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How to choose your A levels

Feeling unsure about what subjects to specialise in at A Level? Don’t fret, as our expert guidance will help to put you on the right path

Whether you dream of being a doctor, are a born scientist or see yourself as a successful entrepreneur, making the most of your education is key to achieving your dream. It follows then that choosing your A Levels can be a nerve-wracking experience. It can pose an even greater dilemma for those who just aren’t sure what the future holds.

“Lots of students are unsure of the career they want to progress into when choosing A Level subjects, so my first word of advice is ‘don’t panic, as you are not alone’,” says Rebecca Coulter, Head of Sixth Form, Kings’ School Al Barsha. “It’s important to understand that A Levels are difficult, regardless of the subjects you choose, so it’s sensible to select the subjects you enjoy and that you are genuinely interested in.”

Here, Rebecca answers some common questions to help you along the way…

What are my options at Kings?

“Kings’ Sixth Form is proud to be offering 22 A Level subjects this year,” says Rebecca. “We have carefully planned the curriculum to support students with their chosen career path and provide a breadth of choice. Alongside the facilitating subjects – Maths, Further Maths, English, History, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Languages – we are offering A Levels in Psychology, Sociology, Politics, Fine Art, Music, Music Technology, Design Technology, Photography, Drama and Theatre Studies, Business, French, Spanish and Economics.”

How can I keep my options open when it comes to getting a place at University?

“It’s prudent to remember that it’s grade quality, not quantity, that counts,” says Rebecca. “Entry requirements for UK universities vary depending on the type of establishment and the popularity of the course. Average entry requirements for Oxford or Cambridge are A*AA, although some courses will expect A*A*A*. The Russell Group universities generally require higher A Level grades for entry, where as some newer universities are more flexible.”

It’s worth familiarising yourself with UCAS points. As Rebecca points out: “These work on a sliding scale depending on grades and are requested by some but not all universities. Some university entry requirements are based on the interview process in addition to grades.”

What are the A Level requirements for some of the most popular university courses?

“A degree in medicine will always require A Level Chemistry and Biology, plus one other science,” says Rebecca. “Dentistry will require A Level Chemistry and Biology, plus one other subject. A Mathematics degree will require A Level Maths.”

That said, there are a host of degree subjects that do not stipulate specific A Level subjects, such as accountancy, business studies, law, marketing, philosophy, media studies and psychology.

“It is vital to check the entry requirements of each university, as the criteria can vary significantly,” says Rebecca. “Make sure you do your research so your choices are informed.”

What shall I do if I just can’t decide?

“There is no A level ‘blacklist’ when it comes to subject combinations, although it is recommended that you try to keep a balanced skillset through A Level study,” says Rebecca. “If you are certain you want to study medicine or engineering, for example, then you need to narrow down rather than widen your A level subject choice. If you are not set on a particular area, however, play to your strengths and don't specialise in one area too much.

“It’s also worth thinking about the transferrable skills demonstrated by different subject choices,” she adds. “Essay-based subjects such as English Literature or History, for instance, demonstrate analytical skills and critical thinking. Science subjects like Physics and Mathematics demonstrate logic and familiarity with scientific principles and practical subjects such as Art or Music demonstrate self-discipline and creative thinking. If you pick a range of subjects across these fields, you’ll have more than enough to show potential universities your capabilities in different areas.”

3 steps to take

Kick-start the process thanks to these words of wisdom.

Facilitate your future. “Consider selecting one or more of the ‘facilitating subjects’ at A Level,” says Rebecca. “These are the subjects most commonly required or preferred by universities to get on to a range of degree courses. They will help to keep your options open when choosing a degree as many of the top universities will ask you to have at least one A-level in a facilitating subject when you apply.”

Do the legwork. “Start your university research early, using websites such as www.ucas.com,” says Rebecca. “This website will enable you to look at every university course on offer at every institution in the UK and includes entry requirements and preferred subjects if applicable.”

Focus the mind. “Lastly, bear in mind that certain degree subjects, such as Medicine, require a specific combination of A level qualifications,” says Rebecca. “If you do know what degree pathway you wish to follow, do your research before you select your A level subjects.”

 

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