When starting out on the journey towards university, most students start looking at either the big picture, or the finer details.
Some are more concerned with specific universities. This may be because of reputation, location or family history. Others are more interested in nailing down exactly what course they want to study, and will then start searching through the UCAS website to find the right one for them. They are less concerned about which university the ideal course happens to be at.
In this article, we’re going to look at the middle ground which both types of searcher have to look into at some point – picking the right academic school or department for you.
Every university is split into schools, faculties or both, with each overseeing courses that fit under the same broad umbrella of subjects. These may then be split further into more specialised departments. For example, at Birmingham City University, our Social Sciences School sits within the same faculty as the Business and Law Schools.
These schools, and the services they offer, may be more important to your university experience than you had initially considered, so below we’re going to detail the key features you should keep an eye out for when choosing the right social sciences school for you, whether that be at Birmingham City University or beyond.
This may be the most important thing of all to look into when researching potential social sciences schools. Governing bodies can recognise both academic schools and individual courses, so their accreditations are a clear indication if the courses at any given social sciences school are up to professional standards.
If a course has accreditations, they should be clearly identifiable on their websites or prospectuses. This may not always be the case, since some new courses won’t gain accreditation straight away and some subject areas do not have professional accrediting bodies. However, if you don’t find them on the course page, it’s worthwhile dropping the university a line to find out.
For example, all psychology courses must gain accreditation to be professionally recognised, which is why all of the psychology courses within our School of Social Sciences are accredited by the British Psychological Society.
Universities will also work with professional bodies when designing new courses to make sure they are up to professional standards. Our BSc (Hons) Professional Policing degree is licensed by the policing professional body, the College of Policing, and our BA (Hons) Youth Work and Communities course has accreditation from the Joint Negotiating Committee, with whom our staff worked to design the degree.
You have probably scoped out the accommodation and campus of each of the universities you’re considering, but it’s also worth looking into what facilities are available to you that are specific to a social sciences school. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about social sciences courses, as they aren’t as dependent on specialist equipment as creative or engineering courses, but some universities have invested in industry-standard equipment for courses that can benefit from them.
One example to look out for is the availability of testing space for psychology students. Specialised psychology equipment, such as eye tracking hardware and EEG scanners, and software are important, but quality social sciences schools should also provide dedicated psychology testing labs for experiments.
Alongside facilities offered on-campus, it is also worth keeping in mind a social sciences school’s geographic location, for more than one reason. Firstly, it’s useful to look for any information the school offers about their connections to local organisations. Social sciences schools will naturally want to have good relations with the organisations on their door step, from local police services to social outreach programmes – it can mean placement and job opportunities for students, and allow for industry experts from the local area to come to the university to give talks.
But, thinking further ahead, a university located in an area with a lot of related organisations means you as a student have a better chance of both gaining experience during your course, and landing a job following graduation, especially if you intend to stay in the same area once your course is finished. Do some research into local organisations related to the course you’d like to study, and it may become apparent that some areas have larger numbers in some areas than others, which could sway your decision.
Speaking of placements, it’s worth considering if taking a sandwich or professional placement year during your course to get industry experience is right for you. If you feel you could benefit from one, it’s definitely worth looking for social sciences schools that offer them.
Graduating with not only your academic skills but also work experience can put you ahead of a lot of other graduates when looking for a job. Furthermore, make sure you look into other employability services offered by your social sciences school – do they have a dedicated careers team who can help you gain those non-academic skills, such as interview prep and CV writing?
Another aspect of university life you may not have thought to look into is the teaching staff. On a course page, you may get a small sampling of the key lecturers on a course, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. It is worth looking into, as it can really show the overall strength of a department.
Social sciences schools want not only the best teachers, but also individuals with major experience in the field. The greater the number of teaching staff that have actual professional experience to call on, the higher the probability of the course being more up-to-date and relevant to current professional practice. And from a student point of view, who better to learn from than someone who has held major positions in industry - roles you yourself may one day want to hold?
Another related area to look into is the research areas the social sciences school operates in. These research clusters are predominantly made up of staff and postgraduate students, so may not be immediately relevant to undergraduate students, but they can point towards the subject areas the school specialises in. If they have a large and prominent crime research cluster, that usually means they have a strong teaching base in that area.