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How to choose the right A-levels: a guide for students at IGCSE level

It's important to make the right subject choices at this early stage, as the decisions you make now will set you on a course that can be difficult to change. This guide is designed to help you get a clearer idea of what is available to you, regardless of whether you are committed to a particular career path. If you're not sure what you want to study, we'll look at the best A-levels to take for a range of popular university subjects, and then give some more general advice.



How many A-levels do I need to take?


The minimum requirement, even for the best Universities, is that you take three A-levels (not including General Studies), and these will form the basis of your offer. Take only what you think you can realistically handle. Talk to your teachers about the workload you can expect from the subjects you think you might want to study.


One general piece of advice is that you shouldn't take courses that are too similar. For example, Biology is very similar to Human Biology. While it's good to be fairly focused, it's better to demonstrate a wider range of knowledge and skills by choosing complementary but different subjects, such as Biology and Chemistry.


The best A-levels to take for particular degree subjects


Let's start by taking a closer look at the recommended A-level subjects for those who know what subject they want to study. We've covered the most common courses below.

Universities usually distinguish between subjects that are essential for a particular course and those that are merely useful.


Therefore, in the subject lists below, subjects in bold are generally considered essential for the course, while those in italics are often considered useful but not necessarily required. The remainder are subjects that complement the course with transferable skills or useful background knowledge, and are suggestions based on ideas from a selection of University admissions websites.


Politics


Politics degree courses don't usually have any specific entry requirements, and a mixture of arts and science subjects will give you a solid grounding and a good general knowledge.


- History

- Politics and public administration

- Geography

- Politics and Sociology

- Psychology

- Economics

- English Literature

- Foreign Languages

- Law

- Maths


Music degrees


Performance, theory, history and composition are components of many music degrees.

A degree in music, together with a high standard in at least one musical instrument (with practical and theory exam grades as evidence), is essential or highly desirable.


Alongside your main instrument, Grade 5 piano is often desirable. If the school doesn't offer A-Level Music, some universities will accept ABRSM Grade 8 Musical Theories instead (note that A-Level Music Technology probably isn't considered an appropriate alternative to A-Level Music).


Aside from music, it's up to you what else you study; essay-based subjects are useful, and it's often said that musicians make good mathematicians (and vice versa)!


- Music subjects

- English Literature

- History or

- Maths


Philosophy


There are usually no requirements for studying Philosophy at university, but a mixture of arts and science subjects is useful - an arts-based subject gives you essay-writing skills, while science helps develop your logic and reasoning.


If the school offers Philosophy, it's worth taking it; although it won't give you an advantage in your application (as not many schools offer it, it would give you an unfair advantage), it will at least give you a feel for the subject and whether it's something you'd like to pursue.


- Philosophy

- English Literature

- English Language and Literature

- History

- Maths

- Physics


Geography


Most universities have no specific entry requirements for geography - not even A-level geography! - instead preferring a mix of arts and science subjects. Geography is a very broad subject and can focus on aspects relating to people (population, demography, etc.) or on Earth processes.


Note that although geography A-levels aren't usually a requirement, in practice most applicants will have them and, if nothing else, studying it at A-level will at least help you make sure it's what you want to study at university.


- Geography

- Geology

- Economics

- Sociology

- Environmental Science

- Biology

- Chemistry

- Maths

- Physics

- Foreign language


Engineering courses


Studying engineering at University usually requires A-level mathematics and at least one other science, usually physics. Technical subjects are also considered desirable by many universities.


- Maths

- Physics

- Further Maths

- Chemistry

- Biology

- Environmental Science

- Geology

- Geography

- Computing

- Design and Technology

- Economics

- Statistics


Economics


Economists deal with a lot of numbers, so you'll need mathematics, and ideally further mathematics, to study economics at university. Economics at A-level is a useful preparation, but don't worry if the school doesn't offer it; Business Studies is also considered a good relevant A-level.


- Maths

- Further Maths

- Economics

- Business Studies

- Government and Politics

- Statistics


Chemistry


As chemistry and mathematics are generally considered essential for the study of chemistry at undergraduate level, it's advisable to have at least one other science and further mathematics. We've included the most traditional and respected here, but some universities also accept subjects such as computing, design and technology and psychology as additional science subjects.


