In this post
When it’s time to select your A-levels it’s important to think about the subjects that interest you and that you enjoy studying. But it’s also important to think about whether those subjects will help you to obtain a place on your chosen university course and pursue your chosen career path. The fact is that when it comes to making a university application, some A-levels are more highly regarded than others in the field of academia.
Unfortunately, working out which A-levels are most regarded isn’t an exact science, with some courses being more highly prized by different universities or on different courses. But it is important to do this research before you start your A-level courses, to give yourself the best chance of achieving your academic and career goals. With that in mind, here is a breakdown of some of the best A-levels for university courses:
Choosing the right A-levels is a big decision and one that you shouldn’t take lightly. Typical A-level students take between 3-4 A-levels over a two-year period and these qualifications are available in a wide range of subjects from the fields of science, humanities, business, languages, social sciences, and mathematics. You can study for your A-levels in a school or college setting, and you can even study from the comfort of your own home via an online college. But with so much choice it can be hard to know which subjects are right for you: or perhaps you already know which subjects you want to study, and what you’d like to go on to study at university but aren’t sure which additional subjects would work best for you.
When choosing A-levels it’s important to think not only about the subjects you enjoy and want to study further, but also how well those subjects will work together. Often A-level combinations should complement each other and show university admission officers that you are committed to studying your chosen subject.
If you wish to study computer science or engineering, for example, then maths, further maths and physics will demonstrate your logical skills and high level of numeracy. If you wish to study law, finance or politics then A-levels in history, economics and politics are a great combination. Finally, if your focus is on an essay subject, then a popular combination to access this is English Literature, history and psychology. This is also a great combination for students hoping to go on to study law.
Most respected A-Levels
The most respected A-levels are those which are considered the most valuable by universities as well as those which are considered the most valuable by other students. Maths is one of the most popular A-levels and also one of the most respected. The reason this subject is so often considered the most respected A-level is because maths forms the basis of so many other subjects, and a fundamental knowledge of maths is essential for so many university degrees. If you wish to study medicine, engineering, or any science degree then most universities will require that you have a maths A-level.
Other A-level subjects that are highly regarded, and which are often requested by universities, include the ‘big three’ science A-levels (biology, chemistry and physics) as these form the basis of many BSc Degrees. A-level Chemistry is seen as one of the most academic A-level subjects, and for this reason, it is often chosen by Oxbridge applicants who wish to show off their academic prowess and commitment to knowledge.
English Literature and English Language A-levels are also highly regarded and are considered the most important A-levels if you are focusing on a BA Degree at university. Being able to communicate clearly and concisely on paper is a valuable life skill and one that will make you especially employable. It will also demonstrate that you have the skills you need to succeed if you go on to take an ‘essay subject’ at university.
Whilst all A-levels require hard work and dedication, sadly not all A-levels are created equally. Some subjects can’t even be included in your list of the three A-levels that are the minimum requirement for university admissions. General studies is the main example of this. Though it is compulsory at many schools and colleges and will give you a round foundation in a range of subjects that may help you as you enter adulthood, it is not a subject that has any value on a university admissions form.
Other A-levels only have value if you’re taking a very specific university degree course. A dance A-level, for example, will only be considered valuable if you’re studying for a degree in dance, drama, or the performing arts. Critical thinking media studies is another A-level with very limited uses and will only be considered beneficial to your application if you’re applying for a degree in media or film studies. Finally, there are very few degrees in which a home economics A-level would be considered valuable or advantageous, so this is something to consider if higher education is your ultimate goal.
As a general rule, and particularly if you don’t have a future career path or chosen university course in mind, sticking to traditional A-level subjects will open more doors than particularly modern or niche subjects. These traditional and long-standing A-level subjects are certainly the most respected and will open more doors for you.
Choosing A-Levels for the Right University Course
If You’ve Chosen Your University Course
If you already know what subject you want to study at degree level (for example, if you know you want to become a doctor or if you have a passion for history), then it is much easier to ensure that you choose the right A-levels. On a huge number of university courses, the university will state clearly which subjects it is essential that you have studied at A-level. If you want to study an English degree, for example, it is likely that English language or English literature A-levels will be listed as essential, whilst chemistry and biology are essential A-levels for veterinary science degrees.
When reading the course requirements, the university in question is likely to differentiate between A-level subjects that they deem essential and those that they deem to be useful but may not necessarily be required. You will need to study the essential subjects and should consider studying the useful subjects too if you have the space in your academic timetable.
It would be impossible for one article to collate all of the courses available at the UK’s 164 universities and higher education institutions, and the individual requirements of each, but here are some examples of some of the most popular university courses in the UK and the A-levels you will need to access these courses:
To study medicine at university, chemistry is considered an essential subject and you will need at least one other science A-level too (you can choose between biology or physics) but most applicants will choose to study three or more science subjects to give them an advantage in their application. Mathematics is also considered a desirable A-level for a medical degree.
