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A-level trends for popular degree courses revealed

In this guest post, career and education choice experts take a look at typical A-level combinations – and grades achieved – by students who go on to take popular degree courses...

Thinking about applying for a place at university? You're probably busy researching the different courses and universities on offer – and of course, the entry requirements and points you need in order to get to be considered. But it's also worth looking at which A-levels students on different degree courses actually took, and the grades they actually achieved. 

Career and education-choice expert, (bc4me), looks at typical A-level combinations* – and grades achieved – by students who go on to take popular degree courses. This could help to match you to the right degree course.  

See what you can study at uni with your A-levels – try our A-level Explorer

Actual qualifications vs entry requirements

What's really revealing about looking at the actual qualifications students achieved is that they can be very different from the entry requirements listed by a university department. As well as on the bC4Me website, you'll also find them on The Uni Guide course pages.

Meeting the quoted entry requirements is key to application success – but looking at these in combination with actual achievements data will arm you with extra knowledge:
  • how flexible (or inflexible) a university might be when it comes to the stated entry requirements.
  • an idea of the typical academic background of your potential peers.
  • how broad (or narrow) typical A-level subject combinations studied are.

What are university requirements?

We've been looking at four popular university subjects to show you these stats in action it makes for very interesting reading.


Aspiring medics

If you are thinking of studying clinical medicine, it probably isn’t a big shock to hear that you need to have excellent A-level grades across chemistry, biology, physics and maths.
The bC4Me data shows that 99% of students accepted on a clinical medicine course had a chemistry A-level, 95% had a biology A-level, 71% had an A-level in maths and 33% physics. In all of these subjects, grade A is the key: 90% of recent clinical medicine students had A grades in biology and maths, and 82% of students also had A grades in chemistry.

Here, there are only minimal differences in subjects and grades accepted by different universities are fairly minimal. However, we can see that some universities, such as Aston University** do accept a higher percentage of B grades in chemistry and biology than average for clinical medicine courses - but that As, as elsewhere, are most prevalent.

Psychology applicants

The most popular A-level held by students accepted on to psychology courses is – wait for it – psychology!

But you might be surprised to hear that only 77% of students on a psychology course had a psychology A-level. Other likely subjects studied (between 20% and 30% of psychology students, no less) include biology, English lit, sociology and history. The spread of grades in these subjects are pretty evenly distributed, too, from As through to Ds across all UK universities offering this subject.
Comparing student achievement across universities reveals sharper grade distinctions. 77% of students on psychology courses at De Montfort University had an A-level in psychology, with grades ranging between grades A (8% of students) down to E (4%). Psychology students at Durham, however, were more singly aligned, achieving mainly A grades in all A-levels. And somewhere in the middle, Coventry University's psychology students mostly had Bs and Cs in the two most popular A-level subjects for that course – sociology and psychology.


The English literati

For an English studies degree, top A-levels taken are English literature (68%), history (40%), English language (30%) and psychology (24%) - with A and B grades being the most common achieved in those subjects.

But, depending on where you want to study, the bc4me data shows that there's usually flexibility when it comes to the subjects you choose. Check with the individual university you're applying to for specific course information - but broadly speaking, English students come with A-levels ranging from art and design, religious studies and media studies to drama and theatre studies.


Economics enthusiasts

If you're thinking about studying economics, you might assume that economics A-level (or equivalent) is a must, but it's actually maths that's the most popular A-level taken by students who go on to take an economics degree, and is regularly listed as an entry requirement.

76% of economics students had a maths A-level versus 69% with economics. That's followed by A-levels in business studies (26%), history (21%) and physics (21%) - with A grades the most frequently achieved grade overall.

But economics students have also studied a wide variety of other A-levels, including all of the other sciences, computing, English lit, psychology, government and politics, all sorts of languages – you name it. The trick here is to make sure you check your preferred university’s stats on bC4me to see which A-levels it specifically accepts.
The moral of the story is: ‘do your research!’. Digging into the actual A-levels and grades attained by previous students who were accepted on to your chosen course – and applying accordingly – could give you the edge over your fellow students come offer time. Good luck!

About the author
The Uni Guide provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from, a free and independent website designed to show you the link between what you study, what you earn and the jobs you can get.

*The data supporting this article is from 2013
**Individual university entry data is from 2018

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