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A Level Subjects

Year 12

This is always tricky, particularly if you do not know what you want to do or what you wish to read at university. This is very common at age 16 when you are expected to select your A level choices.

Schools will generally advise that you choose those subjects that you enjoy the most and are best at. This is sound advice. However you also need to think carefully about which subject selections will give you the best chance when applying to university, particularly if you are capable of taking a range of different A levels.

If you are capable of taking Maths to either AS, A2 or Pre U – take it. It is probably the most respected subject you can read and proves that you are numerate. Any university course will welcome it. Employers respect it

Also consider the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). STEM skills are in demand at every level, with employers of every size struggling to find the STEM talent that they need. One in five employers (21%) has difficulty finding graduates with STEM skills, and this rise to to one in three employers (33%) in the science, engineering and IT sectors. This skills shortage will worsen with the evolution towards a more environmentally-friendly economy , where greener skills will be needed.

Here is an overview of the mandatory subjects required for different university courses:

  • Most Science subjects at university (Medicine, Veterinary Science, Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry) require Chemistry. These subjects also require another science, many preferring Biology.
  • For Medicine and Veterinary Science, it is best to take Chemistry, Biology and one from either Maths or Physics. This way you will keep the vast majority of medical schools open to you.
  • All Language courses at university require the language being studied and the top universities prefer a second language.
  • Most Engineering courses require Maths and Physics
  • Most Economics courses require Maths and certain universities like Further Maths (although they will rarely explicitly say so).
  • Most English courses require English Literature – English Language on its own is not sufficient.
  • Humanities courses such as History and Geography require that subject at A level.
  • Natural SciencesMaterials ScienceBiomedical SciencesEnvironmental ScienceOptometry and Earth Sciences (Geology) require two from Biology, Chemistry, Maths or Physics.
  • Many Sports Science courses want to see one from Chemistry, Biology, Maths or Physics. Some may treat PE as a science.
  • Nursing and Midwifery require Biology or another science.
  • Leading Psychology courses request one from Chemistry, Biology, Maths or Physics.
  • Most Physiotherapy courses will consider you with just Biology. However many require a second science subject from Chemistry, Physics or Maths.
  • Some Architecture courses want an arts and science mix. Many also ask for an art and design portfolio to demonstrate artistic skills so an Art or Design and technology A level may be critical.
  • Physics courses require Physics and Maths.
  • Maths courses require Maths and preferably Further Maths.
  • Actuarial Science requires Maths
  • Accountancy generally does not stipulate although one or two universities prefer Maths.
  • Some Management Studies and Computer Science courses prefer Maths.
  • Most traditional Music courses require Music and grade VII / VIII
  • Art & Design courses require Art or Design Technology including AGCE/National.
  • Some Drama courses require English Literature and for a few courses English and/or Theatre Studies.
  • For Classics courses Latin or Ancient Greek are required
  • Some Occupational Therapy courses ask for Biology.
  • In terms of Teaching, most A levels count. You need at least one from Art, Biology, Chemistry, Computing, Design and Technology, Drama (Theatre Studies), English, French, Geography, German, History, ICT, Italian, Mathematics, Music, Physics, Physical Education, Religious Studies (Theology) or Spanish.
  • Business StudiesLawAnthropologyArchaeologyHistory of ArtReligious StudiesPoliticsPhilosophySociologyMedia Studies and Surveying do not stipulate any mandatory A levels. Although some Law degrees and Media studies courses stipulate English.

Listed above is what is essential for an application for a particular course. There are then a whole series of choices that are useful and would increase your chances of success. Therefore when choosing your A level subjects, take a look at university websites to see what they are saying about subject selection.

For example many university courses, whilst respecting the science subjects, want an essay-writing subject as well. They want to see that you can write, analyse and summarise information. This is particularly true if you are applying for a mainly non-scientific subject such as Law. For example, some may think that a combination of Maths, further Maths and Physics is too narrow.

Also be careful with Further Maths – many universities will not count it as a full additional A level subject. It’s an excellent fourth A level.

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