What subjects should I study and why?
For some this might be an easy question, but for others it can be very tricky. There are some quick questions you should ask yourself that may help you make the decision.
What do I want to be when I grow up?
If you already know what career path you want to take, then this will make choosing your options a lot easier. For some, this will mean you have to study certain subjects – such as an aspirant doctor would need to study chemistry. For other careers, there are subjects that make sense for you to study, such as history for someone wanting to become an archaeologist. Some careers, such as becoming a lawyer are a lot less specific – in fact it’s possible to become a lawyer without even studying law at university (though it may take a bit longer to qualify), and some universities prefer their law applicants not to have studied law at A-Level either. All these things you will need to take into consideration.
If you do already know what you want to do, then doing some further research into that career path will tell you the sorts of courses you need to consider.
What do I want to study at university?
If you haven’t earmarked the job that’s right for you, but already have your heart set on a specific course at university, then the best thing to do would be to go and research the entry requirements for that course. Some universities and courses will require you to study specific subjects, and some give guidelines on which subjects they’d prefer over others. It’s your decision at the end of the day, remember, and you have a long time ahead of you before you think about university in more detail, so this could change in the next few years. Make sure you don’t choose your subjects are based on simply on external recommendations.
What do I enjoy the most?
Everyone, even those who claim they hate school, will have one or two subjects that they really enjoy studying. As an avid reader you may enjoy English literature; maybe you’re interested in warfare, in which case history might command your interest; or perhaps you simply get a buzz from quadratic equations, in which case your maths will be the highlight of your day. Whatever you like the most, it is probably a good idea to think about studying these subjects. Remember, simply being interested in something can not only make it seem easier, but encourage you to engage and work harder.
What am I best at?
These last two questions are linked, but there is a subtle difference. Find algebra boring, but remarkably easy? Do you find that writing an analytical essay is second nature? Do you have the confidence to make performance seem a doddle? Studying subjects that you excel in can earn you the grades to impress universities or prospective employers, but if that means spending your next two years of study as a miserable work-horse, then is it really worth it? I'll let you decide that one.
What courses are on offer?
There is a much wider selection of courses available at A-Level than you had access to at GCSE, especially if you go to a particularly large school or are considering a sixth form college. If you’re bored of all the subjects you currently study and want to try your hand at something new, then it’s worth seeing what other courses you can study. Popular alternatives from GCSE subjects include things like psychology, law and media, which give you the opportunity to apply your existing skills to a range of new topics and occasions.
Opinion: It is important to remember that if you wish to apply to competitive courses or competitive universities, they often look down on "soft" subjects. You are usually better to stick to "traditional academics subjects", examples of which include Maths, History and Physics, as opposed to what can be seen as "soft" subjects, examples of which include Media Studies and Dance. People seem to be under the impression universities will like an "original" subject choice, but that really isn't the case. For competitive courses/unis, play it safe and stick with traditional subjects IMO.
Still don’t know what you want to study? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Take plenty of time to make your decisions. Take the above into consideration – mixing and matching courses will likely offer you the best balance of enjoyment, hard work, new opportunities and future prospects. Take a course you really love, take one you’re really good at, take one you’ve never studied before, take one that universities or employers will be impressed by and what have you got? A pretty good recipe for choosing your subjects. Whatever you do:
- Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into anything by your school or college deadlines. Take as much time as you can.
- Don’t let yourself be cornered into doing this or that because of timetabling issues. If this happens, then think about looking at other institutions, and be sure to ask your head of sixth form whether your school could organise to join a local consortium to offer a better range of courses. Don’t know what a consortium is? Click here.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask your teachers, ask family and friends who have studied past their GCSEs, or ask people you know who are currently studying.
- Don’t take subjects just because your friends are. Too many people do this and, from experience, it doesn’t help at all.
- Don’t think that this is going to be a final decision – you will have time to change courses at the start of the year if you’re not enjoying them and, if worst comes to worst, you can always sit into year 14.
- A-Level Subject Guides
- Where should I study?
- Respected A-Levels
- Further Education FAQs
- A Guide to Further Education Qualifications