There are so many misconceptions about post-sixteen and sixth form study and before I discuss them briefly,  I’d like to list some of those:

    1. If I study Media Studies at A-level, I have an excellent chance of getting the top job in the media – like being a top TV presenter or something.
    2. A-level in Business (formally Business Studies) is the best for me if I want to study a business-related course at a top university
    3. A degree in Business Studies or a related course is the best to get a top job with a very big business or to become a top businessman or businesswoman. There are two misconceptions here. I’d suggest to study Economics, Natural Science, Maths, History or nothing at all treated to business and then do an MBA
    4. It’s really cool to do an A-level in Law so I can gain admission to a top Law School and become a barrister. History and English are far better subjects
    5. Studying accounting at A-level is the best way to gain admission to a top university, become a chartered accountant and work for one of the top accountancy firms – again two serious misconceptions here.
    6. I want to study Computer Science at a top Russell Group university, so I should do Computer Science and Computing at A-level and Maths and Physics are not that important. I can even do BTec in Engineering instead of A-level.
    7. I want to study Engineering and become a top engineer or scientist and BTec is more hands-on, so it is the best post-sixteen qualification. Either of these two will help me thrive at university so that I will have an advantage over other students who have studied A-level instead of BTec before entering university. No, no and no.
    8. I really love Biology and it’s the only science subject I need at A-level. It’s really cool to become a top Marine Biologist so I do not need to worry too much about Maths and Physics. I’ve just got to be good in Biology.
    9. It doesn’t really matter which university I go to, I will study Law and become a top barrister.

There is a set of subjects that I would recommend for students to study if they intend to gain admission to a top university. I would advise that every student includes at least two of the following subjects in their choice of A-level:

  • Mathematics
  • English Literature
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • History
  • Biology (only really useful if you study Chemistry as well)
  • Languages – modern such as French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and classical such as Latin and Greek. Russian, Chinese (Mandarin) and Japanese are becoming very popular and extremely valuable*
  • Economics
  • Further Mathematics

* On Languages, there are other languages that are not listed above, but which have similar academic rigour – such as Arabic, Hebrew and so on. There are all sorts of prejudices, snobbery and so on and, in my view, I think the listed languages above are preferred by university dons – irrespective of what the website says!

When GCSE result are released very many young people find themselves in a position where they have to decide on the next step – post-sixteen studies.  Around half of sixteen-year olds will be studying A-level or its equivalent academic qualifications – the IB or Cambridge Pre-U. Other options are: studying a vocational qualification such as BTec, doing an apprenticeship or getting a job.

The importance of the choice that young people make at this critical stage of their life cannot be overemphasised. This article is focused mainly on those young people who are looking to study academic qualifications such as A-level. However, those who are sitting on the fence and pondering if to go for vocational or academic qualifications will also benefit.

Below is a link to an audio on suggestions and advice about A-level subject options - narrated by Richard Turner - a producer on BBC Radio 4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRI-aDy5wa8&t=16s

Below are links to similar blogpost on this matter

https://excelinkeysubjects.com/sixth-form-and-a-level-subjects-option-after-gcse-results/

https://excelinkeysubjects.com/making-vital-choices-for-post-sixteen-subjects-and-courses/

https://excelinkeysubjects.com/a-level-subjects-making-the-right-choice/

5 Comments

  1. Jonathan Treacher on August 26, 2019 at 8:45 am

    All good points But what is more important, Studying the right course, or getting A* Clearly, doing, say, History and English Literature and getting A* in both is the gold standard. But what if a student is NOT capable of that? Better to do, say, a Business BTEC and get a distinction? How does a distinction in BTEC stack up against A Levels? Also, even of the brightest, BTECs have practical applications – and employ ability. As an employer, I interview many highly intelligent people – who cannot add any real value as they cannot DO anything. .

    • Idris Musty on September 11, 2019 at 9:05 am

      You are quite right; not everyone is academically inclined and will thrive in the conventional way subjects such as History and English Literature are assessed. There is plenty of knowledge to gain and skills to master in the process of studying a BTec course; and getting a distinction will certainly help. I also agree that in a job environment, a sensible young person with enthusiasm and a BTec qualification may well proof to be more useful than someone else with a degree from a top university. This is not the general pattern, but as an employer, I have seen some of those… It’s amazing what a bright young person with the right attitude can do in terms of adding real value and helping your company to grow. I must say I really like the words you have used and the way you have emphasised them. You are obviously speaking from real life experiences! Thank you for your contribution and let’s keep the conversation going.

  2. Constance Ovonji on August 26, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Very timely advice as my daughter wants to study History and English Literature for A levels and I had my doubts, so this is reassuring xx

    • Idris Musty on September 11, 2019 at 8:43 am

      An excellent choice your daughter is making. She will go very far in life with good grades in History and English Literature. All the best to her and your family.

  3. Idris Musty on September 11, 2019 at 9:11 am

    You are quite right; not everyone is academically inclined and will thrive in the conventional way subjects such as History and English Literature are assessed. There is plenty of knowledge to gain and skills to master in the process of studying a BTec course; and getting a distinction will certainly help. I also agree that in a job environment, a sensible young person with enthusiasm and a BTec qualification may well proof to be more useful than someone else with a degree from a top university. This is not the general pattern, but as an employer, I have seen some of those… It’s amazing what a bright young person with the right attitude can do in terms of adding real value and helping your company to grow. I must say I really like the words you have used and the way you have emphasised them. You are obviously speaking from real life experiences! Thank you for your contribution and let’s keep the conversation going.

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