Help with choosing A-levels

Pupils coming to the end of their GCSE courses need to be thinking about which A-level subjects they want to study in Sixth Form. This is an exciting time to take control of your education and study the subjects you are passionate about.

Take your time choosing your A-levels

It is important to take your time before making a final decision and do some thorough research into what each course has to offer. Have a look at our open day page for more information on how you can ask key questions in person. Meanwhile, here are some tips from our Head of Sixth Form, Paul Hodges, on how to choose the right A-level subjects for you.

1: What do you enjoy?

The first thing to do is ask a really obvious but very important question: “What you do you enjoy studying?” If you enjoy a subject, then you are likely to be more motivated and succeed. If you are successful, then you are more likely to enjoy the subject. Remember that A-levels and BTECs are fairly intensive and you really need you to be hooked on the subject for the next two years. A full list of the subjects available at Berkshire private school LVS Ascot are detailed in our Sixth Form Choices book.

However, there is also the opportunity to experience a range of new subjects that were not available at GCSE level such as A level Criminology and BTEC Travel & Tourism. You will need to take time to investigate these new subjects by talking to teachers and students at open days. Attending the next Sixth Form tour at LVS Ascot on 18th March will give you the chance to explore all options – book to attend by clicking here.

2: Have your end goals in mind

Many university courses require qualifications in particular subjects and will need you to achieve specific grades before they accept you. If you have a clear idea about your career path then check the degree course requirements. Some of these requirements could surprise – for example you may not need an A-level in Economics to study Economics but you will probably need an A-level in Mathematics.

You can look up University course requirements on the UCAS website.

The Which? University guide also provides information on the subjects needed to study particular degree courses.

3: Play the percentages

If you’re unsure about what you want to study at University or choose as a career, then it is a good idea to keep your options open by selecting “facilitating” A-levels. These are subjects that generally keep more University courses open to you when you make your UCAS application and include Biology, Chemistry, English Literature, Geography, History, Mathematics, Languages and Physics. Choosing one or two facilitating subjects allows you to keep your options open. Also, you may need to avoid having a narrow combination of similar subjects such as Business Studies and Economics or History and Government & Politics as these are sometimes viewed negatively by certain universities.

4: To BTEC or not to BTEC

It’s not all about A-levels in the Sixth Form – don’t forget the vocational subjects. Cambridge Technicals and BTEC qualifications are vocational subjects that tend to have a greater emphasis on practical elements. The nature of the courses helps to develop independent study, self-organisation and time management. They are equivalent to A-levels (depending on the number of units you complete) and they are recognised by most Universities including those in the Russell Group.

5: Avoid misinformation

There is a lot of misinformation about which A-levels particular universities will and won’t accept. Check the university websites and make contact with admissions officers if you are unsure – they are usually very helpful. Furthermore, your UCAS application will allow you to write a personal statement which gives you the opportunity to present yourself as an individual and demonstrate all the co-curricular activities you have undertaken during your time in the sixth form. Many universities will consider you if you have an interesting yet truthful personal statement regardless of the A-level combinations you select. The LVS Advantage programme and Duke of Edinburgh scheme always help LVS Ascot students stand out so make the most of your sixth form opportunities.

6: Remember the reforms

The reforms to A-levels in all subjects will be complete by September 2017.  This means most departments will simply offer A-level qualifications and not AS level qualifications. AS level qualifications do exist and can provide additional UCAS Tariff points so long as you do not study the subject to A-level, however, an AS level is only worth 40% of a full A-level. In view of this, a better option to gain extra UCAS Tariff points would be to consider studying an EPQ (extended project qualification) alongside three A-levels. An EPQ is worth 50% of an A-level and is recognised as providing university-style study with the opportunity to expand your knowledge in particular interest area. In 2016, 100% of EPQs at our Berkshire private sixth form achieved A* – B results. Information on the new UCAS Tariff system is available here.

7: And finally…

Sixth Forms in schools and colleges will usually need your choices before April in order to start planning their timetables.  However, remember that these choices may have to change following your GCSE results so it is important to be flexible and make sure you communicate any changes to your school.

Seek independent advice by making an appointment to talk to our careers adviser. Louise Buckley from Adviza will meet with you and write a personalised action plan.

Paul Hodges is Head of Sixth Form at Berkshire independent school LVS Ascot. He has been involved with advising students on Sixth Form choices for the last 8 years. Before becoming a teacher, he worked in the university sector as a senior lecturer in Materials Science.

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