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Which subjects should I choose?

Choosing your A Levels needs careful research. But it needn’t be stressful!

Take advice from your school careers advisor and university admissions departments so you can make an informed decision, based on accurate up-to-date information.

It is worth asking questions and researching entry requirements for courses at various universities to get a good idea of the subjects you should take.

What to consider when choosing your A Levels

There are a number of factors to take into consideration when choosing A Levels.

If you want to go onto university, the main question to ask yourself is "Do I know what I want to study at university?". Your answer to this question will go a considerable way to dictating what subjects you should choose for A Levels.

Click to skip to:
If you don't know what you want to study at university
If you know what you want to study at university • Other factors to consider

If you know what you want to study at university

Knowing what you want to study at university already puts you in a good position when choosing A Level subjects.  

Your first step should be to check entrance requirements on university websites for the course you want to do. A lot of courses will specify at least one subject you will need to have studied at A Level. medicine, veterinary science and certain engineering courses may, for example, require three specific subjects.

Additionally, some universities publish a list of preferred A level subjects which are acceptable for general admission, as well as specific requirements for individual courses. Do your research!

If you have a specific career in mind, check to see if you will need particular A level subjects. You can find job profiles on the National Careers Service site to find out more.

Don’t be afraid to email or telephone the universities during year 11 to ask for their advice about the subjects required for a course you are interested in. Get in touch with the universities' Admissions Offices or the Schools Liaison Teams. 

If you don't know what you want to study at university

A lot of you will not be sure what you want to study at university, or may not be sure if you want to go to university at all.

Don’t worry if this applies to you as it means that, within reason, you can choose whichever subjects you want and let that dictate your degree choice should you go on to study at university.

Facilitating subjects

'Facilitating' subjects are a list of eight subjects listed by the Russell Group universities in the booklet Informed Choices.The booklet states that these subjects "will keep your degree options open until you decide which course to take."

This applies to both A Levels and equivalent qualifications (such as International Baccalaureate and Scottish Highers). They are worth considering if you aspire to go to a prestigious university but are not sure what you want to study. 

There eight subjects are:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • English literature
  • Geography
  • History
  • Maths and further maths
  • Modern and classical languages
  • Physics

Generally speaking taking two facilitating subjects will keep a wide range of degree courses open to you. But you still need to choose subjects you like as you'll be studying them for the next two years.

Informed Choices also advises on other requirements and advice for applying to the Russell Group. 

If you are planning to apply to a prestigious university, make sure you are not going to put yourself at a disadvantage by choosing an A Level which is not considered rigorous enough. 

The Russell Group universities recommend you choose at least 2 traditional subjects (facilitating subjects) to ensure you will be considered by their admissions tutors.

If you’re still uncertain, phone or email the university Admissions or Schools Liaison team and ask for their advice before finalising your choices.  

Other factors to consider when choosing A Level subjects 

You shouldn’t just think about your life after A Levels when choosing your subjects.

Below are just some factors to consider, regardless of your future plans are, when choosing what to study:

  • What you are good at. A Levels are a big step up from GCSEs. Your career or degree ideas may change so make sure you choose subjects which can do well in.
  • What you enjoy. You will be more motivated to work hard if you study a subject you find interesting and enjoy. If you don’t enjoy a course at A Level but are choosing it because you need it for a specific university course, you should probably reconsider your degree preference. However, don’t assume you will like the subject at A Level just because you liked it at GCSE – it could be really different! Ask your teachers for advice.
  • Your subject combination. If you are taking a science A Level, you should consider whether you need to look at taking another science or maths, particularly if you are interested in scientific careers or higher education courses. Be wary that some universities will look for a variety of courses to show a breadth or knowledge and interests.
  • Learning new subjects. Try and avoid taking on a lot of new subjects. Having three or four new areas of study could be hard work.
  • Avoid taking subjects you think employers want. English and Maths are looked at as good subjects to impress employers or to fall back on. This is the wrong reason to choose a subject - take them if you are good at them and really interested in studying them further. Most employers are happy with English and Maths at GCSE level.
  • The syllabus. Reading the course content should give you an idea whether a particular A level is the right option for you.
  • The workload you can handle. Be realistic about how much work you can do. Choosing subjects which all require a lot of essay writing or additionally reading can be hard work. Reading the syllabus and assessment methods will give you a good idea about what the workload will be. 

Consider taking at least one (preferably two) facilitating subjects (also called 'informed choices') if you are planning on studying at a highly selective or academic university – this will keep your options open.