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Which A-Levels should I take?

As you say goodbye to GCSEs and march onwards into your final two years of school, you will inevitably be faced with the task of deciding which subjects you want to study at A-level. Whilst you’ve probably had a little bit of practice already when it came to picking your GCSEs, selecting such a comparatively small number of subjects to study at A-Level can be a challenge; especially when you start factoring subject requirements for university courses you might want to do!

The key here is to think logically and critically about what you enjoy, what you are good at, and what you might need to have studied going forwards. This article takes you through the key factors to keep in mind when making the all-important choice.


Included in this article:

  1. How many A-levels should I take?

  2. I know what I want to study at University… what now?

  3. I don’t know what I want to study at university… What do I do?

  4. The bottom line



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How many A-Levels should I take?

Whilst it is tempting to think “the more the better” when it comes to you’re a-level choices, this isn’t necessarily going to be the case for everyone. It’s important to remember that, the more courses you study, the less time you’ll have to give dedicated focus to each one, making it harder to get the top marks in each of your subjects. So whilst five A-levels might seem better than three, three A*s definitely looks better on a university application than five Bs! 

There are, however, some situations in which an additional A-level might be useful for university applications. For example, if you’re planning on taking both Maths and Further Maths, it might be a good idea to take a fourth A-Level to give you a little more breadth across your studies (e.g. taking Maths, Further Maths, Physics, and Chemistry). Top tip: if you think you may want to study a Science or Maths-related subject at university, make sure you check the entry requirements at different universities. For Cambridge, Further Maths A-level is a compulsory requirement for subjects such as Maths and Computer Science, whilst at Oxford it is not essential but recommended.

I know what I want to study at University...what now?

If you already know what you want to do at university, congratulations! Whilst your specific course preference may well change over the course of you’re a-levels (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that if it does!) having an idea of what you’d like to do at this stage will certainly help you angle you’re a-level subjects in the right direction. In the majority of cases, if you want to study a subject at university you should probably study it at A-level, and for some subjects it is compulsory (again, check the entry requirements). This holds true primarily for very common A-level subjects such as Maths, Physics, or English Literature. For less common Humanities subjects such as Theology, Philosophy, or History of Art, universities will not expect or require you to have taken the A-level, so just make sure you take at least one other essay-based A-level and research your chosen degree subject as much as you can.

If you’re interested in Classics but your school doesn’t offer Latin or Greek, don’t worry— many universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have Classics courses specifically for those with no prior knowledge. Modern language or Asian and Middle Eastern Studies degrees in particular, such as Russian or Japanese, are often offered ab initio, meaning that you’re not expected to have studied the language at all when you arrive—but bear in mind that you will be required to have taken an A-level in a different modern language such as French to demonstrate your aptitude for languages.

I don't know what I want to study at university...what do I do?

First thing’s first is to remember that this is entirely normal; loads of students are in this position and it’s not a barrier to picking a good set of A-levels. We recommend starting by thinking about whether you’re more interested in Science or Humanities subjects, as most subjects within these categories will be useful for other similar subjects at university regardless of which specific course you go on to do. For example, a History A-level will be useful for an English literature degree, whilst A-Level Physics will be very beneficial for a degree in Maths, and vice versa.

Think carefully about what you genuinely enjoyed studying at GCSE, since this will be the most important factor in encouraging you to study hard and getting you those good grades, and don’t let others influence your choice too much; remember that your picking the right subjects for you! The more genuinely interested you are in a subject, the harder you will work and the more convincing you will be in an interview. Unlike the systems in some other countries, the A-level system allows you to drop subjects you don’t like after GCSE and only focus on your favourites—so make sure you take advantage of this.



The bottom line

In short, we recommend thinking carefully about what A-levels are going to facilitate the path you’re likely to want to go down after you’re finished at school, whether this be a university course you’ve already identified, a university course you’re not sure about yet, or something else all-together. Most importantly, remember that studying what you genuinely enjoy at A-level is going to be the most likely way of motivating you throughout the two years and getting you the best possible grades at the end, so make sure your subjects are right for you!

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