The Sort guide to choosing your A Levels - and knowing what your alternatives are...
We know how scary it is when teachers and loved ones tell you how big the step up is from GCSE to A level. We want to reassure you that as important as A level choices are, they aren’t the be-all and end-all for your career prospects.
Sometimes taking things parents, guardians, and friends say at face value can pressure you into the wrong decision, so take your time and choose what’s right for you.
It's normal to not know which A Levels to choose...
Whether you have your career path all mapped out in front of you, or you haven’t got any idea about what you want to do, we're here to help you with your decision-making.
For both of these situations, you want to be doing as much research as you can. Most colleges and schools will offer a subject guide booklet or have this information on their website.
If you haven’t decided which college or school you are going to for A levels yet, this can also be a factor in your decision as subjects and subject content can often vary considerably between different A level providers.
Go through all of the subjects, and circle or note down any subjects that interest you, or you think you would do well in from your current skill-set from GCSE. Keep your options open as you never know what might interest you.
The wrong way to choose A Levels
Keep in mind the wrong ways of choosing A levels as well as the right ways. Some of the wrong ways include:
As tempting as it can be to choose a certain subject because you know your best friend will be in the same class as you, your A levels should be of interest to you and focus on what you are good at, not your friends.
Sticking to familiar options
There is a far greater choice of A level subjects than that usually offered at GCSE level, such as psychology, politics and law. If the newness of these subjects intimidates you, consider whether these would actually interest you and if you’d do well in them. They might open up new doors for your future interests.
Not thinking about the future
Instead of only thinking about you in the present moment, consider what future you might benefit from and where your overriding interests lie.
Working backwards from career paths you are interested in is one way to narrow down your choices - try using Sort to identify some job types you’re interested in and take a look at the entry requirements section for suggested subject choices.
Choosing A Levels if you don’t have a career or degree in mind
If you don't have a sense of what career path you might want to take that's fine. In this scenario it can be a good option to choose the subjects that you enjoy most and/or you are best at.
Even if your future plans aren’t set in stone but you have some idea of what you like, choosing A levels that vaguely direct you towards an area can often spark a decision during these two years.
Study at GCSE level can often seem unexciting, however A level subjects can enable you to find more specifically what you’re interested in.
Example 1: Let’s say you have an interest in nature and the environment, but nothing in your GCSE geography syllabus excites you so you feel put off from choosing it for A level.
Rather than abandoning it altogether, take a closer look at what A level geography includes, and even further along the line at degree level where you’ll normally be able to specialise in exactly the area that interests you.
Example 2: You might have always excelled in and enjoyed maths, but maybe the teacher has put you off. It’s common to just not gel with certain teachers.
But think back to your original interest in the subject, and why you used to like it. Chances are, your A level maths teacher might spark that excitement again, so maybe give it another chance.
Another problem might be that you are generally good at your GCSE subjects across the board, but nothing particularly stands out to you - or you enjoy lots of subjects and don’t want to narrow down.
It’s often still possible to choose subjects that cover a broad range and that will leave future doors open to you, showcasing a variety of skills.
For example you might choose to include both a ‘STEM’ subject and a more arts-based option like English.
The secret A Level list that no-one tells you about...
It’s not always made clear to students but there is also a list of core ‘preferred’ subjects - that are seen as ‘high quality’ A levels by some of the so-called top universities. If you are considering applying to Oxford, Cambridge, or one of the ‘Russell Group’ Universities you should seriously consider choosing your A Levels from this list:
- English Literature
- Maths / Further Maths
- Modern/classical languages
Choosing A Levels if you do have a career or degree in mind
Having an area that you already know you’re interested in entering into, such as law or medicine, can make life a lot easier when choosing A levels, and yet you might still feel the pressure to make the right decision.
If you know the degree you want to apply for after A level study, try to work backwards, looking at potential universities you might be interested in applying for, and checking what their entry requirements are for your chosen degree subject.
Many universities will specifically state which subjects they need and at what grade also.
We’ve put some general subject requirements for a range of degrees below - but it’s important to check the entry requirements for specific universities as they can vary greatly. You can find them on university websites or on UCAS:
- Engineering degrees: you’ll normally need maths A level or equivalent, and usually science subjects (such as physics).
- Biology degrees: usually requires chemistry and biology A level.
- Nursing / Sports Science / Psychology degrees: usually requires a science subject but it may not matter which one.
- Law degrees: don’t usually have essential subjects, but usually those which show an ability to write (a mixture of arts and science).
- Medicine degrees: chemistry is usually essential, plus two other A levels (usually including another science).
- Business Studies / Accounting / Management degrees: there are not usually any essential subjects, but maths is useful, as well as business studies/economics. It’s often the case that many of the top universities don’t recommend taking both business and economics at A level.
- English degrees: you’ll normally need english - and literature is usually preferred.
- Geology / Earth Sciences degrees: you’ll normally need at least two from maths and the sciences.
- Economics degrees: you’ll sometimes need maths, but rarely do you need economics A level itself.
A Levels are not the only option
The A level to degree route is also not the only option out there. If you’re struggling to decide on your A levels there are plenty of other choices out there, including:
Technical Qualifications & T Levels
Further education colleges and online course providers offer a wide range of technical qualifications that you can study. Take a look at your local college for course inspiration.
A new type of qualification - T Levels - are a more practical, hands-on option with work experience built in. A T Level is the equivalent to three A Levels and the first three subjects available are:
- Design, Surveying and Planning (construction)
- Digital Production, Design and Development
For more information visit: https://www.tlevels.gov.uk/
Straight into Employment
If you’re planning on going straight into work after sixth form/college, then take a look at the potential fields that interest you and check what subjects they require or desire upon application. Sort has lots of opportunities for you to browse and apply for.
Higher or Degree Apprenticeship
Many higher or degree apprenticeships have specific subject areas they want you to have good grades in in order to qualify. This information is usually online and is given by the specific apprenticeship provider or company. Search Sort for our latest apprenticeship opportunities.
A Final Thought...
Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to remember that the choices you make now don’t have to define your future. It’s likely that you will change your mind about something along the way, and that’s fine.
You always have choices, and there are always routes through. What’s most important right now is that you choose something that you can feel comfortable and happy with and that will leave you looking forward to the next stage in your journey...