• Respected A Levels

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Explanation

Considerable debate exists regarding the subject of "Mickey Mouse" A-levels; that is to say, A-levels that will generally be regarded in lower esteem. The official line is generally that all A-levels are equal: each is worth the same in terms of UCAS points, and universities will only rarely specify subjects when giving offers for university places.

The exception to this rule is General Studies, which may in a large number of cases be excluded from consideration altogether, although many places will consider it as an AS level in its own right. A-level Critical Thinking is also often excluded in this way from the central A-levels prescribed in an offer. However, many universities do state that candidates who have narrowly missed their grades on results day, may be viewed more favourably if they have achieved a high grade in one of these subjects.

As well as these exclusions, more prestigious institutions may also take the perceived rigour of an A-level course into account when deciding whether or not to award offers. A tiny minority collate A-levels that they deem offer less preparation for their courses into so-called "blacklists".

The use of the word "blacklist" is probably harsher than the reality. Even on the strictest list available currently, one or two of these subjects are still acceptable as long as they're accompanied by others. Even then, in exceptional circumstances, extra-curricular achievements do seem to be able to override the most eclectic subject choices. The other way to view it is that the university has written this list for a reason. If you're planning to make an application to a university that publishes one, it makes sense to follow their advice on what are appropriate subjects. It's obviously less applicable if you're applying to other universities as all admissions tutors are different.

Most lists of what subjects are and are not "respected" are very much disputed and down to personal opinion. Answers tend to vary from "What I do!" to "Lots of sciences" to "History and English" as well as a multitude of others. Many people use the terms "traditional", "respected" and "difficult" interchangably. The link between difficulty and how much you should "respect" a subject is even more fraught. It's hard to decide what's more difficult as obviously most people haven't had a go at all the subjects so they can compare and also, what people find harder varies with personal aptitudes. Traditional relies on the premise that older is better, something that obviously doesn't hold true, while, as explained above, the idea of "respect" is personal and subjective.

There is a lot of discussion surrounding how important your subject choices are generally. There are several links at the foot of this article if you want to read some of these. Most discussion on this topic is generally based upon prejudice and assumption and, on the whole, should be taken with a pinch of salt. The only published sources of information are from LSE and Cambridge and these don't even agree with each other let alone the scores of other universities without published policies.

Most people would agree that checking the prospectus of potential universities is always a good idea as many will have specific subject requirements for the course that you'll need to meet to gain admission. Unless you're applying to a university that gives specific subject advice for all its courses, the best policy is probably to base your choices around what advice you have been given as well as applying your common sense. Choosing to do 4 sciences might give you universally "respected" subjects but it's obviously a laughable choice if you hope to study English or History. Similarly, choosing subjects you're good at and will do well in is usually a better idea than choosing subjects you think will look good. It doesn't matter how "respected" your subject is if you fail it!

Sample "Blacklists"

Cambridge

Cambridge's guidance is: here

Subjects that are suitable for many subjects

  • Language
  • Chemistry
  • English Literature
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Physics.
  • Further Mathematics
  • Biology

Subjects that are helpful for arts or social sciences

good ‘keystone’subjects are:

  • English Literature
  • History
  • languages
  • Mathematics

In combination with

  • another language
  • Ancient History
  • Classical Civilisation
  • Economics
  • Further Mathematics
  • Geography
  • Philosophy
  • Religious Studies
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

The following are useful preparation for some subjects:

  • Archaeology
  • Citizenship
  • English Language
  • Environmental Science
  • Government and Politics
  • History of Art
  • Law
  • Music
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Subjects that are helpful for sciences

you are advised to take at least two, and ideally three, of

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

Many applicants taking the above will also take

  • Further Mathematics

The following are useful preparation for some subjects

  • Computing
  • Design and Technology
  • Electronics
  • Psychology

Architecture and Geography

Subject preferences don't fit into the two categories above and applicants are advised to check the course pages

Trinity College, Cambridge

Trinity College, Cambridge, have their own ranking system, accessible from here. They divide subjects into 'generally suitable', 'limited suitability' and 'unsuitable'. The C list is generally similar to the overall Cambridge blacklist (e.g. Art and Design is allowed for Architecture and History of Art), though there are certain subjects that make it into the B list with restrictions. Again, if you're taking subjects in the B and C categories, it's not necessarily the end of the world. A subject from the B category is no problem as long as it's accompanied by some from A1 or A2 as well. There's no published advice on the suitability of subjects on the C list when accompanied by others although common sense would dictate that perhaps you would be best applying to a different college that doesn't have these requirements.

