Choosing A-Levels – How to help your child get it right.

II work a lot with young people in year 11 and they, as well as their parents, are focused fully on their up-and-coming exams and revision. However, what I often see getting pushed to the back is choosing A-Levels subjects. Parents back off, school and colleges give bad advice and the young people don’t think enough about their next step.

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And the A-Levels you choose matter. I have often had to be the bearers of bad news, letting a student in year 12 know that their chosen university is most likely going to be off limits because of the subjects they have chosen to study. I have once had to get the intake professors from a Russell Group university to call an A grade student to reiterate what I had told her, which went against the college’s advice. And often I find myself telling students not to do what college or 6th form are telling them because it may cut off their chances in their chosen field or with their chosen university. You wouldn’t expect educational establishments to give such bad advice, but sometimes they do.

As a parent you need to know that the well informed advice the school or college give you could be anything but!

So what are A Levels? Simply put, they are exams taken after GCSEs that consist of two years of study. Each grade in your A-Levels results gives you points which will determine whether or not you get into your chosen university. Students can also gain extra points by doing extra work, the extended project for example, which I advise most students to do.

Often when choosing A-Levels, students and parents look at just carrying on with the student’s best subjects and while this is a good rule of thumb, you do need to take other things into consideration, such as the desired degree and university.

If your child knows what they want to study at university then this becomes easy; you just need to search on the UCAS website (Universities and Colleges Admission Services) for universities offering that subject and see what they are asking for as A Levels. Some universities don’t stipulate where your UCAS points (points awarded according to exam grade) need to come from, some do and often most courses have a requirement to have a certain subject at A-Level.

If your child doesn’t know what they want to do it can get a bit trickier. You can just have your child continue to study what they like, but this may not give them the best chance. If your child is not sure what they want to do then you may wants to stick to what are called facilitating subjects to ensure that any university will be open to them. Facilitating subjects are the ones requested by the elite Russell Group universities and are guaranteed to get them onto most courses. They include the core subjects such as English, Maths and Sciences. You can get a full list here.

You will be surprised at the amount of students I talk to who want to go to a Russell Group university but are not studying facilitating subjects, or who know what course they want to do and have assumed rather than finding out what that degree course requires, only to find the university they want is requiring a course they have not studied.

So when making a decision about choosing A-levels to study, the following questions should be asked.

  • Which degree course do they want to do and what do universities that offer that course require?
  • If they are not sure about which degree, which facilitating subjects do they want to continue with at school?
  • What do they enjoy?
  • In which subjects did they at least get a B at GCSE? I ask this because in my experience a B will give your child the best possible chance at passing an A-Level. While they can do an A-level with a lower grade, I do think it becomes a difficult task.

So there you have it; that is what I suggest for choosing your A-Level subjects.

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Sarah Newton

Author, Speaker and Youth Coach

Sarah Newton has shared her innovative wisdom with millions who have tuned into her TV and Radio shows, followed her writing and listened to her unconventional talks. She has been described as a catalyst, daring all she meets to break out from social norms and follow their own path. She has worked in youth empowerment for over 30 years, first as a police officer and then eventually running her own business, via a stint at Disney World in Florida. Sarah has a no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach to solving most youth-associated problems, based on tactics that work, not rhetoric out of a book. She often is the only one in the room to stand by her viewpoint and tends to think the opposite from everyone else. Star of ITV’s “My Teen’s A Nightmare, I’m Moving Out” and author of “Help! My Teenager is an Alien – the everyday situation guide for parents”, Sarah has just teamed up with her daughter to write a novel to help girls with their body image issues, she has also written for The Guardian, The Huffington Post and the Daily Mail. Sarah also sits on the UK board of the Arbonne Charitable Foundation and is an ambassador for Girls Out Loud.