My son in Year 10 recently asked me what is the best subject when choosing your A level subjects, to get into university. I thought for a while and then said Maths, because more university courses specify Maths A level than any other subject. However, there is a BIG BUT. The BIG BUT is that there are many more courses that do not specify any subjects, and the courses that do specify Maths A level require a C or above in it.

The biggest considerations when choosing your A level subjects are:

  • Which subjects do you enjoy studying?
  • Which subjects are you best at?
  • What do you want to do when you leave school?

Some university courses do require or prefer specific A level subjects. It’s also true that some subjects can prevent you from getting onto certain courses so it is good to do your homework before deciding and is a good starting point.

Competitive courses that specify particular subjects:

Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Sciences – Biology and Chemistry should be included in your A level choices. Some courses specify Chemistry and one other science or Maths, while others specify Biology and one other science or Maths but generally if the two are together, it will satisfy all courses. The third subject is up to you. Any facilitating or strong subject is equally as good. The main factor is that you will be required to get an A in it.

Engineering, Material Sciences – Maths and Physics are the two specified subjects for these courses and generally go together for a lot of related courses. They are often complemented by Chemistry and/or Further Maths.

Finance and Accounting – Maths is either required or desired for the most competitive courses.

Economics – Maths is often required and History can be specified as preferred but there is a lot of variation.

Law – History is a preferred subject. Other subjects that are also good are English, Philosophy and Ethics and Maths.

Nursing and other healthcare related courses – Biology is required by some providers. However, there are plenty of courses where a good range of A level subjects will be sufficient and no subjects are specified.

Architecture – Maths and Art and Design are required by some of the most competitive courses, but not all. However they are a good combination to have.

Competitive courses that do not specify subjects

The majority of courses do not specify subjects. Obviously if you want to study History, it is wise to have History A level, but it isn’t always required and this is the same for many arts and social science subjects. The main requirement is to have a ‘good’ set of results in strong or facilitating subjects.

Facilitating subjects are traditional A levels that are accepted or preferred by most universities and courses. Choosing two of these subjects will be good if you are unsure what you want to do and wish to keep your options open. These are:

  • Maths
  • English Literature
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Geography
  • History
  • A modern or classical language

Strong and Soft Subjects are terms that have been used to describe other subjects which are not on the facilitating list.

Strong subjects would be subjects like Economics, Politics, Religious Studies (Philosophy and Ethics), Psychology, Classics and Music which are considered very good subjects to study and universities do value them and will often give them equal importance to the facilitating list.

Soft Subjects is a controversial term given to some A level subjects that are considered less academic. They are often newer and subjects on this list include: Media Studies, Business Studies, Film Studies, Design Technology, Health and Social Care and Criminology.

However, studying one of these subjects alongside more traditional subjects is fine and often desired, for example Business Studies to study Business and Management.

Very competitive courses will use A level choices to separate one candidate from another. For example a student studying Maths, Physics and Chemistry will be preferred for a competitive engineering course over a student studying Maths, Physics and Business Studies.

Three of Four A levels?

Studying four A levels rather than three does not give you any advantages in getting into university and offers are based on three A levels. The only exception to this rule is studying Further Maths alongside Maths. However, some students like to study four A levels, simply because it gives them more variety.

Alternative Routes and Exceptions

It is important to remember that for almost every course there are alternative routes and no one admissions policy is the same.

Here at we support students through their GCSEs and A levels with academic mentoring and coaching. We also offer single bespoke sessions to help with choosing your A level subjects, Contact us today to see how we can help you.