- Chemistry

- Maths

- Physics

- Biology

- Human Biology

- Further Maths


Physics


Although not usually part of the offer, further mathematics is something that most students will struggle without if they want to study physics at undergraduate level. It's advisable to take at least two science subjects. As above, we've listed the most common subjects here.


- Physics

- Maths

- Further maths

- Chemistry

- Biology

- Human Biology


Biology


As with the other sciences, it is recommended that you take at least two science subjects at A level when studying for a degree in Biology. If you want to focus on Human Biology in your degree, but your school doesn't offer Human Biology at A level, you shouldn't be at a disadvantage. Again, only the most respected subjects are included here.


- Biology/Human Biology

- Maths

- Chemistry

- Physics

- Further Maths


Medicine


Chemistry is usually considered essential for medicine, with at least one other science subject (usually biology or physics). In practice, most applicants will have three or more science subjects, which gives them an advantage over someone with only two.


- Chemistry

- Biology/Human Biology

- Physics

- Maths

- Psychology (note that this is unlikely to be considered for your second science subject; it may be a good AS subject or fourth A-level)


Maths


Maths is essential. Further Maths is also required by some universities, although most will offer catch-up courses if your school doesn't offer them. If you can take Further Maths, you should; a third science subject will strengthen your skills in related areas. This is the only exception to the rule that you should not take courses that are too similar.


- Maths

- Further Maths

- Physics

- Chemistry

- Biology/Human Biology

- Statistics

- Computer Science


Psychology


Although no specific subjects are required, you'll usually need a science A-level to study psychology at university, ideally biology and/or mathematics. Social sciences and humanities subjects can also provide a useful background, and if psychology is offered at your school, it's worth taking it to see if you find it interesting enough to study at degree level.


- Psychology

- Biology/Human Biology

- Maths

- Chemistry

- Sociology


Computer Science


You don't normally need to know any programming to study computer science, but Maths is essential and further mathematics is desirable. At least one other science subject would also be useful. Many students think that ICT would be an advantage; in fact, it's probably best to avoid it.


- Maths

- Further maths

- Physics

- Chemistry

- Computer science

- Electronics

- Geology


Architecture


Architecture doesn't necessarily require specific A-levels; what it does require is a portfolio of your work, which is usually easily achieved by taking an A-level that requires this type of coursework, such as Art or Art and Design.


A minority of architecture courses also require maths. Some architecture courses are more art oriented and others more maths or physics oriented, so bear this in mind when choosing your A-levels if you prefer a particular course or University.


- Maths

- Art

- Design and Technology

- Further Maths

- Physics A-Level

- Chemistry

- History of Art

- Geology


Keep your options open


Many people have absolutely no idea what they want to do at university or in their careers. That's not a problem at all - it just means you need to keep your options open when it comes to choosing your A-levels. So what's the best thing to do if you really don't know?


  1. Choose subjects you enjoy - you'll do better at University if you're interested in the subject!

  2. Choose subjects in which you're likely to do well at GCSE/IGCSE - chances are you'll do well in them at A-level too, giving you higher grades and more University options.

  3. Choose a range of subjects - both Arts and Sciences. This will give you the widest choice when it comes to applying to University. It's also worth thinking about the transferable skills that different subject choices can demonstrate.

For example:


- Essay-based subjects such as English Literature or History demonstrate analytical and critical thinking skills.

- Scientific subjects such as Physics or Maths demonstrate logic and familiarity with scientific principles.

- Practical subjects such as Art or Music demonstrate self-discipline and creative thinking.


By choosing a range of subjects from these areas, you'll have more than enough to demonstrate your skills in different areas.


Making the final decision


To help you make your final decision, talk to your teachers and read the syllabus for each course you're interested in.

You might even want to pop down to the library and have a look at some of the texts and course books that you'll be expected to study.

This will help you get a feel for what each subject is like, and should help you decide which to choose.


We hope you find this guide to be helpful and wish you good luck!



 


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