How to choose A-level subjects: All you need to know.

How to choose A-level subjects: All you need to know. 1

Done with O levels and now confused about what subjects to choose in A-levels? You are not alone! Almost every prospective A-level student stood where you are standing now. Students acknowledge the importance of A-Levels as a stepping stone for higher studies at University. Admissions and often success at University is reliant on a student’s A-Level results. Maybe that is why many students end up stressed out when choosing A-level Subjects; They fear choosing subjects irrelevant to their chosen discipline at the university level.

Responsibly, we would like to assure you that there is a great deal of leniency and flexibility in most universities’ admission criteria, especially in the UK. There still may be, however, some A-level subjects as prerequisites for university studies. Typically, most engineering, technology and other undergraduate courses have A-Level Mathematics as a prerequisite. Detailed subject requirements will be explained later in the article.

How many Subjects to take?

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We suggest you sit down and try to answer the following questions :

  • How many subjects can you bear the burden of? 
  • What is your academic ability?
  • What were your GCSE grades? 
  • How polished are your time management skills?
  • Will you still be able to incorporate sports, social life and other activities of life into your schedule?

Also worth mentioning is that the Cambridge Board (the O/A examining body) recommends 360 hours of guided learning per A-Level and 180 hours per AS subject (subject taken till AS level). In contrast, an O-level subject will require 130 hours of guided learning. Therefore, one can’t just take 6-7 subjects in A-Levels akin to O-levels as one A-Level subject requires almost three times as much classroom and study time as an O-level subject. 

Moreover, during A-Levels, students may have to allocate time to other activities like internships, university research and form-filling, part-time jobs, English proficiency tests like IELTS, Admission tests such as SAT, ACT, GRE, and other University-specific tests. Thus, too many subjects will overburden the student and may lower their chances of getting into a high-ranked university due to low SAT and ACT scores. 

Still, the question remains: “How many subjects to choose?” In my opinion, four subjects are a safe yet very effective solution for the following reasons:

  • Manageable workload; Many students getting admitted to well-reputed universities are found to have done four A-Levels with A grades at least. Therefore, four A-Level subjects are quite manageable.
  • Extra Subject to fulfill university admission requirements; As mentioned earlier, universities have flexible subject requirements so a relevant fourth subject may substitute for a lower grade in the other three subjects.
  • Time for personal grooming, internships, hobbies; the mental and physical development of a student is as important as their academic development. Moreover, nowadays universities are interested in extra-curricular achievements as well so internships and giving time to your hobbies will present you as an all-rounder adequately prepared to face the challenges of university studies.
  •  Opens up more career options; A fourth subject unrelated to or different from the other subjects will make you eligible to enter into many more fields of studies compared to a three subject combination. For example, taking Biology along with let’s say Physics, Chemistry, Math opens doors to both engineering and medical courses.
  • Widens one’s horizons; Every subject is unique in its capacity and encompasses knowledge and skills exclusive to it; studying an ‘extra’ A-Level enhances one’s skill set and allows him to analyze a problem from an additional perspective.

Also, though most universities would admit you with 3 A- levels, some higher-ranked Universities such as Oxbridge, Harvard, MIT With low acceptance rates may need 4 subjects for admittance. Anyhow, remember this motto: Quality over quantity. You see, Three A’s at A-Levels are rated higher to 2 A’s and 2B’s by Universities

Subjects needed for Specific career Fields:

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We have compiled a list of subjects needed for some popular career paths so it can help you out in choosing the A-Level subjects you should take.

We’ve compiled the requirements of the most popular universities in the UK and other universities, however, do keep in mind, different universities have different requirements, so it’s best to see the requirements of the university you aspire to join.

Computer Science (C.S) and Computer Engineering (C.E)

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First of all, understand that Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering (CE) are fairly different courses. You should know which one interests you the most.

Computer science’s main priority is problem-solving at the software level. Learning many programming languages, maintaining databases, and working with operating systems should also be expected.

On the other hand, computer engineering focuses on problem-solving at the hardware level and developing software and hardware interfaces.

Both degree programs are well-respected and pave the path to employment in various fields. Computer Science jobs are projected to grow by 15 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations as reported by ‘US Bureau of Labour’.

What subjects are needed for C.S and C.E?

According to The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the central body for admissions to Universities in the U.K, Universities require at least two A-Levels or equivalent.

