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Which A-levels offer the best choices at university?


When you are choosing which A-levels to study the chances are that your decision will be swayed by lots of things like whether you have studied the subject at GCSE and enjoyed it, whether you want to study a particular subject at university or simply whether you think that it sounds like something that you will enjoy studying.

There are some important things to consider when you make you’re A-level choices however.

Do you know for certain what you want to study at university?

Yes – the first thing to do if you haven’t already is check the websites of universities to see what their entry requirements are and what subjects they accept or do not accept. Some universities have no set requirements about which A-levels you have but others have very strict entry requirements – this is particularly true for STEM courses.

No – if you do not know for certain what you want to study at university then keeping your options open is important. The best way to do this is by studying, if possible, two facilitating subjects. These are the subjects that are asked for most often by universities and they include:

  • Maths and further maths
  • English literature
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Geography
  • History
  • Languages (modern and classical)

Making sure that you have one or two of these in the mix will be helpful when you do decide which degree you would like to apply for.

Don’t make your A-level choice too narrow

Some universities look unfavourably on certain combinations of A-levels because they are seen as narrow, which means that they do not develop a breadth of skills and knowledge. It’s a good idea to balance your A-level choices so that they include a subject that involves research, reading and essay writing.

Make sure that you understand what the A-levels that you will study involve studying in terms of content and also that you have a realistic idea of how demanding the subject is. Sometimes students tag on something like philosophy and ethics just to complete their selection without considering how academically rigorous a subject like this actually is. As a good rule of thumb, no A-levels are easy. They all demand a lot of time and hard work and the jump from GCSE level study to A-level often takes students by surprise.

Take control and research your A-levels

Find out which awarding body the A-level that you are thinking of study is with. There can be a big difference between say Ed-Excel Psychology and OCR in terms of content so check the websites and look at the specification. Also, speak to the course tutors and find out which modules will be taught as these are selected by the course leaders and may affect your decision.

Always remember that A-levels aren’t the only choice for level 3 study. Some students thrive on A-levels; they love the challenge of essay writing and enjoy spreading their study time between their chosen subjects. For others, their A-level study is a time of misery and when they make the choice to drop out and switch to a vocational course of study they light up and flourish.

If you choose to study a vocational course such as a BTEC qualification they again, check university websites. Some BTEC qualifications only allow progression onto certain degree courses and if you want to study at a Russell Group university, check the entry requirements because they may not be suitable qualifications to gain entry to these universities.

About Lynette Daly

Lynette is the publishing editor of Moving On magazine. Moving On is devoted to helping young people make good choices for their future – education, qualifications and careers. Moving On really wants to motivate you! Our articles cover a range of topics to inspire and give ideas. Our magazines are delivered free to all schools, colleges and sixth forms in England and is also available online.

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