The Student Room Group

A-level subjects for Archaeology and Ancient History?

So, essentially, I'd planned on taking English Literature, History, Politics, and Spanish at A-Level with the intention of studying an Ancient History related degree at university (my school, unfortunately, doesn't offer Ancient History, Classical Civ, Latin, etc at A-Level and nor do the other schools in my area excluding the private school), and after doing research into Oxford courses specifically, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History is the course I most like the look of.

I am looking to get more into Archaeology as my prior knowledge is pretty limited, however I know that a Science and/or Geography is preferred for Archaeology. If I were to apply for Archeology and Ancient History, would it be best for me to swap one of my subjects for Biology (I can't take Geography as I didn't take it at GCSE), or would I do fine with the options I have? I don't want my subject choices to be the things which jeopardise my chances of receiving offers from unis, however I also am quite happy, and have been set on all humanities subjects for a while now.

Note: I would likely switch Politics for Biology - I'm not really willing to budge on the other 3 subjects.
(edited 1 year ago)
I'm afraid to say that it really depends on the route you want to take. Politics would be a great A-Level to take if you wanted to do an Ancient History degree, but choosing a science is definitely a safer route for Archaeology.
However, it does sound like you're a Humanities student at heart. If you don't enjoy science, don't take Biology. It isn't worth taking a subject if you find it boring, or if you're just not interested in it. Archaeology courses may even provide training for the science part, so you don't necessarily need to worry about that (I would recommend doing your own research on this - look at the universities you might be interested in, and find out what they offer as part of their degree).
Also, check with your Sixth Form or College about whether you need Geography GCSE to take it at A-Level, as some might allow you to take it anyway.
Overall, just go with your heart - what do you enjoy? The rest of your subjects are really sound options and will be valued no matter what you choose in the end.
I really hope my advice helps, best of luck choosing between the two!
You don't need a science or geography for archaeology. Yes some scientific background can be somewhat useful, but first and foremost archaeology is an essay based subject, so they mostly want to see you have strong academic writing skills. Your current set of subjects are absolutely fine without any sciences. It might also be less particularly useful for historical archaeology fields I would think (compared to more biological anthropology/prehistoric archaeology areas where scientific methods get used a lot).

The only thing I would note is that four A-levels are not required and do not gain you "bonus points" or anything like that in admissions. Unis normally make offers on the basis of three A-levels only, and taking an extra one confers no benefit but runs the risk you won't get as good grades in all your subjects. Therefore unless your school has made it mandatory to take 4 (in which case you should try and drop one ASAP), you should just take 3 A-levels.

I would definitely recommend keeping a language though if you want to do classical archaeology and/or ancient history - as you will likely have the opportunity to take up one or both classical languages and you should absolutely take the opportunity if you can, especially if you have any interest in pursuing graduate work in the area.

@Sandtrooper may have some insight to offer too :smile:
(edited 1 year ago)
Reply 3
Original post by emstrong
I'm afraid to say that it really depends on the route you want to take. Politics would be a great A-Level to take if you wanted to do an Ancient History degree, but choosing a science is definitely a safer route for Archaeology.
However, it does sound like you're a Humanities student at heart. If you don't enjoy science, don't take Biology. It isn't worth taking a subject if you find it boring, or if you're just not interested in it. Archaeology courses may even provide training for the science part, so you don't necessarily need to worry about that (I would recommend doing your own research on this - look at the universities you might be interested in, and find out what they offer as part of their degree).
Also, check with your Sixth Form or College about whether you need Geography GCSE to take it at A-Level, as some might allow you to take it anyway.
Overall, just go with your heart - what do you enjoy? The rest of your subjects are really sound options and will be valued no matter what you choose in the end.
I really hope my advice helps, best of luck choosing between the two!

Thank you for the advice! I've been doing some research, and from what it seems, Oxford (the uni which most of my research has been done towards) allows you to split between the Archaeology and the Ancient History modules as you like, and so (I hope) my humanities subjects would still convey my interest in studying the course, however, a lot of other universities have a more even split, so I think Biology would better my chances for back-up options. I am definitely leaning towards staying with my humanities options as, whilst I don't think my grades would suffer if I took Biology since I've always performed consistently between STEM and humanities, as you said, there's no point in taking a subject I have little interest in, and the A-Level Biology content really just doesn't appeal to me.
Reply 4
Original post by artful_lounger
You don't need a science or geography for archaeology. Yes some scientific background can be somewhat useful, but first and foremost archaeology is an essay based subject, so they mostly want to see you have strong academic writing skills. Your current set of subjects are absolutely fine without any sciences. It might also be less particularly useful for historical archaeology fields I would think (compared to more biological anthropology/prehistoric archaeology areas where scientific methods get used a lot).

