Informed Choices

A Russell Group guide to making decisions about post-16 education

It is really important for all young people to have clear information about how the subjects that they choose to study in the sixth form or at college can affect their options at university and their chances in life.

When it comes to choosing your A-levels or other advanced level qualifications, it can be tempting simply to choose subjects that you enjoy and which interest you. But it's also important to think a bit further ahead and to consider what you might want to do in the future.

Some university courses and careers require you to have certain advanced qualifications. Choosing some subjects might also limit the range of options available to you when the time comes to apply to university. 

Only you can decide which subjects or combination of subjects suits you best. But it's important that you have all the facts - and we are here to help!

Informed Choices is your guide as you consider the best courses and subjects for you to study in the sixth form or at college.

We have developed this guidance in close consultation with admissions staff and managers in all Russell Group universities and with very helpful advice from the Institute of Career Guidance.

The full guide can be found online here. This is your five-point plan for making your post-16 choices.

1. Know what you want to study at uni? 

Check out the entry requirements.  If you have found a university course which you are keen on, have you checked the relevant university website or UCAS course search?

Subject requirements and the number of qualifications required for entry will vary between universities and courses. It's important to check individual university websites for details of their entry criteria. 

Three reasons you may want to continue to study a subject at a higher level are: 

• You have enjoyed and been good at the subject in the past, and think you will achieve a high grade in it. 

• You need this subject to enter a particular career or course. 

• You have not studied the subject before but you have looked into it and think it will suit your strengths.

2. Not sure yet? – Keep your options open! 

If you are not sure about what course you want to study at university, have you tried to choose at least two facilitating subjects?

Some university courses may require you to have studied a specific subject prior to entry, others may not. 

However, there are some subjects that are required more often than others. These subjects are sometimes referred to as facilitating subjects. 

Subjects that can be viewed as facilitating subjects are:

• Mathematics and Further Mathematics 

• English Literature 

• Physics 

• Biology 

• Chemistry 

• Geography 

• History 

• Languages (Classical and Modern)

3. GCSEs and other standard level qualifications matter.
 Make sure you understand the GCSE or standard level requirements for entry to a competitive university.

Universities may ask for a specific number of GCSEs (or their equivalent). For example, a number of medical courses ask for five (sometimes more) A* grades. 

GCSE English or another standard level equivalent is very often required at grade C at least. At many universities, this is a universal entry requirement for any course. Mathematics is also often required at grade C at least.

4. Think balance. 

Do you have a balance of subject choices that reflects your abilities, strengths and interests? Have you considered how certain subject combinations relate to university courses?

If you are not sure what degree subject you might be qualified for, it is a good idea to consider the broad ways in which certain subject combinations at advanced level tend to relate to broad groups of university degree courses. 

 You should be aware that some courses at some universities may view certain combinations of subjects as "narrow". For example some courses may not accept two similar A-levels as part of a three subject mix. Therefore you should check university entrance requirements carefully.

5. Make sure you know WHY. 

If you want to take a subject that you have not studied before, can you talk for a minute on what this subject is about? 

Try and unpick why you wish to study a new subject. It's not always enough to say 'It's interesting', 'I think I'll like it’ or 'It will be fun’.

You may also find it useful to refer to our guidance on how your choices will affect your future career options. It is important that your decisions are taken on the basis of accurate information and clear thinking. 

Whatever you choose now will commit you to certain directions at university and perhaps rule out certain careers.

Find out more about all the options open to you and check out requirements for specific university courses in the new Informed Choices guide.

You can find it online here.