How do I decide what A-Levels to study?
September 29, 2015
Choosing which A-Levels to study is the first time you as a student really have to make a choice about the path your education will follow. Prior to this point most choices will have been made for you, for example your parents would have chosen your secondary school, you may have had some choice about your GCSE options but often even this is narrowed down by your school and the choice is heavily influenced by your teachers.
In contrast when choosing your A- Levels the choice is entirely yours for the first time (although the influence of your friends, parents and teachers still exists).
The importance of this decision can also not be under-estimated, your A-Level choices will heavily influence the universities and courses you are eligible to apply for and will also always be looked at by future employers even after you have a degree! These factors combine to make choosing your A-Level courses a very important and difficult decision.
In making this decision I always give students three main pieces of advice (which I shall elaborate on later in this text):
1) Make sure your A-Level choices keep all options open to you
2) Follow your personal interests first and above anything else
3) Make sure your A- Levels demonstrate a wide range of knowledge and allow you to develop a broad range of skills
It is highly unlikely that you at age 16 know what you want to do as a career for the rest of your life and this is completely normal! Furthermore if you do think you know what career you want to do for the rest of your adult life, it is unlikely that you will actually in fact want to do this forever - forever is a long time! Hence it is important that your A-Levels keep all options open to you, so that you have the option to change university course at a later date or change careers at an even later day. In my opinion based on my experience in order to do this all students should pursue A- Level Mathematics, Mathematics A-Level gives you a lot of occupational mobility as once completed it opens doors into engineering, economics, finance and computing which will otherwise always be closed to you.
You may be reading this thinking "well... I hate maths and I will never want to work in finance... so why should I bother"... my answer to you is simple... choice! Education is about choice, give yourself the choice to work in finance at some point even if you don’t want to right now. (Plus many graduates end up in finance because the pay is much better than other industries).
I would also advocate doing at least one science and once literacy based subject such as English, History or Religious studies.
Follow your personal interests first and above all else, pick the subjects you like most, the ones you are interested in, the ones you can see yourself reading about over and above what is required by your exam board or teacher. Your personal interests should be the main influencer above what your parents tell you to do, what your friends are doing or what your teachers tell you to do - after all YOU are the one that has to study the subject.
Additionally your personal interest should over-shadow any career goals you currently have, do not think of a career and then work backwards to your A-Level choices, your A-Level choices should influence your career goals - not the other way around.
Finally interest is important as you will excel more in subjects you are interested in resulting in better grades being attained in those subjects. The end grade is actually the most important thing these good grades will take you to a good university and give you the CHOICE of any job you want as a graduate.
Make sure your A-Levels demonstrate a wide range of skills, the more skills you develop the better you will be both at university and in work as a graduate. Additionally A-level subjects complement one another so studying a range of subjects will help you become a more rounded person and enable you to benefit more greatly in all subjects. For example studying philosophy in Religious Studies helped me understand and be able to question deeply the assumption of rationality in Economics.
To further clarify this point, I would feel a student was somewhat restricting the potential benefits of education if they chose Economics, Business, Accounting and Mathematics. I would more advocate Economics, Accounting, History and Mathematics as this range is more wide and in my opinion will lead to a more rounded and enlightened individual.
I hope this article will help students at this point in their life make a more informed decision about their A-Level choices, I also hope it will help parents in the process of aiding their children through this difficult time.
I wish you all the best of luck and if you can just remember one thing from this article please let that be do “A-Level Mathematics and pick the subjects you love most!”
Resources others found helpful
Revision sheet for students to carry on with for iGCSE (and GCSE) Biology.
This article attempts to shine some light on the Oxbridge Admissions process for STEM-based subjects, such as Maths, Engineering and Natural Sciences.