Insofar as A-Level subject requirements for study courses, university entrance requirements are pretty non-specific.

Have you looked at any course requirements? They simply list A-Levels: ABB, or maybe AAB… but they seldom say which subjects those grades should be for!

Granted, it stands to reason that if you want to be a doctor, you probably shouldn’t sit A-levels in fashion design; on the other hand, taking biology and chemistry A-Levels are not out of the question if you aspire to practice medicine in the future.

How should you choose which three exams to sit before you spend two years in Key Stage 5?

Your Superprof gives you a few ideas to toss around…

If You Know Exactly What You Want to Study

If you are contemplating which A-Levels to choose, you must be near the end of your secondary education and preparing for your GCSEs. Good luck!

That being the case, you then have two years ahead of you to decide what you want to do with your life and which university courses will best get you there.

Unless you are unusually precocious and know exactly what you want, such a lengthy period in an adolescent’s life can be a bane and a blessing.

Further Mathematics won't be necessary if you know you want to be a doctor
If you know from early on that you wish to practise medicine, you probably won't select A-Levels in Art and Design Image by Yerson Retamal from Pixabay

A bane because at that age, people are apt to change their mind as the wind blows The blessing is that you have a long time to think about what you really want out of life… and you may still not know, come time for exams, if the subjects you’ve chosen are actually the ones you want.

No worries, we tackle that scenario in our next segment.

There are a few things you should know about A-Levels versus your impending general certificate of secondary education; for one, mandatory subjects.

Your GCSE ordeal requires you to pass GCSE Maths and English – that is non-negotiable. Furthermore, most students sit an average of 10 exams; some even go as high as 12!

Does that make you wonder how many A-Levels you can take?

By contrast, most A-Level candidates limit themselves to three subjects and perhaps only one exam is directly related to their future university studies – for instance, they wish to become a chemist so they select a science subject as one of their A-Levels.

There are no DfE-mandated subject requirements or grade requirements at this level; testing is done to meet university entry requirements.

However, those requirements are rather ambiguously phrased; in this article’s introduction we pointed out that UCAS or the university’s course catalogue says you need ABB A-Levels but which of your exams should you earn the A in?

And what if you earn three Bs? Are you doomed to retest? (The quick answer: no!)

Fact is, many universities will consider you no matter which subjects you choose; the exception here is professional courses such as medicine and law.

Which brings us to our next point: find out for yourself what qualifications you need to get into the university programme of study you want.

Qualification criteria change from year to year; your older sibling might have gone through the process four years ago but s/he is no more qualified to advise you on such matters than anyone else.

Luckily, we live in the information age; you can find your university online and see for yourself what the minimum grade should be!

If You’re Not Sure What You Want to Study

Some might think that those who know exactly what they want to study and how they want their life to play out must be incredibly lucky but maybe it is those whose uncertainty about what their life will look like 30 years from now that are truly fortunate.

By leaving the door open to possibility, you are actually affording yourself every chance to be had. When seen in that light, indecisiveness is not quite so bad, is it?

You're not necessarily on a timetable when it comes to planning your life
If you are unsure of which path to take, don't look at choosing A-Levels as choosing degree-courses Image by Pixource from Pixabay

Unfortunately, the world favours those who are decisive; requiring 16-year-olds to select academic subjects for life-altering exams is the perfect example to illustrate the point.

Fortunately, there is a loophole; you’re not necessarily condemning yourself to a profession you’re not even sure you’d like by choosing exam subjects you're not sure are right for you.

No leaping for joy just yet; you’re still expected to sit your Level exam; it’s just that you could choose them all to be in what called ‘facilitating subjects’.

Facilitating subjects include:

  • English language
  • Further Maths
  • Chemistry and Biology
  • Physics counts, too!
  • History
  • Geography
  • Classical and Modern Language

If we consider facilitating subjects a silver lining, then surely the cloud must be university requirements.

Some universities require very specific A-Level subjects; if you did not take that test, no matter how well-written your personal statement and how high your marks, you simply will not be accepted.

That is why checking UCAS and/or university websites for enrolment requirements is the best idea before selecting your A-Levels subjects, even if you’re not sure which direction you wish your further education to take or if you’re not sure what you can do with the A-Levels you’ve selected.

Now, let’s look at other considerations you should think about…

A Few Points to Consider

Some people select A-Level subjects because they find them interesting or think they might do well in them; others choose them because they are already certain of their career path and need certain courses to get them there.

No matter what reason you’ve selected your particular A-Level subjects, you should know that these exams are far more rigorous than your GCSEs – not just the exams themselves but in what you can expect in sixth form and what is expected of you at that level.

Some candidates who thought it would be a good idea to take closely-related subjects – maybe Accounting and Business Studies found that universities view certain combinations of subjects unfavourably.

By contrast, some universities are fairly liberal about admission requirements, especially if your A-Level grade is particularly high; say AAA and/or you write a particularly resonant personal statement.

You should be aware that some schools will not accept A-Levels in certain subjects while others make very specific demands about which A-Level subjects they require – or which subjects are considered ‘non-preferred’.

In some cases, you won’t be able to apply for the degree course you want if you don’t have at least one ‘required’ A-Level. For instance, if you want to study Pharmacology, you have to have sat at least a Chemistry A-Level (and earned good marks).

All of this points to just one thing: after you talk with your teachers, caregivers and anyone whose opinion you value to get an idea of which A-Level exams to sit, your next step is to research what individual schools require from their prospective candidates.

You may check with UCAS but, more often than not, because they are a middleman rather than an authority of every university’s requirements, you may only find a range of acceptable scores rather than any particulars.

Join the discussion: do you feel limited by the A-Levels offered at your school?

Choosing GCE advanced courses can leave you feeling you've made a mistake
It's best to select your A-Level courses wisely before you're left feeling like you've made a mistake Image by Enhialus from Pixabay

How Not To Choose Your A-Level Subjects

Logically, if there is a definite way to choose the right subjects for the path you wish to take in life, there must also be ways you shouldn’t choose your subjects.

Obviously, there is the ‘Woohoo! This sounds interesting...’ approach or the ‘I just don’t know’, flying blind approach – neither of which work very well.

Choosing A-Level subjects because they are what your friends chose is a recipe for disaster unless you are a clone of your friend.

Your goals, desires and aptitudes may not match your friends’ at all and, while it’s great that you have such a good friend that you would consider putting your future on the line for, are they really worth putting your future on the line for?

In a similar vein, you shouldn't select your subjects based on your teacher’s recommendation.

No matter how much you love and respect the teacher making the recommendation, s/he is likely only aware of your academic potential, not as a whole person.

Please don’t misunderstand: your teachers are a great source of feedback and they would certainly do everything possible to help you, including counselling you on a few suitable courses of study.

Taking their recommendations under advisement and talking matters over with your friends, caregivers and tutors (if you have any) is a sound way to approach A-Level subject selection.

As always when making life-altering decisions, it is best to have as much information as possible.

In choosing your A-Level subjects, your opinions matter the most so don’t be afraid to reach a little. Don’t just consider the subjects offered at your college or sixth form; look at other schools in your area: what subjects do they offer?

Not every school offers the same examinations by the same exam boards. This is a great chance for you to step out of your comfort zone, study with people you’ve possibly never met before and experience how things are done in a different school.

All of that will serve you very well come time to leave home for university.

Your turn to talk: would you help other students decide which A-Levels to take?

Need a teacher?

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.