Autumn term is when Year 11 students are having to choose their A level subjects. Schools and sixth form colleges are enticing students and their parents with open evenings and glossy brochures to study familiar favourites like Geography, Maths and History and a range of unfamiliar subjects like Economics, Politics and Sociology. Where to begin, especially when you have only got three choices? The big question is, how to choose the right A level subjects?
My son, who is in Year 11, asked me which is the best A level subject for getting 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 for your future job or career?
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’s good to research before deciding. www.ucas.com is a good starting point.
It’s the combination of subjects that matter when thinking about how to choose the right A level subjects.
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 some Biology and one other science or Maths but generally if the two are together, it will satisfy all courses. The third subject is your choice. Any facilitating or strong subject is equally as good. The main factor is you need to get an A in it.
Engineering – Maths and Physics are required for this course and generally go together for all related courses. They’re 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, RS and Maths.
Nursing and other healthcare related courses – Biology is required by some providers. However, there are plenty of courses where no subjects are specified. Generally, the stronger the subjects the better.
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 about what you want to do and wish to keep your options open. These are:
- English Literature
- A modern or classical language
Strong and Soft Subjects
These are terms that have been used to describe other subjects not on the facilitating list.
Strong subjects are subjects like Economics, Politics, RS, Psychology, Classics and Music. They are considered good subjects to study and valued by universities who will often give them equal importance to the facilitating list.
Soft Subjects is a controversial term given to A level subjects which are considered less academic. They’re often newer and include: Media Studies, Business Studies, Film Studies and Criminology.
However, studying one of these subjects alongside more traditional subjects is fine and often desired, for example Criminology to study Social Work.
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 does provide more variety but no 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.
Alternative Routes and Exceptions
It is important to remember that for every course there are alternative routes and universities vary in their demands.