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Which GCSEs Should I Pick for the Best Chance at Oxbridge?


If you’re in year 8 or 9 the likelihood is that you’ll have started thinking about which GCSEs to pick ahead of your all important first round of public examinations. Whilst it’s entirely acceptable not to have thought about university at this stage, we are quite frequently asked whether GCSE choices impact your likelihood of a place at Oxford or Cambridge university. This blog outlines our main thoughts and advice on picking GCSEs so that you can achieve the best grades and hopefully in a few years’ time make a competitive application to top UK universities such as the Oxbridge colleges.


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Are certain subjects better than others?

Now, the first myth to bust here is that no courses at Oxford and Cambridge have specific requirements on which GCSE subjects you might need, so it’s not quite as easy as saying you strictly need to take a certain subject to get into the courses you might want to study. Plenty of students at this stage may have a certain area of their studies that they prefer (e.g., sciences, languages, humanities, etc.) without being certain what specific subject or course they are likely to be aiming for in several years’ time, and universities do tend to bear this in mind when looking at the GCSE choices of applicants. This being said, it is of course worth remembering that the subjects you pick at GCSE need to enable you to study the required A-levels or equivalent in 2 or 3 years’ time, and university courses do tend to have strict requirements on those, particularly if you are looking to go into hard sciences such as physics or maths/engineering. For this reason, perhaps your best indicator of which subjects to do is to look up some university websites of courses you are interested in and see which A-Level subjects they require of applicants; if there are GCSEs available to you in the same or adjacent subjects then we recommend picking those! Even if universities don’t look at the specific GCSE subjects, having the training in the principles of these subjects will help you as you advance through your future studies and into university courses in related fields.

With this being said, however, there is sometimes a tendency for more established universities such as Oxford or Cambridge to look for equally ‘established’ GCSE subjects. What we mean by this is that, unless there’s a specific subject that you particularly want to study, you’re best off selecting more ‘traditional’ general academic subjects, such as French or History, rather than specific or career based subjects, such as Law or Sociology, when selecting your GCSEs. This is because these more general subjects are considered enabling subjects, proving to universities that you’ve learned a wide range of basic skills and traditional methodologies that will help you in your further studies.

It all comes down to the grades

Ultimately, when we say that GCSEs are important for an application to Oxbridge, we mean that they will look at your grades overall to check that you have sufficient academic prowess to succeed on their rigorous undergraduate courses. This, of course, ranges from person to person and by course or college, with some colleges saying that they’re unlikely to accept a candidate with fewer than 7 A*s at GCSE whilst we have seen some cases with 3 or 4 A*s or fewer being offered places at other colleges. Whilst the statistics are confusing, and guessing what you’ll need in terms of grades is much more of an art than a science, the bottom line is that it’s best to try and get the highest possible grades across the board at GCSE to set yourself up nicely for your application. In order to get these grades, we recommend that you ultimately pick GCSE courses that you enjoy studying and will therefore be able to put more time and effort into getting the grades you need to impress admissions tutors. remarked and does not improve in grade then a cost is levied – some schools cover this cost, but others do not, so make sure you’re aware of this and, if your school is going to charge you, make sure you’re prepared to cover this cost.

Study what you love

Beyond helping you get the grades you need, making sure that you’ve picked GCSEs you’re interested in and will enjoy studying will also help give you and admissions tutors an indication of what you’re best suited to at university and therefore where you will succeed. Throughout the Oxbridge application process, tutors aren’t just looking for students who are intelligent (let’s be realistic, everyone making a serious application to Oxford or Cambridge is intelligent!), but equally important to them are students who are passionate about their subject and will really love devoting hours of undivided attention to it day in, day out. For this reason, having subjects at GCSE that you love and are passionate about will help enthuse you through the stages of academia and onto a course that you will not only love, but will also be able to prove that you love to the tutors letting you in.

Whilst there are various calculations you can do and some tips and tricks for picking the most impressive GCSEs for Oxbridge admissions tutors, the bottom line is that grades are the most important aspect of your GCSEs as far as Oxbridge is concerned, as is being able to prove that you’re a dedicated student who loves the area of study they’re going into. For this reason, our top piece of advice is to pick not just what you’re good at for GCSEs and what ties in with what you’d like to go on to study, but also to pick what you love and will enjoy learning about.


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