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May 2013

Choosing GCSEs and A-Levels

By | Coaching in Education, Schools subjects advice

Secondary school seems to be full of difficult choices. In Year 9, your child has to choose their GCSEs. Then, two years later, they have to pick A-levels or an equivalent qualification. At each step, there seems to be more at stake. Fortunately, Natalie Lancer, founder of and MyUniApplication, is here to help make this experience as stress-free as possible.

Perhaps the best way of helping your child plan their academic career is to start backwards. The end goal is probably to go to university and study something that will help them in their career. With that in mind, it is useful, even in Year 9, to start looking at university websites, to see what courses are on offer and what GCSEs and A-levels they require. You will find that the entry requirements for many courses state a minimum grade required for Maths and English GCSE. Sometimes they also state a required grade for the Sciences at GCSE and ‘a good range of subjects with minimum grades of A*- C’.

Some schools dictate that students take a humanity (History, Geography or Religious Studies), a language and a technical or artistic subject (such as Computer Science or Art). Since Maths, English and Science are compulsory at GCSE, there may, in fact, be very little ‘choice’. However, many schools do give students a free choice of subject and do not insist, for example, that they take a language. However, this may be short-sighted, as some universities, for example, UCL, only admit students who studied a language at GCSE. In practice, in order to achieve ‘a good range of subjects’, it is a good idea to choose at least one humanity and one language. Two humanities may prove very time consuming as they are ‘knowledge-rich’ subjects. Beware that this rule of thumb does not suit everyone – to take on a language if you have no aptitude in them could be a bad strategy. Ultimately, universities want to see that you have passed your GCSEs with good grades. Achieving a balance of subjects that demonstrate that you have ability in a wide range of areas and playing to your strengths are important. You may decide to seek professional guidance in order to make an informed decision.

Choosing A-levels may be easier as by the time a student has studied GCSEs, they will have a better idea of which subjects they may want to take further and which subjects to drop. It is more difficult to know whether to take up a subject that they have not studied at GCSE, such as Economics. Encourage your child to borrow a text book and read a few chapters to see if the subject is interesting to them. Having a conversation about possible future careers is pivotal, as some careers require specific degrees and, in turn, some degrees require specific A-levels. Choosing the wrong A-levels would then count your child out of some career paths if care was not taken at this point. Most importantly, subjects should be chosen in which your child can excel.

Natalie is the founder of She can discuss your career options in one-to-one sessions and give you expert guidance on GCSE and A-level choice, university applications (UK and US) and the Personal Statement.

For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or at


Natalie’s Top tips for choosing GCSEs and A-levels:

  • Think about your career goals and discuss options with a professional, such as Natalie Lancer.
  • Research the entry requirements for various university courses and check you would be eligible to apply with your potential subjects.
  • Borrow a text book for the A-level course and decide if the subject matter interests you.
  • Play to your strengths – getting good grades is important.
  • Take a ‘good range of subjects’ at GCSE.