U.K universities and colleges most commonly ask for BBC grades in A-levels with at least five GCSEs (grades A-C) including science, English, and mathematics. Additionally, A-Level Mathematics is a common prerequisite for most C.S and C.E programmes lent support by any other two A-Levels.

Essential Subjects:

  1. Mathematics

Recommended subjects:

  1. Physics
  2. Chemistry
  3. C.S

Other Useful subjects:

  1. Further maths
  2. Philosophy

Our addition: Psychology for A. I related studies

Engineering

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Most universities require A, B, B grades in A-Levels (UCAS). Similar to CS and CE programmes, A-Level Mathematics is essential for almost all engineering courses. Furthermore, Engineering programmes require a high level of mathematical knowledge so further maths, at least to As level, is highly recommended. Otherwise, considerable effort has to be put into bridging the gap between A-Level and university Mathematics.

A-Level Physics is highly preferred as the second A-Level but chemistry, C.S, Design and technology may be taken alternatively.

Essential subjects:

  1. Mathematics

Recommended subjects :

  1. Physics
  2. Chemistry
  3. C.S
  4. Design and Technology

Other useful subjects:

  1. Environmental Science
  2. Geology Geography
  3. Economics
  4. Statistics

These are general guidelines for pursuing engineering degrees. However, It is not viable for us to list down subject requirements for every engineering disciple; Therefore, you should Research yourself about the A-Level subjects for the particular type of engineering you want to take at University.

Nevertheless, for example, The University of Manchester requires an A grade in A-Level Mathematics, 2 more A’s in one of the following: Physics, Electronics, Further Mathematics, Computer Science or Chemistry for admission in their undergraduate mechatronics programmes.

More info here: University of Manchester Bachelor of Mechatronics.

Likewise, the National University of Singapore’s civil and environmental engineering programmes ask for a pass in either Math or Further math and at least one subject out of physics and chem.

More info here: NUS Civil and Environmental Engineering Department 

Medical

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Numerous Medical colleges highlight Chemistry to be an essential requisite for studying medicine and medical applications at college. Other Suggested subjects are 

  1. Biology, 
  2. Mathematics and/or physics 

A-Level Critical thinking may help with section three of the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) for UK universities; It could be taken as the fifth subject at A-Levels(if it is not found burdensome.) 

Another noteworthy point is that A-Level subject choices and grades have to be seconded with relevant practical experience as medicine and medical studies emphasize the application of knowledge over knowledge itself. Therefore, don’t take too many subjects and instead Volunteer in trusts and hospitals.

A Balanced and widely accepted subject combination consists  of these subjects:

  1.  Biology
  2. chem, 
  3. Physics and/or Maths

Essential subjects:

  1. Chemistry

Recommended subjects:

  1. Biology
  2. Mathematics 
  3. Physics 

Useful subjects:

  1. Psychology 

Architecture:

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Most universities don’t set specific Subject requirements for admissions in undergraduate Architecture programmes. They may, however, ask for some form of evidence of your Drawing, designing, planning, model making skills. It is suggested that you take A-Level courses such as Art, Art and design, Design and technology with coursework components to satisfy this requirement. Mathematics may also prove useful; It is required for admission in some universities.

Some universities’ Architecture courses are more physics-centered, while others have an Art-oriented course structure. Therefore, it is recommended that you search thoroughly about your dream universities’ architecture programmes to get a better idea about what subjects you should choose; whether to take up more science subjects or more art ones.

Essential Subjects:

  • Usually none(may vary university by University)

Recommended Subjects

  • Mathematics
  • Arts
  • Art and Design
  • Design and Technology

Other Useful Subjects:

  • Further Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • History of Art
  • Geology

Economics

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It will be expected of you to have the ability to handle, work with, and manipulate numbers and mathematical data. Therefore, strong A-Level math concepts, and thus a high grade in math will be preferred not only for university admission but also for success at university.

Moreover, It is suggested to take Further Maths in A-Levels to cope with the rigorous studies of University; Although it is not essential.

Surprisingly, Universities don’t ask for A-Level economics; more emphasis is put on Mathematics and statistics. Nevertheless, A-Level Economics OR Business studies can provide a solid base for further studies.

Note: Put extra effort into securing a high grade in A-level mathematics as it is essential for any economics degree.

Summary:

  • To sum up, Your subject choices should be according to your interest area, although taking an unrelated subject can keep your options open at university.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many A-Level subjects. 
  • A-Level Maths is Essential or recommended for most Undergraduate programmes 
  • Research about Course requirements at your dream university as some may have different grades and subject requirements.