LSE

Subject combinations and 'non-preferred' subjects

The School considers not only the individual qualifications offered by applicants but also the combination of subjects offered. Individual degree programmes may have specific subject requirements or preferences which are listed in the Departmental Admissions Criteria. We also have a number of general policies, listed below.

We consider traditional academic subjects to be the best preparation for studying at LSE. We expect applicants to offer at least two full A levels or IBDP Higher Levels in these subjects (although typically, applicants will apply with three or four); please see the list below for guidance.

Some subjects provide a less effective preparation for study at LSE. We refer to these as non-preferred subjects; please see the list below for guidance. These subjects should only be offered in combination with two traditional academic subjects.

Finally, there are a small number of A levels which are normally excluded from our standard offer; please see the list below. Applicants should offer three full A levels or equivalent alongside these subjects.

List of common traditional academic/”generally preferred” subjects:

  • Ancient History
  • Biology
  • Classical Civilisation
  • Chemistry
  • Computing
  • Economics
  • English (English Language, English Literature and English Language and Literature)
  • Further Mathematics*
  • Geography
  • Government and Politics
  • History
  • Languages: Modern Foreign, Classic and Community**
  • Mathematics
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Religious Studies
  • Sociology

List of common non-preferred subjects:

  • Any Applied A level
  • Accounting
  • Art and Design
  • Business Studies
  • Citizenship Studies
  • Communication and Culture
  • Creative Writing
  • Design and Technology
  • Drama/Theatre Studies
  • Film Studies
  • Health and Social Care
  • Home Economics
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Law
  • Leisure Studies
  • Media Studies
  • Music Technology
  • Physical Education/Sports studies
  • Travel and Tourism

List of normally excluded subjects

  • General Studies
  • Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Skills
  • Knowledge and Enquiry
  • Project Work

Sheffield

Generally Suitable A-levels: The table below lists A Level subjects which develop the knowledge-based, theoretical and conceptual learning most relevant to courses at Sheffield. Some of our courses will require A Level students to present one or two A levels from this list. In these cases the requirement will be included in the relevant online prospectus entry.

Students studying the Advanced Diploma plus one A Level, the Welsh Baccalaureate plus two A Levels, or Level 3 BTECs with A Levels, are normally required to present A Level subjects from this list only.

  • Accounting
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology/Ancient History
  • Biology
  • Business Studies
  • Classics
  • Chemistry
  • Citizenship Studies
  • Computing
  • Economics
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • English Language and Literature (Combined)
  • Environmental Studies
  • Further Mathematics
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • Government and Politics
  • History
  • History of Art
  • Languages*
  • Law
  • Mathematics
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Religious Studies
  • Science in Society
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Theatre/Performance Studies (including Drama and Theatre Studies Combined)
  • World Development

Languages includes modern foreign/community languages taken as individual subjects (eg French, Spanish, Urdu, Gujarati) and classical languages (eg Biblical Hebrew, Latin).

A-levels that are acceptable in combination. You should offer a maximum of one of these subjects, in combination with two from the above list.

  • Applied Art and Design
  • Applied Business
  • Applied Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • Applied Science
  • Art and Design
  • Communication and Culture
  • Creative Writing
  • Critical Thinking
  • Dance
  • Design and Technology (including Home Economics, Food Technology)
  • Electronics
  • Engineering
  • Film Studies
  • General Studies**
  • Health and Social Care
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • Leisure Studies
  • Media Studies
  • Music Technology
  • Performing Arts/Drama
  • Physical Education
  • Travel and Tourism
  • Use of Maths

Some courses do not accept General Studies as part of any combination.

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