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A-level choices: uni applicants' top tips

Making your A-level choices? To help you make the right decisions, we asked this year’s uni applicants what they wish they’d known about their choices when it came to university.

Choosing the perfect A-level line-up

University may seem far away when you’re choosing your A-levels (or BTEC, Highers or equivalent qualifications) in Year 11, but the choices you make now can have a real impact on your options later down the line. Read our full guide to entry requirements to learn more, or search for a course to see what that particular university is looking for.

Here’s what uni applicants told us they wish they’d known, along with some additional insights from students on The Student Room (TSR)…* 

'Taking certain A-level subjects may have widened my university options'

A quarter of applicants (25%) told us they wish they’d thought more about what might help them get into university.

If you’re unsure about what you want to study at uni yet, you can keep your options wide open by choosing a mix of the most commonly asked-for subjects in university entry requirements, known as ‘facilitating’ subjects. These are the sciences, English, maths, languages, history and geography.

I wish I had chosen more science subjects because it would have allowed me a wider range of university choices when I eventually realised that law was not what I actually wanted to do. Rascacielos | The Student Room Member

In fact, choosing one or two facilitating subjects is one of our six tips to choosing the right A-levels

'I should have chosen different A-level subjects for the degree I want to study'

Almost 1 in 4 applicants (24%) said, with hindsight, they would have chosen different A-levels for the degree subject they’re applying for.

If you’ve got an idea of the subject you want to study, review the entry requirements for a handful of different university courses. Do they list any essential or useful subjects?

It’s not always obvious what subjects you’ll need for a certain course – for instance, economics and computer sciences courses don’t require economics or computing at A-level, but some universities ask for maths. Law courses don’t require law A-level, but it’s useful to have essay-based subjects like history or English under your belt.

I chose my A level options with an Economics BSc in mind. To guide me, I took a look at various university prospectuses and their entry requirements. Some helpful ones (such as LSE's) actually advises on 'facilitating' subjects.  Pro Crastination | The Student Room Member

Search for a specific course to see its full entry requirements, or browse our degree subject guides to see what A-level subjects are generally useful to have. 


'I wish I’d known that some universities have 'preferred' or 'non-preferred' A-level subject combinations'

23% of applicants told us that they didn’t realise when choosing their A-level subjects that some universities have views on ideal combinations of A-level subjects or have ones which are 'non-preferred'. 

It’s true that some universities (but not all!) openly discourage students from taking certain combinations of A-level subjects – and they may also have lists of ‘non-preferred’ subjects, or ones that they’ll only accept in combination with others.

If you enjoy more creative, practical or vocational subjects, to keep your options as open as possible, it’s a good idea to combine one of them with a couple of the more ‘traditional’ subject choices. 

Watch now: How to choose your A-levels

'I wish I’d known that A-levels are tough – pick A-level subjects you enjoy!'

While it’s important to factor in universities’ views when making your choices, you have to be prepared to study these subjects for the next two years – so above all, make sure they’re subjects you enjoy.

A-levels are a big jump up from GCSE; it's vital that you enjoy your subjects in my opinion. If you don't love them, what is motivating you to study hard? She-ra | The Student Room Member
My tip to everybody is to pick what you enjoy most at the time you are choosing your A-levels; you cannot predict the future! Chances are you are going to go on and study a degree in something you enjoy. Nirgilis | The Student Room Member
I didn't do some of the things I loved in order to take subjects that were more desirable to universities, not realising that for the vast majority of students the truth is it's better to have top marks in three subjects you love than mediocre ones for three that are considered good. Hal.e.lujah | The Student Room Member

See more comments from students in the A-level choices thread over on The Student Room. 

* Data source: Which? University Student Survey 2013

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