Elizabeth Koprowski :
First, let's take a moment to recap. A-levels (short for General Certificate of Education Advanced Level) are academic qualifications awarded by many educational institutions in the UK, Commonwealth (and former Commonwealth) countries, and other countries around the world. A-levels are normally split into two years - AS and A2 - and demonstrate that a student has achieved a level of competence in certain subjects. Most universities in the UK, and in other countries, consider both the subjects studied and the marks earned when assessing applicants for undergraduate programs. This is why it's very important to make good choices when it comes to your A-levels. While some university degrees have no specific A-level requirements, others will expect you to have completed certain qualifications and just about every program will look at your exam marks, as well as your academic portfolio. So it's crucial that you choose subjects that a) will interest you; b) you can succeed in; and c) will qualify you for the degree(s) that interest you. So, without further ado, here's a quick guide to choosing the right A-levels.
1. Remember that A-levels are harder than GCSEs
A-levels are hard. Really hard. Your course work will be more advanced, and there will be more of it. Lessons will be a lot more about independent learning, and you'll be expected to motivate yourself to complete work and study for exams. So, as tempting as it might be to overload your A-level schedule with advanced subjects or to take loads of courses to 'keep your options open' it's better to focus on a core that will help you apply to your chosen schools and programs. A good starting point is what are known as "facilitating subjects." These eight subjects (math, chemistry, biology, physics, history, geography, English, and modern and classical languages) are the most likely subjects to be required by university programs. Choosing two of these, plus a third subject that interests you and relates to your potential degree, is a sure-fire way of making sure that you have lots of options when it comes to applying to universities.
2. Check entry criteria for the degree (or degrees) you're considering
Facilitating subjects are a fail-safe for entry requirements, but that doesn't mean that they cover every degree or that they're always necessary. Make sure to take some time to give serious thought to your future. Do you want to study medicine? Teaching? Technology? Figure out a few potential degrees and research the kinds of courses and experience necessary to succeed. And don't forget to check the requirements at individual universities. Take architecture as an example. Architecture programs don't normally require any specific A-levels, but the degree (and career) will require both mathematical and artistic skills. Furthermore, some architecture programs lean more heavily on the artistic side of the subject, while others concentrate more on the math and engineering aspects, so a strong art portfolio or good marks in maths will count more depending on where you apply.
3. Pick subjects you're good at
So, your grandpa was a barrister, and your mum is a solicitor, but you're really good at computer programming and web design. Don't pick subjects because someone else has told you to, or because you think everyone has to study maths, a science, and English to succeed in life. Choose your A-level subjects based on your goals and strengths. If you hate a subject or struggle to achieve good marks, you're only setting yourself up for frustration and failure. Instead, consider what interests you, what makes you happy, and where you are most likely to succeed and pick courses based on those criteria. Even if a subject is hard, if you love it you'll work hard to succeed.
4. Contact universities directly
Don't be afraid to approach your top-pick universities to find out more about their entry requirements and specific programs. Schedule a visit. Email the departments where you hope to study. Talk with the representative when they come to your school. Ask the questions you have about degree requirements, entry criteria, portfolios, and joint honours. Remember this is your future and the more information you have, the more informed your decisions will be. you can contact the admission offices directly on this wesbite by filling the form and ask you questions on the school profile of your choice.
5. Don't just follow your friends
School friends are for life, but just because you've grown up together doesn't mean that you have the same academic interests or career goals. It may sound fun to take all your A-levels together, but you won't get into your top-choice university by socializing. Besides, if you take A-level courses that interest you and help you achieve your goals, you're likely to meet and learn with other like-minded students. You'll have plenty of time to catch up with friends after class, and just think - twenty years from now, your reunions with old school friends will be way more interesting if you've all chosen exciting, unique careers that you love!
So, while you're hanging out in front of the fire eating chocolate oranges and watching old movies, take some time to consider your degree plans. University might seem a long way off, but the next two years will fly by and if you make good choices now, you'll be on track for a brilliant and exciting future.
Read more about studying in the UK.
(Elizabeth Koprowski is an American writer and travel historian. She has worked in the higher education system with international students both in Europe and in the USA).