What A-levels should you take?
Choosing a handful of subjects to take at A-level isn't a decision you should take lightly. The A-levels you pick now can impact what you do later, namely the courses you can apply to at university (and which universities will consider you).
That said, if you don't know what you want to do in the future, you can still make smart choices now that will leave you in the best position in two years' time.
Follow our six steps further down and you won't go wrong with your A-level choices...
1. Certain A-level subjects may help with university course options
For some university degree courses, you'll need to have studied specific subjects at A-level (or equivalent).
If you've already got a specific university course in mind, you can check university websites for any required A-level subjects.
But if you're not yet sure about university plans, you can keep your options open by choosing a range of A-level subjects. Being broad with your choices can be helpful. Some universities discourage students from taking certain combinations of A-level subjects, particularly when subjects are very similar like business studies and economics – something to bear in mind when you're making A-level choices.
A note on facilitating subjects
While you're looking at your options, you may hear about 'facilitating subjects'. This was a list of subjects previously published by the Russell Group; a list that was intended to help students choose the subjects that were most commonly asked for in universities’ entry requirements.
This list was scrapped in 2019. At the time, the group said it had become "misinterpreted" by students as being a list of the only subjects that top universities would consider.
The list of facilitating subjects:
· English literature
· Maths and further maths
· Modern languages
· Classical languages
So, don't assume that the above subjects are the only ones worth taking.
2. A-levels are a lot tougher than GCSEs
The reason you take a particular subject at A-level will come down to one (or more) of these three scenarios (usually):
· you need it to pursue a particular career
· it’s a subject you enjoy and are good at
· 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 A-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.
3. Certain uni courses will look for specific A-levels
This is really important if you have a particular degree in mind. You won’t be able to apply to some degree courses without having taken some specific A-levels (and scored the right grades in them too, of course).
Below are a few examples to give you an idea of what to expect (some are no-brainers)…
· A pharmacy degree must have: chemistry, plus at least one from biology, maths and physics
· An English literature or language degree must have: usually English literature, maybe English literature and language or English language
· A geology or earth sciences degree must have: at least two from maths, physics, chemistry and biology
· An economics degree will sometimes need: maths, very rarely do you need economics
For more guidance on what to study at A-level to go on to particular degree subjects, see our full list of uni subjects for more information about their typical A-level requirements.
Tip: check out the full entry requirement details for a handful of courses across different unis to make sure you’re ticking all the boxes within your subject.
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. Just make sure you're satisfying an entry requirements with the other A-level subjects you're taking.
Are there easy A-levels?
This is a subjective question – what you find 'easy', another student may find difficult.
You shouldn't look for A-levels to get an easy string of A* grades anyway. Doing so may result in taking subjects you have no interest in, as well as restrict your future options.
As we've pointed out above, universities and courses will have subjects they require and those they don't accept. Keep this in mind, and choose subjects you enjoy and are good at.
5. Know myth from reality
Don’t take everything you hear at face value or based on what a friend/older sibling/girlfriend's hairdresser says – the reality might be quite different. It's always worth investigating things yourself so you get the full picture.
While entry requirements are often a minimum set of criteria you have to meet, a university may view you differently from another candidate based on your personal statement or your portfolio if your predicted grades just miss the mark. Don't rely on preconceived assumptions or what you hear through someone else from their experience. Double-check your facts with the university or department themselves.
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.