Choosing what to study after Year 11 is one of the most important decisions you will make. Get it right and your time in the Sixth Form will prepare you successfully for the next stage in life’s journey. Our curriculum offers a huge range of possibilities and has been designed to give you the opportunity to specialise or to retain a breadth of choice. Use the information contained here to assist you with your decision making. We are confident that if you choose wisely you will be well prepared to access the best universities, the best apprenticeships or high quality employment.
With such a wide range of A level courses to choose from, selecting the most appropriate combinations to study can be a difficult task. Ensure this is an informed decision by carefully researching the different courses we have on offer. As a starting point, take a moment to consider the questions below and discuss possible options with your parents, other family members and friends. We will also be here to help you with your decision making, so please speak with subject staff, your Form Tutor or the Head of Sixth Form for further information, advice and guidance.
Which subjects really interest you?
This is important because you will be studying them for the next 2 years and you will need to be motivated to consistently deliver your best efforts.
Which subjects are you good at?
Since this will increase your chances of success. This is crucial as access to the best universities and the best employment opportunities are becoming increasingly competitive.
Which subjects are you qualified to study?
Identify whether you meet the course entry requirements by looking at each individual subject guide.
Are there any new subjects which sound interesting (e.g. Psychology, Economics)?
If so, talk to subject staff and carry out some further research into what each subject involves.
Which subjects fit well together?
Some combinations naturally work well together, for example, Maths and Sciences, History and English Literature, Performing Arts, Music and Art. However, you may prefer a more broad and balanced choice of subjects to keep your options open. If you are unsure ask for advice.
Do you have a particular career in mind?
If so research which qualifications you might need in the future and therefore what subjects you might need to study in the sixth form.
Is there a particular course or university you would like to attend?
Research what subjects and grades you are likely to need. Look at university websites, ucas.com, or speak with university admissions officers to find relevant information. Some of the more selective universities (in The Russell Group) are quite specific about the subjects you need to study at A level. Read the section below for further guidance on this.
Which subjects will best keep your options open?
Many students at your age are uncertain about what they want to do in the future. The information below gives further guidance on which subjects to choose to keep your options open.
Choosing A level subjects – some important information to consider
Your choice of A level subjects can have a significant impact on the course options available to you at university. If you are considering progression to university degree courses, you need to be aware of the likely entry requirements you will face, in terms of both the grades you need to achieve and the actual subjects you study. As the number of top grades achieved at A level has steadily increased over the last 5 years, many universities have become more specific about the qualifications they expect of their applicants.
If you have already decided on a course that you would like to study at university, we recommend that you take a close look at the course requirements at a number of universities before you finalise your A level choices, to check that your A levels will be suitable for your application.
If you have not yet decided on a course that you would like to study, we recommend that you select subjects which maximise your potential course choice. Certain A level subjects are considered either essential or useful for a number of degree courses, so choosing one or more of these will help you keep your higher education options open. We recommend that you take a look at the ‘Russell Group: Informed Choices’ guidance booklet, which includes advice on the best subject combinations for a wide range of courses at the UK’s top universities. It also recommends a list of ‘facilitating subjects’ which are highly regarded by these universities and which if chosen, will keep your options open for entry at these institutions. Students aspiring to study at a Russell Group University should look to study at least 2 facilitating subjects as part of their A level combinations. These subjects are: Mathematics and Further Mathematics, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History and Languages.
The guidance above is given because those universities offering the more traditional, ‘academic’ degree courses (i.e. many of the Russell Group institutions) are more demanding than others in what they expect of their applicants. Cambridge has gone furthest in this respect, publishing very clear guidance on its entrance requirements and even going so far as to identify subjects that, in its view, ‘do not provide a good preparation for the courses that the University of Cambridge offers.’ Full information can be found in the following section of its website:
Cambridge has taken this very public lead in its attempt to distinguish between the growing number of Grade A applicants, but increasingly other universities that offer the most competitive theoretical, exam-based degrees are also placing a greater emphasis on grades achieved in ‘academic’ A level subjects. For example: Law at Manchester has 2 lists of subjects that are either not suitable or ‘less preferred’, Government at LSE prefers ‘at least 2 traditional academic subjects’ and Oxford publishes a table of ‘Essential’, ‘Recommended’ and ‘Helpful’ A level subjects for all of its degree courses
For those considering Medicine, for example, Chemistry at A level is essential, along with one or 2 subjects from Biology, Physics and Maths, but the admissions criteria for each medical school vary and need to be checked individually.
As universities are now becoming far more transparent about what they are looking for, applicants need to make sure that they are better informed at an earlier stage. You therefore need to be well prepared before making your A level subject choices. You can find out a good deal from the universities’ own websites or through the central UCAS website. Alternatively there are a number of independent guides available (e.g. Brian Heap’s, The Essential Guide to Winning Your Place At University).
Although maximising your GCSE grades is obviously the major priority, spending some time looking into university requirements may also turn out to be time well spent.