Although many students don’t start thinking about university until sixth form, Year 11 is also a really important year. As well as sitting GCSE exams, you’ll make important choices about which courses you’d like to take in Years 12 and 13. A levels are the most common choice for UK students, which means you’ll need to think about what subjects to take. We asked one of our Admissions Specialists, Lorna Stevenson, to give us some tips about things to think about when choosing your A levels.
Since you can choose only three or four A level subjects it’s important to make a good choice. There are four things I would encourage all potential A level students to consider:
1) Subjects you enjoy, and are likely to do well in
The good news is that most people do best in subjects they enjoy. But should you stick with tried and tested subjects like English and Maths or new ones such as Classical Civilisation or Electronics? The trick here is to do your research.
Attend a sixth form or college open evening and ask the teachers what sort of topics are covered and how the course is assessed, ask friends or family members who have studied that subject. Once you’ve started your course it can be hard to change so it’s important to base your decision on what the course is actually like, rather than how you hope it will be. The Russell Group give good advice: you should be able to talk for about a minute about why you have chosen each of your A levels.
2) Subjects you might need to get on to your chosen university course or career
If you already know what you’d like to do after A levels you should take this into account when choosing your subjects.
As a starting point, the Russell Group Informed Choices document has a list of degree courses and their common entry requirements within Russell Group Universities, a group of 24 of the UKs leading universities.
It contains a list of 16 ‘facilitating subjects,’ which are subjects that commonly appear in university entrance requirements and are broad enough to keep lots of options open to you if you don’t know what you want to do after A levels. Many schools will encourage students unsure of their future plans to study at least two facilitating subjects and this is normally good advice.
If you have an idea of which university you would like to attend and which programme you are interested in studying, make sure you check the specific entry requirements and subject combination advice for that programme.
3) What subjects your chosen school or college can offer
Smaller and more unusual A level subjects are often not very widespread. It’s for this reason that many degree programmes in subjects like Philosophy or Sociology don’t require an A level in that subject. If you are interested in a new subject then taking it at A level could be a good idea as you’ll probably enjoy it, but if it’s not available near you that shouldn’t normally stop you taking that programme at university.
Another consideration is how many subjects you are going to take. Traditionally the pattern has been to take four subjects to AS followed by three to A2, but changes to the A Level system and funding arrangements mean you might only be able to take three subjects in Year 12. While LSE prefers students continue to take four subjects in their first year, if this isn’t available at your school you won’t be at a disadvantage. See LSE’s policy on A Level reform. You could use the extra time to complete an extended project, do some wider reading or study for an Open University or other evening course, such as a new language. At full A Level, or A2 Level, almost all LSE programmes ask for only three subjects, except BSc Economics and BSc Finance which both ask students who are taking a fourth A Level to achieve a pass in that subject. More information about A Level subject combinations for LSE.
Students interested in mathematical courses like Physics, Engineering, Economics or Finance often find that Further Mathematics is seen as a helpful or even required A Level subject. If your school is unable to offer Further Maths, then the Further Mathematics Support Programme may be able to help.
4) The combination of your subjects as a whole
This is a crucial step that many students often overlook. Once you have a shortlist of subjects you think you’d enjoy, consider how they fit together as a whole. In general, LSE prefers a broad mix of traditional academic subjects.
If you really love books, you might be thinking about taking English Literature, English Language and Drama, but taking such as narrow mix of courses only gives you the chance to develop one set of skills and could restrict what you’re able to study at university. You’ll have the chance to do lots of specialist learning at university, so consider using your A levels to maintain wider interests.
LSE’s degree programmes are generally taught and assessed in a traditional academic way and we consider A levels structured in a similar way to be the best preparation for study here. We therefore expect applicants to have studied at least two traditional academic subjects at A Level.
There are other A levels that have less traditional curricula or assessment methods and we refer to these as “non-preferred” subjects. For admission to LSE, these subjects should be studied alongside two traditional academic subjects.
Finally, there are a small number of A levels, like General Studies, which are normally excluded from a standard offer at LSE. Applicants should offer three full A levels or equivalent alongside these subjects. Refer to our website for the most up-to-date information on subject choices and entry requirements.
What about other qualifications?
LSE accepts a wide range of qualifications in place of A levels, such as Advanced Highers, Pre-Us or the International Baccalaureate as well as many international qualifications.
To find our entry requirements for different qualifications look for it in our country by country guide.