This table (click to view full size) is based on the “Informed Choices” leaflet produced last week by the Russell Group (20 of the country’s top universities). The leaflet explains which A-levels are likely to be needed or useful when applying for different university courses. I went through this leaflet and (roughly) graded the advice for each A-level and degree course – 1 means “essential or usually essential”, 2 means “often required, or one of several of options (one or more of which is required)”, 3 means “required by some/few courses”. 4 means “useful” (i.e., it could help your application, if you have met the other requirements). 5 means not useful except to demonstrate versatility. The A-level subjects are the columns of the table, and degree subjects are the rows.
Because it is hard to be sure when picking your A-levels which subject you will want to study at degree level, it might be more useful to look at the overall pattern of the table, rather than pick a specific row.
A-levels with very few ones and twos (on the right hand side of the table) are less useful for university applications; they are only helpful for a few courses, and may not be essential even for those. On the left hand side are the most useful subjects, they are essential for some courses and may be required for many more.
Because you only study a limited number of subjects at A-level, choosing from the right-hand side of the table means missing the opportunity to study a subject on the left. Unless you are very careful choosing subjects towards the right hand side can easily limit the range of universities and courses you can choose from.
If you want to go to university, you should only choose subjects on the right hand side of the table if you are sure that they will help you get onto the course you want. Otherwise, you will have fewer options to choose the more useful subjects on the left hand side, and you may not have enough of these “facilitating” subjects to get into a top university. The “facilitating” subjects will help you get into a large number of the more competitive and selective courses, but just as importantly they will not stop you getting into the less picky courses (which will be looking for strong grades, but will be less worried about the particular mix of subjects you selected).
[Added pdf files – 13/2/11]
Disclaimers: My own views, not my employers. I am not a careers advice expert. Table may contain errors (contact the author). Please consult original “Informed Choices” document, University prospectuses and websites. Please let me know via the comments page of this blog if you’ve found this useful, or tell me if you think there is a problem with the advice.
Notes on table: