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Does taking 4 A-Levels help with university applications?

I know this question has probably been asked a lot but i’m new here and i can’t for the life of me work out the filtering system so sorry :,)

When applying to oxbridge, does taking a 4th a level boost your application at all? Most people advise to take 3 because oxbridge don’t look at your 4th A-level. I know that they only require 3, but doesn’t the fact that you’ve done 4 and still managed to get the same grades as someone who only did 3 make you a better candidate in their eyes? I can’t help but feel like a 4th a level is ‘useless’ on paper but actually quite helpful in candidate selections. It’s not as though it’s a matter of getting either A*A*A* or A*ABB, I’m quite confident (hopeful rather) that i could get at the least A*A*A*A and the only difference between taking 3 and taking 4 would be my stress level. If it truly doesn’t affect the application at all then i think i’ll gleefully stick to 3 a levels and use my free time to widen my general knowledge, flesh out the other parts of my application and/or conduct some uni subject-specific research. However, if doing 4 a levels as opposed to 3 gives me some advantage then i’d like to do that instead. I would very much appreciate some advice :smile:

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Original post by Quinni
I know this question has probably been asked a lot but i’m new here and i can’t for the life of me work out the filtering system so sorry :,)

When applying to oxbridge, does taking a 4th a level boost your application at all? Most people advise to take 3 because oxbridge don’t look at your 4th A-level. I know that they only require 3, but doesn’t the fact that you’ve done 4 and still managed to get the same grades as someone who only did 3 make you a better candidate in their eyes? I can’t help but feel like a 4th a level is ‘useless’ on paper but actually quite helpful in candidate selections. It’s not as though it’s a matter of getting either A*A*A* or A*ABB, I’m quite confident (hopeful rather) that i could get at the least A*A*A*A and the only difference between taking 3 and taking 4 would be my stress level. If it truly doesn’t affect the application at all then i think i’ll gleefully stick to 3 a levels and use my free time to widen my general knowledge, flesh out the other parts of my application and/or conduct some uni subject-specific research. However, if doing 4 a levels as opposed to 3 gives me some advantage then i’d like to do that instead. I would very much appreciate some advice :smile:


No, doing a fourth A level doesn't give your Oxford application any advantage whatsoever (or an advantage with any other UK uni) because they only give offers based on 3 completed A levels. Doing a fourth could actually mean your grades in all of them suffer as you're stretched too thin.
It's a bit like the "do I need Maths for Medicine?" question I think. While Oxbridge may say you don't, the reality is that most successful applicants did take Maths for A Level. So yeah, if you can get 4 top grades (even if they say you only need 3) then that's probably going to be in line with most other successful applicants?
Original post by sailhorsegirl
It's a bit like the "do I need Maths for Medicine?" question I think. While Oxbridge may say you don't, the reality is that most successful applicants did take Maths for A Level. So yeah, if you can get 4 top grades (even if they say you only need 3) then that's probably going to be in line with most other successful applicants?

I don't believe this is true, where is your evidence most successful applicants take 4 A levels? Oxbridge only makes offers based on 3 A levels so no, you don't need four.
Original post by Sorcerer of Old
I don't believe this is true, where is your evidence most successful applicants take 4 A levels? Oxbridge only makes offers based on 3 A levels so no, you don't need four.

It's in some freedom of information response online somewhere. It's just an opinion though, I'm not stating it as a fact!
Original post by sailhorsegirl
It's in some freedom of information response online somewhere. It's just an opinion though, I'm not stating it as a fact!

Giving this kind of false information (and I'm pretty sure it's wrong because correlation =/= causation, the fact offers are based on 3 clearly shows they don't require or expect a fourth A level, otherwise they would make offers based on 4..) can be pretty irresponsible if others take it as gospel and take on four because they think it'll give them an advantage and then find they're completely burned out and overwhelmed by the workload.

OP, you don't need to take 4 and you can go onto the successful Oxford and Cambridge offer holder threads on here and see that most if not all people got offers based on 3 A levels.
(edited 6 months ago)
Original post by sailhorsegirl
It's a bit like the "do I need Maths for Medicine?" question I think. While Oxbridge may say you don't, the reality is that most successful applicants did take Maths for A Level. So yeah, if you can get 4 top grades (even if they say you only need 3) then that's probably going to be in line with most other successful applicants?

I believe this is true, but only for some courses (particularly competitive STEM courses such as Comp Sci or Natural Sciences). Having applied to Cambridge and looked at the stats, most successful candidates did do 4 A Levels.

I think doing 4 A Levels also offers you a cushion, a lot of people are stuck doing A Levels they don’t enjoy and are stuck with them, but doing 4 means that if you don’t particularly enjoy one and aren’t doing quite well in it, then you’re able to drop it after the first year. This is what happened with me, and I have no regrets with doing 4 A Levels in year 12 because it taught me how to manage my time effectively. When I was able to drop one I found that I had much more time on my hands and actually found my A Levels easier (despite the content getting much harder)
Original post by PixiePresents
I believe this is true, but only for some courses (particularly competitive STEM courses such as Comp Sci or Natural Sciences). Having applied to Cambridge and looked at the stats, most successful candidates did do 4 A Levels.

