enhance those interests? Chances are that somebody has taken that career path already but you haven’t heard of them yet.

Define your interests

I know that I love to write and want to become an author. How can you possibly fit authorship into a law degree without writing textbooks? Has there even been a law graduate that turned her back on black-letter law and took a different route? I hadn’t heard of anyone at the time but what I did know was that it was social issues I am interested in. I want to research them, put them into a legal context using the skills I am picking up from my degree, and go away and write.

Now that’s done, I found my interest. You need to find yours. This is not yet the stage of linking your interest to your degree. All you need to do is identify what you enjoy. There is an easy way of doing that: Take a blank sheet of paper and a pen and make a list of any- and everything that defines you. It’s about you, not the degree course you are enrolled on.

Having done that, how can you link it to what you are studying? It won’t be easy but putting a decision into practice is always better than the uncertainty. The best place to start is, in my view, the networking platform on which you can interact with alumni. Another option is to speak to your personal tutor. Chances are that they have tons of experience and have met a lot of diverse individuals, so they will be able to guide you somehow. You could also check the ‘following’ list of your lecturers on twitter if they are even remotely linked to your interests – trust me, my lecturers had brilliant connections I didn’t even know existed. My link was the Law & Society module in my second year when I was introduced to socio-legal study. I have been studying with a positive outlook into the future since.

Break away from expectations

Uncertainty is not bad. You might be told that you are wasting away your degree because you are not conforming to what a ‘sensible’ person on that degree course would do, but at least you have picked something for yourself that you enjoy. How would you feel if you were to seek a lawyer and find out that the individual never wanted to be one? The same goes for a doctor or an accountant or a teacher or even an author. The outcome of your work at its practical stage will lack enthusiasm and efficiency and no one will be blamed but you.

So, before you find yourself in a job that is not suited to you because your own interests conflict with it, break away from societal expectations and find something interdisciplinary. Uncertainty might be something that most people around you do not struggle with (I haven’t met a single student who is studying law and does not want to be a solicitor/barrister) but know that it is not uncommon.

It is acceptable to change your mind about your career options a third or even half way through your course. I have even met people that have made such drastic changes to their career path that they have undertaken a second degree to pursue that interest. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s all approved - approved by no one but yourself. 

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