It’s that time of year when students around the country are receiving their GCSE results and many will be starting to think long and hard about A level choices.
And this is not a straightforward decision based upon one single consideration. The ability to make the best decision for you will rely heavily on your ability to consider a range of relevant factors. Let’s run through some of them:
In the aftermath of GCSE Results Day, this one will no doubt be looming large. Certainly, how you perform academically at GCSE level can be a determinant of how you perform at the next level up. But it’s not necessarily that straightforward. So think long and hard about how you feel about taking your subject up a gear. There are always some people for whom performance plateaus at an earlier stage. Make sure you spend some time speaking to tutors, and past students if you can, about what the syllabus contains and the methods of teaching and assessment involved.
Previous results at your school
Sadly, it is not always just about your performance and ability. The truth is that the quality of teaching from school to school can vary dramatically at A level standard. You would be wise to try and get some data on school A level results for the previous 2 or 3 years. As much as it shouldn’t be the case, some schools simply have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. Make sure you are playing to the schools strengths as well as your own.
Some of you may already have ideas for university (and beyond) which should help form your decisions. In which case, do your research thoroughly - there is a lot of hearsay about what A levels you need for particular degree disciplines and, believe me, not all of it is true. You don’t need a law A level to study a law degree (in fact, most universities don’t recommend it and would prefer to see others) and an A level in ICT will not give you a head start if you want to study computer science. For those of you who are undecided on future plans (and that is fine, you have plenty of time ahead of you yet), you should also consider the reputation that certain subjects carry. So called ‘soft subjects’ (google it - there are lists all over the internet) may hold you back if you choose more than one of them, particularly if you are aiming for a strongly reputed university. This won’t be the case for every course at every institution but you will need to do your research and pick well accordingly.
For those of you who already have your sights set beyond university, make sure you are making the choices that not only get you into university, but which are appealing to future employers. To cite an example here, many recruiters within the hugely competitive finance industry are happy to select graduates from any degree discipline but it may help strengthen your application if you can show numerical competence, though an A level in maths or economics, for example, or if you have an A level in a modern foreign language - always appealing to multinational organisations with a global client base. Again, this is really a case of you doing your research. You should remember that majority of graduate employers (around 60%) do still consider all degree disciplines for recruitment purposes. It is generally the more scientific careers where you need to select both A level and degree subjects more carefully.
Enjoyment of the subject
For me, this is the biggie. Perceiving a subject to be important to both admissions tutors and employers isn’t going to be enough if you don’t have the enthusiasm for the subject to do justice to your abilities. It is far more likely that you will do well in a subject that you enjoy and at the end of the day, grades really are important. Many admissions tutors will look at UCAS points predictions first and foremost, before going into the finer detail of what subjects it is that you studied. Similarly, many school-leaver programmes and even graduate employment opportunities will stipulate a minimum amount of UCAS points as part of the entry criteria. So unless you really need to, unless an academic path is clearly laid out that you must follow, resist the urge to think too ‘long-term’ for now. Focus on the next 2 years - what are you going to enjoy studying? What subjects genuinely interest you to the extent that you are going to want to pick up your text books and learn more?
Don’t forget that Momentum Careers Advice provides a careers consultation service for students who are having difficulties making choices about their futures. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.