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A-levels are subject-based qualifications taken in sixth form by students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A-levels take two years and can lead to further study at university, apprenticeships, training or work.
Most students choose three subjects to study at A-level, although you can do up to five. When you apply to university, most will give you an offer based on three subjects. Many universities exclude general studies, so check the course entry requirements for courses you’re interested in if you’re thinking of taking general studies.
Talk to your teachers before deciding how many A-levels to take. Bear in mind what you can handle. It’s better to study fewer A-levels and get fantastic grades than to study many A-levels but achieve lower grades.
Think about your strengths, but also consider what you enjoy studying and what you want to do longer-term when choosing your A-level subjects. If you're not sure what you want to do longer-term, our Career Matcher tool will help suggest some careers that suit your interests. A-levels come with a bigger workload and harder exams than GCSEs, so make sure you’re happy with your choices.
Below, we cover the different departments your school might have along with the university courses or career paths these could lead to. Try to pick a variety of subjects to keep your options open and demonstrate your skillset to university admissions tutors and potential employers.
Sciences don’t just include biology, physics and chemistry, but also mathematics and computer science. Many of them will be familiar to you from GCSEs but there might be some new subjects on offer like sports science, as not all colleges offer this at GCSE.
If you’re interested in studying medicine, becoming an accountant or pursuing a career in engineering, these subjects will be useful to you. Having these subjects as your A-levels helps to demonstrate your logical thinking skills.
Humanities include English literature and language, as well as classics, history and geography (though some branches of geography fall under sciences). Some other subjects that fall under humanities include religious studies and philosophy. While at GCSE you’ll have studied both English language and English literature, at A-level these subjects are often taught separately. These are essay-based subjects so be prepared for a lot of writing if you pick one of these.
Studying humanities at A-level can lead you to a career in journalism, education, marketing and much more. You’ll likely find a bit of overlap between social sciences and humanities, particularly at university level. These subjects are also perfect for demonstrating your critical-thinking ability.
While most colleges and sixth forms will offer language A-levels such as French and German, some schools might also offer courses in languages including Latin and Japanese. Picking up languages at A-level can be difficult and many schools will need you to have a GCSE or an understanding of the language to study it at A-level.
Being multilingual or having an A-level qualification in another language is very helpful if you’re hoping for a career in the corporate world and opens opportunities to work as a translator. People who speak multiple languages are associated with having skills such as better problem-solving, and these subjects also demonstrate you have a good memory.
The social sciences department usually introduces a lot of subjects that weren’t available at GCSE. This includes economics, psychology, sociology and politics. If you’re thinking about studying international relations at university or if you’re interested in a career in government, then some of these subjects are good choices.
Social sciences is a very diverse department so these topics are also popular choices for students interested in working in mental health or even something like accounting. Like humanities, these subjects develop your critical thinking, but it wouldn’t be social sciences without needing some logical and rational thinking as well.
At A-level, arts subjects are often assessed by portfolios, with a smaller focus on exams. Your college may offer art subjects such as graphics, photography, textiles and food tech, as well as art. Many art subjects are more vocational, so they have a clearer path towards careers.
For example, if you want to be a chef or work in a kitchen, you should definitely consider food tech. These are also good subjects to study if you want to pursue a career in the creative industries, such as working in film or television, as they demonstrate your creativity.
Of course, this isn’t a complete list of the subjects on offer at A-level, as every school will have different things available. Your school might have subjects such as business, media or drama as well as a mixture of the above. If you know what you want to study at university, or have a career goal in mind, it might be easier for you to pick your subjects. If you’re not sure what you want to do after your A-levels, focus on keeping your options open with a mix of subjects while making sure you play to your strengths.
Most schools will want you to have achieved five GCSEs with a minimum grade C/4 for each. Your school might have additional requirements to do certain subjects at A-level, for example they may have a minimum GCSE grade in maths if you want to continue studying it at A-level.
Your school may also accept BTECs or other vocational qualifications.
Check with your school (or the sixth form you want to attend if you’re changing schools) and make sure you know exactly what grades you need.
Choosing the right A-levels lets you apply for the university courses you’re interested in. Choose the wrong subjects and you could be losing out on a potential place at uni. While you can go to university no matter which subjects you study provided you get good enough grades, it might affect which courses you can do.
This may sound daunting but don’t feel overwhelmed. Research universities you might want to study at before you make your final A-level choices. For example, if you want to study a science degree, a university will expect to see some sort of science A-level among your grades. Speak to your parents and teachers at school if you want extra support and advice in choosing your A-level subjects.
In some circumstances you can change your A-level subjects. Many schools and sixth form colleges will support students to change their A-levels in the first few weeks of Year 12, but this is up to your teachers. The sooner you speak to a teacher about changing your subjects, the more likely it’ll be.
If you’re studying four subjects in Year 12, you’ll usually be able to drop one of your subjects at the end of the year without worrying about still getting university offers.
If you decide in Year 13 that there’s a subject you wish you’d taken, it’ll be up to your teachers and the school to decide if you can study it.
Yes, you can study both BTECs and A-levels and still get into most universities. If you study a 12-unit BTEC, some universities may also want you to have an A-level.
It’s always worth checking a course’s entry requirements to make sure you can get enough UCAS points to be considered.