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Six things you need to know before making your A-level choices

Whether you’ve already decided or haven’t got a clue, get your head round these six need-to-knows to be sure you make the right A-level choices…


1. Certain uni courses will look for specific A-levels

You won’t be able to apply to some uni courses without having taken some specific A-levels (and scored the right grades in them too, of course).
Listed below are a few examples of these to give you an idea of what to expect (even if some are no-brainers)…

  • Pharmacy must have: chemistry, plus at least one from biology, maths and physics
  • English must have: usually English literature, maybe English literature and language or English language
  • Geology / earth sciences must have: at least two from maths, physics, chemistry and biology
  • Economics sometimes need: maths, very rarely do you need economics

For more info, see our full list of uni subjects and their typical A-level requirements. If you already know what you want to study, check out the full entry requirement details for a handful of courses across different unis to make sure you’re ticking all the boxes with your subject choices.

Know what you want to study at uni? Take a look at our A-level checklists by degree subject

2. Taking certain A-levels will open up more university course options

Think you probably want to go to uni but don’t know what you want to study yet? You won’t be the only one! You can keep your options wide open when choosing your A-levels by selecting a smart mix of the most commonly asked-for subjects in university entry requirements, known as ‘facilitating’ subjects. Take your pick from:

  • biology
  • chemistry
  • english
  • geography
  • history
  • maths
  • modern and classical languages
  • physics

The more of these you choose, the more courses at university will be open to you. Additionally, if you have a talent for art, design or music and think it could be an avenue you’ll pursue, taking the relevant A-levels will help that to happen.

Some universities openly discourage students from taking certain combinations of A-level subjects, particularly when subjects are very similar like business studies and economics; so bear this in mind when you're making your choices. 

3. A-levels are a lot tougher than GCSEs

The reason you take a particular subject is usually one (or more) of these three scenarios: you need it to pursue a particular career; it’s a subject you enjoy and are good at; or it’s a subject you’ve not studied before but you think will suit you.

Either way, be prepared for a big jump in the level of difficulty when you transition from GCSE to AS-level (or any other Advanced level qualification for that matter). You’ll also see differences in the way you’re taught and in what is expected of you.

4. Some courses and unis have lists of subjects they don’t accept

Particular courses – take, for instance, an architecture course at the University of Bath – will view certain A-levels as less effective preparation for university studies than others. Similarly, some universities – such as the University of Sheffield – actually list which A-level subjects they prefer. Others, like the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), have ‘non-preferred’ subject lists.

If your subject choices don’t match up, you shouldn’t necessarily discount the course, or be put off from taking a creative or vocational A-level subject you’re really interested in.

Taking a subject such as history of art, classical civilisation, economics, geology, government and politics, law, media studies, philosophy, psychology, religious studies and sociology in conjunction with at least one (ideally two) of the ‘facilitating’ subjects listed above shouldn’t be an issue if you get the grades.

5. Know myth from reality

Don’t take everything you hear at face value – the reality might be quite different.

Say you’ve heard that you have no chance of getting on to an ultra-competitive law course at the University of Durham because it doesn’t accept psychology A-level. Is that really the case? A university may view you differently from another candidate based on other factors such as extra-curricular interests, personal statement or your portfolio. It’s best not to rely on pre-conceived assumptions or what you hear through someone else from their experience - there are ways to double check your facts.

First, take a look at what the university itself has to say. In this case, Durham Law School proactively states on its website that ‘we do not make offers in respect of critical thinking or general studies, but we are otherwise unconcerned by the subjects you take’. Couple that with a closer look at what A-levels current students on the course took – in this case you’ll find that 14% of students studying law at Durham arrived with A-level psychology!

And don't always rely on what friends have heard!

Find out what universities really think about A-levels in media studies, law and general studies

6. Many unis and courses will consider you whatever you choose

Question: Accountancy, anthropology, archaeology, banking, business studies, classical civilisations, hospitality, information science, law, management, marketing, media studies, philosophy, politics, psychology, public relations, religious studies/theology, retail management, social work, sociology, surveying, television, travel and tourism… What do these subjects have in common?

Answer: They will all consider a very wide range of A-level choices and do not normally have essential subject requirements! So don't get too bogged down in essential A-levels you have to take.

One extra thing to remember...

Keep in mind that the structure of A-levels will be changing following reforms announced in July 2015. These will be rolled out across subjects slowly and are set to be completed for A-level courses commencing in September 2017. So find out whether your A-level subject will be taught under the old or new system in the year you begin the course. Learn more about the A-level structure changes here.


Where could your A-levels take you?

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