Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

What subjects should I choose at A-level?

choosing a levelsThe A-levels you choose will not only decide what you study for the next two years, but will also influence your higher education and career options later in life. Read on to find out more...

Should I do subjects I know or something new?

Most schools and colleges have more subjects available at A-level than at GCSE. As well as subjects like English, maths and geography, you can also take business studies, photography and psychology, to name just a few.

But whether it’s a subject you already know or something new, do your research first. It’s a good idea to do at least one subject you already enjoy – but remember that studying something at A-level can be much harder than studying it at GCSE.

If it’s something completely new, make sure you know all the details first. For example, economics might sound interesting, but if you struggled with maths at GCSE, it might not be right for you.

Are some subject choices better than others?

If you’re planning on applying to university, your A-level choices could determine which universities and degree courses you’re able to apply for.

If you’re planning to apply to one of the twenty-four Russell Group universities, you might want to look at their ‘Informed Choices’ guide. This guide lists the most useful A-level choices for students applying to these universities.

What if I don’t know what course I want to study at university?

If you’re not sure what subject you’d like to study yet, the Russell Group suggests that you pick two of the following facilitating subjects:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • English Literature
  • Geography
  • History
  • Physics
  • Modern and classical languages
  • Maths and further maths

They’re called ‘facilitating’ subjects because they’re the subjects most frequently required for admission to degree courses. So if you’re not sure which degree you’d like to study yet, studying facilitating subjects at A-Level leaves open the widest possible range of degree options. This is true even if you’re not applying to a Russell Group university.

What are ‘preferred’ and ‘non-preferred’ subjects?

Each university has their own entry requirements for general admission and specific course entry.

Some universities publish a list of ‘preferred’, or ‘useful’ A-level subjects for general admission. These subjects are those that they value most highly when selecting students for admission.

These universities tend to also publish a list of ‘non-preferred’ subjects for general admission. These subjects are those which won’t strengthen your application to that particular university.

Some universities also discourage students from studying certain combinations of subjects at A-level.

The list of ‘preferred’ and ‘non-preferred’ A-level subjects and combinations for general admission is useful if you’re sure you want to apply to a particular university, but don’t yet know which course you’d pick. You can usually find this list, if the university has one, in their prospectus or on their FAQ page online.

If you do know which course you’d like to study, look up the A-level subject requirements for that course at different universities. Some courses have compulsory A-level subject requirements. For instance, you’ll need to study Maths at A-level if you wish to study it at university.

Universities also often list ‘preferred’ and ‘non-preferred’ A-level choices for specific courses. You may find a good deal of overlap in the ‘preferred’ and ‘non-preferred’ A-levels for the same course at different universities. For instance, ‘Biology’ is a ‘preferred’ A-level for Medicine courses at most universities. However, sometimes university preferences differ dramatically. For instance, A-level ‘Law’ is a non-preferred subject at LSE, whilst many other universities value it as much as any other subject.

How much do ‘preferred’ and ‘non-preferred’ subjects matter?

It’s important to remember that studying ‘preferred’ subjects doesn’t guarantee you admission to a course or university, just as studying a ‘non-preferred’ subject at A-level doesn’t necessarily lessen your chances. For instance, some universities say they’re fine for you to study one ‘non-preferred’ subject A-level, so long as your other two subjects aren’t ‘non-preferred’. And, as we’ve said before, only some universities and courses have ‘preferred’ and ‘non-preferred’ A-level subjects. Some don’t even require A-levels to begin with! That’s why it’s important to try and do your research before making any decisions.

I’ve already picked my A-levels. How do I know what courses I can study at university?

Try Which? University’s A-level explorer.

What if I already know I’ve chosen the wrong A-levels?

Keep calm and read our guide!