If you wish to study classics, then many universities will require that you study A-levels in both Latin and Classical Greek. However, given that not all schools or colleges offer A-levels in these subjects, some universities may accept you on the course with other foreign language A-levels (such as French or Italian) on the proviso that you attend summer school to get your Latin and Greek up to a minimum standard before you start the university course. Other desirable but not required A-level courses include history and history of art.
It should go without saying that to study music at university you will need a music A-level and a high level of proficiency in at least one musical instrument. Some universities will also ask that you have a grade 5 proficiency in piano alongside your main instrument. An A-level in music technology should be considered a ‘nice to have’ but most universities are unlikely to accept this in lieu of a music A-level.
Like music, you would expect to need a geography A-level to study for a geography degree, but in reality, most universities don’t have specific entry requirements to study geography. Obviously, it would be beneficial to have a geography A-level but a mix of other humanities and science subjects would give the same broad base of knowledge. If you can study geography, this is recommended, and other subjects to consider include geology, sociology, economics, mathematics, biology and chemistry.
There is rarely a required A-level list to study politics at university, but a mixture of humanities and science subjects is considered useful. You may wish to consider studying history, government and politics, psychology, economics, mathematics, English language or English literature, law or a foreign language if you wish to read a politics degree.
If it is available at your school or college then a philosophy A-level would be highly desirable to study philosophy at many universities, but as this isn’t a common A-level, it isn’t a requirement. Instead, a mixture of art and science subjects is preferred to indicate a round educational base. Subjects to consider include history, mathematics, English language, English literature and physics.
If you wish to study engineering at university then it is a requirement that you have an A-level in maths and at least one science subject. Some universities will specify that this science subject is physics whilst others will accept any of the sciences. Whilst further maths isn’t mandatory it is certainly considered nice to have, and technology subjects, such as design and technology or computer science, are also considered desirable by many universities.
This is a number-based degree, so most universities will require that you have an A-level in mathematics, and some will ask for a further mathematics A-level as well. Economics is a good A-level to take if your school or college offers it, but this is not a requirement so don’t worry if they don’t. A strong foundation in maths is the main reason why, with economics sitting alongside business studies and statistics in the ‘nice to have’ category.
It is essential that you have a mathematics A-level to study for a maths degree, and some universities will also list further mathematics as an essential A-level requirement. For your third subject, you should consider a science subject to demonstrate an interest in related areas. Physics and chemistry are good examples, whilst statistics and computing would also be beneficial.
This is another example of a degree where specific A-level subjects are not expressly required, but you will be expected to have at least one science A-level subject, and mathematics is also considered desirable. Some schools and colleges offer psychology as an A-level and if you can take this you should, as it will give you a firm base in the subject, and help you to decide if it’s the right subject for you.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t already need to know how to code to study computer science, but a mathematics A-level is a requirement for most universities and further maths is a requirement for many too. One science subject would also enhance your application, whilst actually studying ICT at A-level may put off some universities. If you need another subject, then computer science, electronics or geology are all good choices.
To be accepted on an architectural course at university you will need to present a portfolio of work. In order to gather this portfolio, it would be beneficial to take A-levels that require coursework that can be used for this, such as art, design or graphic design. Some architecture courses will ask for a maths A-level, but many won’t because some are more art-oriented. This is something to consider both when choosing your A-levels and choosing which university you wish to attend.
If You Haven’t Chosen Your University Course
If you don’t yet know what subject you’d like to study at university then this can make ensuring that you select the correct A-levels a little tougher, but don’t worry because it’s not uncommon for students to go into their A-levels without knowing what their next steps might be. Your first option is to choose subjects that you enjoy and that you are predicted to achieve good grades in at GCSE level: you’re more likely to achieve good grades in a subject you enjoy studying and achieving high results will open up a wider range of universities to you.
Another thing to consider is the types of subjects you choose. Picking subjects across a range of fields will help you to develop skills that assist you in a range of disciplines at university level. For example, studying essay-based subjects such as English Literature or history is a great way to demonstrate analytical skills and critical thinking. Having an essay-based A-level will help you to get onto an essay-based university course, even if they aren’t in the same field. Taking a science-based subject is a great way to demonstrate your logic and reasoning skills, as well as showing that you are familiar with scientific principles. This would help you to secure a place on a logic or science-focused course if this is the direction you choose to take. Finally, practical subjects often have a bad reputation, but this is largely ill-deserved. Some practical A-levels, such as art or music, show that you are creative, disciplined, and dedicated to a craft that you enjoy.