The only thing I would note is that four A-levels are not required and do not gain you "bonus points" or anything like that in admissions. Unis normally make offers on the basis of three A-levels only, and taking an extra one confers no benefit but runs the risk you won't get as good grades in all your subjects. Therefore unless your school has made it mandatory to take 4 (in which case you should try and drop one ASAP), you should just take 3 A-levels.

I would definitely recommend keeping a language though if you want to do classical archaeology and/or ancient history - as you will likely have the opportunity to take up one or both classical languages and you should absolutely take the opportunity if you can, especially if you have any interest in pursuing graduate work in the area.

@Sandtrooper may have some insight to offer too :smile:

Thank you, this makes me feel a lot better! As for the 4 A-Levels - I am quite wary myself about doing 4 subjects, especially with English and History being so content heavy (as I've heard), and I'm not quite happy about the fact that I miss out on the opportunity for EPQ by doing 4 as my Sixth Form doesn't allow students to take 4 A-Levels and EPQ due to the intense workload, though my parents seem to have it in their heads that 4 A-Levels will better my prospects. My plan is to go ahead with 4 and test the waters, and then I will probably drop one before we can apply to do EPQ. I will definitely be keeping my language - it was my favourite GCSE, along with History, so I'm really looking forwards to studying it further :smile:
Original post by haum3a
Thank you, this makes me feel a lot better! As for the 4 A-Levels - I am quite wary myself about doing 4 subjects, especially with English and History being so content heavy (as I've heard), and I'm not quite happy about the fact that I miss out on the opportunity for EPQ by doing 4 as my Sixth Form doesn't allow students to take 4 A-Levels and EPQ due to the intense workload, though my parents seem to have it in their heads that 4 A-Levels will better my prospects. My plan is to go ahead with 4 and test the waters, and then I will probably drop one before we can apply to do EPQ. I will definitely be keeping my language - it was my favourite GCSE, along with History, so I'm really looking forwards to studying it further :smile:

Well your parents are definitely wrong - in fact universities up to and including Oxbridge are very clear they do not give any benefits to those offering 4 A-levels over those only offering 3 - in no small part because they're aware not all schools have the resources to offer 4 A-levels, and those that don't tend to have students who are underrepresented in higher education and often eligible for widening participation programmes. The universities do not therefore want to indirectly discriminate against those students who are unable to take 4 A-levels through no fault of their own, by privileging those who are able to take more A-levels.
Original post by haum3a
Thank you for the advice! I've been doing some research, and from what it seems, Oxford (the uni which most of my research has been done towards) allows you to split between the Archaeology and the Ancient History modules as you like, and so (I hope) my humanities subjects would still convey my interest in studying the course, however, a lot of other universities have a more even split, so I think Biology would better my chances for back-up options. I am definitely leaning towards staying with my humanities options as, whilst I don't think my grades would suffer if I took Biology since I've always performed consistently between STEM and humanities, as you said, there's no point in taking a subject I have little interest in, and the A-Level Biology content really just doesn't appeal to me.


Hi there,

I did Egyptology at university, and a lot of my friends did Archaeology. A-Level choices ranged from 100% science (e.g. Maths, Physics and Chemistry) to 100% humanities (e.g. English, History and Classical Civilisation). If you do all humanities-based subjects, you will be fine for BA courses. I would say that 4 A-Levels is excessive, though. I got 4 university offers with 3 A-Levels and an EPQ, for example. It'd be better to go on a dig or do some volunteering if you wanted to (although you wouldn't need to) than put yourself through the stress of a fourth A-Level, unless you're really keen.

Check with universities as there are sometimes some modules which require science-based subjects (for example Liverpool's Evolutionary Anthropology requires a science A-Level for some modules: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/courses/2023/evolutionary-anthropology-bsc-hons#course-content). However, I even have some friends who started off on a BA and switched to a BSc, as archaeology is so flexible and your interests will likely change a bit.

Good luck, and let us know if you have any more questions!

Quick Reply

Latest

Trending

Trending