Choosing your Course
Choosing the right subjects to study in Sixth Form is a defining moment in your life as this often sets the pathway for University and your career beyond Higher Education. A-level subjects range from ones you have probably already met at GCSE to ones which sound interesting but which you may not know much about. Choosing the right combination can be difficult to do, but if you are methodical, take your time, and ask lots of questions you will find the subjects which are right for you.
It is important you talk to people such as your teachers and parents. Remember though, while other people might have good advice and opinions worth considering carefully, this is your choice. You are the person who will be doing the work, and it’s your future that A levels help decide. Take advice seriously but don’t just take a subject because someone else tells you that’s what you must do (or because the subjects are ones which your friends are taking).
Here are some documents and websites which will help allow you to make those correct choices:
The Which A level Explorer allows you to discover what degree courses your choice of A level subjects may lead to.
The ‘Informed Choices’ Booklet is an excellent Guide produced by the Russell Group of leading Universities in collaboration with the Institute of Career Guidance. It is certainly worth reading and not only gives a 5 Point Plan to help you make Post 16 choices but also contains information regarding which subjects are required for popular Degree Choices.
The UCAS website will allow you to check whether your subject choices match the requirements of the degree you wish to study at University. It is essential that you check that your A Level choices do not rule out degrees you are interested in.
The exam board syllabuses (now often called ‘specifications’) describe the topics to be covered, often in considerable detail. You can find exam board syllabuses for the AS and A2 parts of each A-level subject online. AQA, EDEXCEL and OCR are the ‘big three’ exam boards.
Texts and reference books
Skimming through a book in the subject area can give a good idea of the type of work you would be doing. This is particularly useful when you are contemplating something you have not studied before.
A-level requirements for popular degree courses:
- Chemistry A level is essential or very useful for: Medicine, Veterinary Science, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Biology (and Bio related subjects).
- To study Medicine: Chemistry and in most cases Biology are essential subjects plus one other A Level subject.
- For a Business Studies degree: No essential A-level subjects, though Mathematics is useful and you will need a good Mathematics result at GCSE Business Studies or Economics A levels are helpful. Top Universities do not like you to do both. The same is true for degrees like Accounts, Management etc.
- European Business Studies generally requires a European Language.
- Law degrees: No essential subjects, though they like you to have subjects which show logical ability and the ability to write (e.g.: a mixture of Arts and Science subjects). Admissions tutors prefer you not to have taken Law A level!
- Psychology: No essential subjects (a mix of Arts and Science subjects is good.) You will need GCSE Mathematics.
- Computing: No essential subjects for most courses. Mathematics A level is essential for a few Universities and useful for all.
- Engineering: Mathematics and Physics are generally essential (though you can apply without them and do an extra Foundation year). Chemistry is essential for most Chemical Engineering degrees.
- Most other degree courses either have no essential A-level subjects, or just require an A level in the subject concerned plus any two others. Do check though!
- And do bear in mind that the top academic degree courses will generally expect three ‘academic’ A levels.