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SPS student voices and experiences
Course choices: explore your options and discover something new

Course choices: explore your options and discover something new

Blog by Katie, Sociology

As we approach Welcome Week, Katie takes us through her experience with making her course choices – the range of courses she selected, how they’ve helped her in her studies, work and volunteering outside of university, and how it ended up changing her direction of study. She’s got loads of tips to help you choose what’s right for you.


Welcome to Edinburgh! We’re so pleased to have you here. In my opinion, one of the best things about studying in Scotland is our approach to education. We really emphasise breadth as well as depth at the University of Edinburgh, which means you have the opportunity to study courses outside your subject area  in your first two years (and sometimes beyond!). These courses can be almost anything you like, from a range of different disciplines and schools. It’s a fantastic opportunity to broaden your understanding of your own subject, to encounter new approaches, to meet new people and to develop your professional knowledge profile.

My experience

In first and second year I really wanted to make the most of studying different subjects and I’m so glad I did. I literally wouldn’t be where I am now without my electives. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually started out studying for an English Literature degree. In my first semester I took Sociology as an elective course and completely fell in love. I continued it throughout first year, which made it really easy to change my degree from English Lit to Sociology.

Tip: if there’s another subject you nearly chose as your degree, take it as an elective in first and second year. If you complete all of  the same courses as the students in that degree you’ll hopefully be able to switch over if you want to.

As well as using electives to find the right degree for me, I was also able to explore all sorts of different areas that interested me, which has been amazing for my understanding of my own degree subject, as well as giving me relevant experience and knowledge for my career.

First year

In first year, I took Scottish Studies 1A: Conceptualising Scotland and Community Education: Theory, Policy and Politics. Scottish Studies would be an amazing course for international students as it goes into many aspects of Scottish life – from music and literature to politics – but it was also really interesting as a Scottish person. It taught me how to hold up a critical lens to things that seem normal or natural from my perspective, which has been absolutely invaluable in everything I’ve studied since. Community Education was a lovely course to join for a semester; the cohort was much smaller than English and Sociology so it was easy to get to know classmates and lecturers. The focus of this course was ideology and how this informs education. This basic grounding in ideologies has been super useful, particularly as I’ve gone on to do more electives to do with policy and education – I still cite the course textbook regularly.

Second year

In second year, I began to take a policy focus as I realised this was an area of interest for me in terms of my career. Social Policy and Society provided a really good basic grounding in the subject, and Evidence, Politics and Policy, whilst tricky, really helped me understand the importance of good evidence in policymaking. I have worked with the Scottish Government on strategic policymaking for around four years, and these courses have definitely helped me understand the scope of policy and how best to use evidence to inform decision making.

I also took International Development, Aid and Humanitarianism and Creative Social Work and the Arts in second year, which are very different to anything else I’ve done. International Development was completely fascinating; I loved learning about things I’m interested in (inequalities, development and policy) on a global level, and picking through the complexities and nuances of aid within the context of coloniality. Creative Social Work was great fun. I do a lot of youth work already so I really enjoyed learning about other kinds of frontline work with vulnerable groups, and how artistic and creative approaches can be helpful. I applied some of the methods I learnt here to my policy work with the Scottish Government, using the arts to engage teenagers in policymaking.

Tip: take things which will help you in your career – the knowledge and experience still counts, even if you don’t do formal joint honours.

Honours years

As I’m in honours now, most of the courses I do cover different aspects of Sociology, but I’m still seeking breadth whenever I can by taking other subjects from elsewhere in the School of Social and Political Science. Last year I got to further explore my interest in education by taking Educational Politics and Policy, and this year I will be taking Governing the Social. I also still use readings and ideas from my first and second year electives as I progress through my Honours Sociology courses and dissertation.

Tip: even in third and fourth year, don’t be afraid to ask if you can take courses from other subjects in your school.

Conclusion: the value of electives

So, as you can see, the elective courses I’ve taken have been hugely beneficial to me, both in terms of being better at my actual degree and regarding career development. Every course I’ve taken from other subject areas has added more theory and context to my understanding, which is really useful for making connections between disciplines and areas of work.

I’d really encourage you to make the most of your course choices. Don’t be afraid to take something a bit different, something you’ve never done before, or something from another school. You never know, you might end up loving it so much you change degrees like I did.


Normally we have an options fair to explore the courses on offer, but this year it has been replaced with a virtual Course Options Hub. There’s a video from each school explaining everything you need to know about choosing courses. You can find the SPS one here. Happy choosing!


Banner image by the climate reality project on Unsplash.

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