For many children, choosing their A levels can be a stressful process. It’s probably the most important decision you can make at the age of 15 or 16. It affects what universities you can go to at the age of 18 and the decision will affect the next two years of your life. Your teachers will often try and persuade you to take their classes, your parents might have ideas of what A levels you should choose and your friends might want you to take the same A levels as them. However, as with all decisions, it’s really hard to decide something important (and for it to feel okay) if you are not the person making that decision. This guide will help you to make your own decisions around which A levels to take. So you can just have two years of enjoyable study and make the most of the sixth form.
One: Do a Mind Dump on Paper
Grab a big sheet of paper, if you need to stick three or four sheets of A4 paper together do so. Once you have this big sheet of paper on a table or on the floor, put all your thoughts about A levels down on it. It doesn’t matter what order your thoughts are in and it doesn’t matter what they look like. If you can do a spider diagram that’s great. If you just need to write down random thoughts in random places that are great too. The point of the activity is for you to put your own ideas down on paper without asking anybody else. Start with subjects you enjoyed at GCSE and that you think you might enjoy at A level.
What type of subjects are those? Are they creative? Are they logical? Will they require essays or will it be more question-based exams? What were your strengths in your GCSEs? What have you found the hardest? Then move on to questions about jobs. And what type of jobs would you like, or what field do you want to be in? For example, if you want to be a vet, the A level subjects would need to be science-based. If you want to be a journalist then that’s a media or English-based field.
Then write about universities. Do you have any particular universities in mind? Do you know of any particular courses you want to do? And do you know which universities and courses you would hate to do? Then, on the paper (hopefully there’s room) write about where you want to study your A levels. Is it the same school? If so, what are the departments like? What teachers do you get on well with? If it is a new school, what’s attracting you to this new sixth form or new college?The point of this exercise is not to come up with any real answers. What you are doing is forming your own thoughts on paper. So you have some idea of what they initially are.
Over the next few months, your teachers are going to try and help you make your decisions about your A levels. For many of you, your parents are also going to be involved in this decision process. The decision needs to also include what you enjoy and what you want in life. This is really unfair because you’re only 15 or 16 but it’s really important for you to have some ideas, even if your ideas change. So, put all your ideas down on paper.
Two: What Subjects Do You Like
A levels are hard. There is no doubt that it will be harder than your GCSE’S. A level’s require self-study, determination, resilience and a will to succeed. Everybody who is resilient and has a will to succeed gets tested at A levels when they realise they are significantly harder. What helps this resilience and will to succeed is if you like the subject in the first place. It is quite common for some people to really like a subject at GCSE and then go off it a bit at A level, but the initial liking of it and the knowing of the subject really helps when things get tough.
So, just say you’re really great at maths, but you find it boring and you just hate doing it. In that case, perhaps A level maths might not be the best A level for you, unless you really need it to get into your chosen University. You certainly should avoid spending two years doing something you find so disinteresting. Although do talk to your teacher about what the A level subjects involve because as the A level work gets harder some students find the subject more interesting when they look deeper at it along with all the various topics.
Three: Consider Facilitating Subjects
Facilitating subjects are any A levels that universities value, thus they are facilitating you into getting into further courses. Facilitating subjects are currently, Maths and Further Maths, English, Sciences, Classical Languages, History, Geography and modern languages. The rule of thumb is that if you want to go into an academic course, then you choose two facilitating A levels and one A level that isn’t considered facilitating. However, it must be stressed here that we are mainly talking about academic University programmes and higher education. For example, if you wanted to go to a prestigious Music University, they may have their own criteria and choice of facilitating A levels. It is only good to choose A levels from the general facilitating subject list if you do not know what University you want to go to, or what course you want to do and you’re just making sure you’re giving yourself the best chances.
Four: Check Degree Courses
Some degree subjects ask for specific A levels. For example, if you really want to do medicine, then almost every single medicine degree requires an A level in chemistry, and many medicine degrees require an A level in chemistry and biology. If you have an idea of what degree you want to do such as Medicine, Architecture, Engineering and so forth, then check out what A levels they are asking for. This gives you a general sense of the types of A levels that will allow you entry into these courses and the grades to get onto these courses.
Five: What A levels Does Your University Prefer
Some universities do not require specific A levels, they just require certain grades. However, some of the other universities and many of the Russell Group universities have degree courses that specify preferred A levels. Check out the type of University you want to go to and look at its A level requirements. You can call or email the admissions department and they will be happy to answer any of your questions. It is easy to get University prospectuses off the University websites and they publish new ones every year, each course will have its own entry requirement and UCAS points.
Six: Take Advice But Not Too Much
It’s important you listen to your teachers and parents. They have a lot more experience both in life choices and in how the working world responds to A levels. However, your choices and your decisions matter just as much. It could be easy to let your teachers or parents decide for you, but you have to live the next two years and study these A levels. You will have to study independently, and you will have to get ready for exams. For some of you, your parents may have strong ideas and they may try and choose your A levels for you. They are trying to do the best they can for you, but perhaps you will need to explain to them why you don’t want to do a certain A level, and what draws you towards doing another. Have conversations with your parents, if you can, without shouting or arguing. Try to explain to your parents how you can see their point of view, but you have some other ideas that you want to share with them. Negotiating and talking things through together will make the whole decision process easier.
Seven: No A Level Will Be An Easy Ride
Sometimes the thought of doing two years of intense study can feel overwhelming, and so many A levels could be seen as being a softer ride. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, there will be some A levels that you will have to work significantly harder at, such as maths, if that’s not your strong point, or English literature if you’re strengths aren’t writing essays. However, even taking art-based or creative A levels will be tough and you will have to work harder than you did at GCSE. A level Art exams are days long, and drama and Theatre studies A levels require whole performances that are judged on many different aspects.
This is why you should really try, as far as you can, to do what you love and enjoy. Adults in the workplace know if they do jobs that they love and they enjoy, the easier it is to do, even when they work harder. When adults try and do jobs that they hate and don’t enjoy, it’s hard work and they’re constantly tired. It’s the same for all things in life, do what you love, and it will be easier. Whatever A levels you decide to do, make sure it’s one that can count towards a type of job you think that you will love or a subject you just love in its own right.
Eight: It’s Okay If You Don’t Fully Know
It is a lot of pressure when you’re 15 or 16 to make the best decision you can, but that’s all you can do. You need to make a decision for now, meaning this moment in your life. If the worst-case scenario is you’ve chosen the wrong A level, you can always swap early on. Most students drop one in year 13. Some students repeat a year, life won’t end. It is ok to make different decisions a bit later down the road, perhaps something has changed and you know what you want to do. You didn’t have the facts and the experiences to hand when you first choose your A levels. It’s really common for people to change their minds and they’re A-level courses.
Just do the best you can for now with the facts and the experiences you have to make the decisions, including your parent’s and teachers’ opinions and see how it goes.
Try and have fun in your A levels whenever you can. You will remember these two years for the rest of your life. Good luck.