I think doing 4 A Levels also offers you a cushion, a lot of people are stuck doing A Levels they don’t enjoy and are stuck with them, but doing 4 means that if you don’t particularly enjoy one and aren’t doing quite well in it, then you’re able to drop it after the first year. This is what happened with me, and I have no regrets with doing 4 A Levels in year 12 because it taught me how to manage my time effectively. When I was able to drop one I found that I had much more time on my hands and actually found my A Levels easier (despite the content getting much harder)

You're talking about doing 4 at AS level (which is normal), if you dropped one going into year 13 then you only have 3 A levels.
(edited 6 months ago)
Cambridge:

"Most applicants study 3 to 4 A level subjects and our typical offers are usually based on 3 A levels taken together in Year 13. Taking 4 A levels will not normally give you an advantage. However, strong applicants for STEM courses usually study Further Mathematics as a fourth subject."

https://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/apply/before/accepted-qualifications
Original post by Sorcerer of Old
You're talking about doing 4 at AS level (which is normal), if you dropped one going into year 13 then you only have 3 A levels.

I’m just talking about the benefits of taking 4 and if that were to happen. But for some competitive STEM courses the norm (not sure if it gives any advantage though) would be taking 4 A Levels, you can check the stats on WhatDoTheyKnow. But they wouldn’t decline you for an interview on this basis, and once you’re offered an interview it’s your performance in it that ultimately matters.
Oxford are less expressly clear, although they do note that all AL offers are for 3 subjects, (and some fluff about what sittings they'll accept).

https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses/admission-requirements/uk-qualifications

Notably, not even their Maths programmes requires FM, not even stating that it's preferred.

"A*A*A with the A*s in Maths and Further Maths if taken"

---

Going back to the original Q, I don't think there's anything obvious that it's an advantage to admissions, but rather that most profiles applying will have 4 AL's simply because they're high achievers.

Or to put it another way I'm sure alot of applicants include the phrase "for as as long as I can remember..." in their PS but that doesn't mean it's why they were successful.
Original post by PixiePresents
I’m just talking about the benefits of taking 4 and if that were to happen. But for some competitive STEM courses the norm (not sure if it gives any advantage though) would be taking 4 A Levels, you can check the stats on WhatDoTheyKnow. But they wouldn’t decline you for an interview on this basis, and once you’re offered an interview it’s your performance in it that ultimately matters.

But you were talking about taking 4 at AS level which is what everyone does anyway, that’s normal. But doing 4 at AS level doesn’t mean you do 4 full A levels, and neither Oxford nor Cambridge state anywhere that doing 4 A levels is a requirement.
(edited 6 months ago)
Original post by Sorcerer of Old
Giving this kind of false information (and I'm pretty sure it's wrong because correlation =/= causation, the fact offers are based on 3 clearly shows they don't require or expect a fourth A level, otherwise they would make offers based on 4..) can be pretty irresponsible if others take it as gospel and take on four because they think it'll give them an advantage and then find they're completely burned out and overwhelmed by the workload.

OP, you don't need to take 4 and you can go onto the successful Oxford and Cambridge offer holder threads on here and see that most people only did 3 A levels.


Hang on a minute! I never stated it as a fact, indeed I clearly offered the comparision with maths as a reflective observation, so please don't accuse me of posting false information! You might not agree with what I observed but no need to turn it into a point-scoring match here. There doesn't have to be a winner in every discussion!
Original post by sailhorsegirl
Hang on a minute! I never stated it as a fact, indeed I clearly offered the comparision with maths as a reflective observation, so please don't accuse me of posting false information! You might not agree with what I observed but no need to turn it into a point-scoring match here. There doesn't have to be a winner in every discussion!

It's not about point scoring or winning a discussion. OP asked if taking a fourth boosts your application. The answer to that is categorically no and your phrasing implied to do it anyway or that it's better to do it, it isn't. It's far better to concentrate on getting solid grades in 3 A levels than taking a fourth just because you think it'll give your application an edge.
(edited 6 months ago)
Original post by Sorcerer of Old
It's not about point scoring or winning a discussion. OP asked if taking a fourth boosts your application. The answer to that is categorically no and your phrasing implied to do it anyway or that it's better to do it, it isn't. It's far better to concentrate on getting solid grades in 3 A levels than taking a fourth just because you think it'll give your application an edge.

The answer is not "categorically no" though, as other posts in this thread show. We're allowed to look at the grey areas and think a bit about what they mean or even if they mean anything at all without someone shutting down the conversation because they believe it's a black and white issue. Anyway, have a read of the other responses and calm down a bit. I haven't anything more to add to my first (trying to be helpful!) response but found what PixiePresents said very interesting.
Original post by sailhorsegirl
The answer is not "categorically no" though, as other posts in this thread show. We're allowed to look at the grey areas and think a bit about what they mean or even if they mean anything at all without someone shutting down the conversation because they believe it's a black and white issue. Anyway, have a read of the other responses and calm down a bit. I haven't anything more to add to my first (trying to be helpful!) response but found what PixiePresents said very interesting.

The answer is categorically no, what other posts show that taking 4 full A levels (which is different to taking 4 AS levels) gives your application to Oxbridge an advantage?
@fkdkxkdjskd and why did you quote me and then delete it??
(edited 6 months ago)
Original post by Sorcerer of Old
@fkdkxkdjskd and why did you quote me and then delete it??

who are they :colonhash:
what’s going on with this thread?! calm down
Original post by Sorcerer of Old
@fkdkxkdjskd and why did you quote me and then delete it??


I thought you commented on the thread I made because I was reading both at the same time and then I realised that I was commenting on a different thread

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