North Bristol Post 16 Centre

North Bristol Post 16 Centre

North Bristol Post 16 Centre

Cotham and Redland Green Learning Communities

Director's Blog: What subjects should I choose?

It was great to see so many new students at the North Bristol Post 16 Open Evening on the 15th of October. Don't forget that we have an Information Evening on the 5th of November. This will give you the opportunity to visit Cotham learning community.

You will find that everyone is very free with their advice about the subjects you should study at A level, Pre U or BTEC level. There will be no shortage of people telling you to take this or that subject, often contradicting each other and themselves, leaving you more confused and conflicted. There are all sorts of reasons to take particular subjects, but they need to be YOUR reasons and not somebody else’s

First of all, you need to take subjects that you enjoy and are good at. You will be studying them intensely for at least a year, probably two, and you will not do well unless you enjoy the subject and feel confident with it.  At A Level, Pre U and BTEC level  subjects require extra reading, additional work outside the classroom and you are much more likely to do this and do it well if you have a natural enthusiasm and interest in the subject. For example, if you are thinking about English Literature, do you actually like reading? Do you read a lot in your spare time? Do you enjoy a range of texts and not just books written for a modern day teenage audience? In maths, do you relish the challenge of a harder question? Do you hate to be told the answer before you have tried a problem every which way? Do you feel confident and in control?

The Russell Group has published a guide to A Level choices, which has been widely misunderstood and misquoted. The guide describes which A level subjects are facilitating subjects.  Facilitating subjects are carefully defined as those that provide good progression opportunities to a range of degree subjects. They make the point that economics, for example, is a good and well regarded subject but is not a so-called  facilitating subject because it is not actually a required subject for many degree courses. The Russell Group suggest that students take two facilitating subjects. This is good general advice for those who want to keep their options open, but remember that it will not apply in all individual circumstances. The most important factor will be the grades that you get rather than the subjects you study.

If you are clear on your future career and on the degree you want to take, then congratulations. It is much easier to pursue a goal when you know what the goal is! If you are in this situation then you are better placed to get good advice. Check out some university websites (make sure you check a few and not just one or two) but do take care to avoid the ‘received wisdom’ and rumours that you may  have heard from friends or which were true in your parents day.

If you don’t know what you want to take at university, never mind what career path you want to follow, don’t panic! You are in the majority. But do try to get down to some serious thinking. The choices you make now will determine what choices are open to you further down the road.  Do some research. Think carefully about the subjects that you currently do and find out about A Level subjects that aren’t available at GCSE and whether they might suit you. Take advantage of open days at sixth forms to find out more about subjects and ask sixth form students for their feedback.

Many degree courses will stipulate the obvious A levels. For example, to do a history degree, you need history A level; to do a geography degree you need geography A level.

Here are some of the less obvious ones:


A Level


Many require A level art (or AS level may suffice); some require some sciences or maths.


Maths. Further maths useful for Cambridge.


Maths. Further maths advised for Cambridge/LSE.


Maths and physics usually required. Chemistry essential for chemical engineering. Further maths advised for some top universities.

English Literature

English lit needed. There are increasing numbers of English courses, not just Eng lit, many of which accept English language.


Advised to do at least one essay based subject. At least two ‘traditional’ subjects are recommended.


Further maths advised (essential for the very top universities).

Medicine/Dentistry/ Veterinary

Biology and chemistry. Don’t require maths or physics. Some medical schools like at least one non-science/maths subject.


Mainly A/A* grades required at GCSE.

Natural Science

Should do maths, chemistry and either biology or physics. Further maths useful for Cambridge.


Chemistry, plus at least one from biology, maths and physics.


Further maths advised (essential for the very top universities).


Most universities want biology or PE. Some specify biology. Some want two sciences (counting PE as a science).


At least one science/maths course advised. There are a few BA psychology degrees which don’t require a science.

We look forward to receiving your applications. Don't forget the closing date is the 4th of December.

Ms Curran