The Best A-Level Subject Combinations
Choosing the right A-level subjects can be vital for your university application: that’s because some subjects work better together than others.
When you apply to a competitive course, it’s crucial that you choose the subject combinations that will help to make your application stand out.
There are three main ways of making this decision:
- Work with an education concierge to identify the best subject combinations for your A-levels.
- Choose the subjects that combine best with your favourite subject.
- Choose the best subject combination for the course you want to study at university.
Work With an Education Concierge
Whilst all of the advice in this article is accurate and based on decades of experience in university admissions, in reality, every case is different.
Sometimes, you’ll find that the best course of action is to take the exact subjects that are listed under your desired course in this article, but there are situations in which this might not be the best option.
For example, should you take a recommended subject in place of a subject you are passionate about, and in which you’re likely to achieve a fantastic grade? Sometimes you should, but sometimes you shouldn’t. It all depends on the course and university you are applying to and how competitive that particular degree is.
Generally speaking, certain subjects are useful regardless of these factors. Facilitating subjects such as Maths, Modern Foreign Languages, History, English and the Sciences are usually strong and safe choices (although for some university courses, choosing English over Physics might put you at a distinct disadvantage).
Similarly, it’s best to avoid some subjects. Generally, you’ll find that courses like General Studies, Media Studies, Dance, and Home Economics aren’t well respected by the top universities. However, if you want to study a subject like Journalism or Dance and Media at university, you should think about taking one of these courses at A-level.
If you’re looking to apply to a competitive university, we’d highly suggest contacting an experienced education concierge. This service will be able to help you select the best A-level subject combinations, both for your skillset and for the university course’s requirements.
Get in touch with us at A&J Education to book a free consultation with one of our expert mentors.
Choose the Subjects That Combine Best With Your Favourite Subject
If you’re not sure what degree you want to study at university, a useful strategy is to choose your favourite subject that’s offered at A-level and build your other subject choices around it.
If you’re planning on applying to a competitive academic course at university, you should remember to pick a facilitating subject as the subject you build your other choices around, rather than a ‘soft’ subject such as Media Studies or Photography.
Top Russell Group and non-Russell Group universities like St Andrews and Lancaster will value facilitating subjects more than other subjects.
As a rule, if your primary interest is in the Sciences or in Maths, you’ll want to take at least two subjects out of Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology.
If you’re more interested in the Arts and Humanities, then you should choose two subjects out of English Literature, History and Geography.
If your main aim is to keep your options open, then aim to choose this collection of subjects at AS-level:
- A Humanities course
- A Science subject
This collection gives you the ability to become more specialised when you narrow down your subject choices for A2-level.
Here is an in-depth rundown of the best A-level subject combinations. We’ll go through each of the facilitating subjects in turn, looking at which combinations work well when it comes to building a strong application for university.
Best A-Level Subject Combinations: English Literature
Suggested Subject Combinations
It’s little surprise that English Literature A-level is an essay-based subject, focusing on writing, comprehension, analysis, and the ability to form and present a convincing argument.
It’s a subject that builds a number of transferable skills that will benefit you at university and in your career.
Universities are always on the lookout for students with these writing, critical thinking, and comprehension skills. You’ll need to have the ability to interpret texts analytically and develop cogent arguments in almost any subject you choose to study at university.
If English is your main choice, it makes sense to further develop and demonstrate these skills by pairing it with more subjects that require similar transferable skills.
Here are a few suggestions:
- English, History, and a Modern Foreign Language
- English, History, and Philosophy
Extended writing is a significant part of many university courses. These A-level combinations will prepare you for when you have to write a dissertation or thesis, allow you to perfect your ability to put together a convincing argument, and improve your capacity for critical thinking.
Applying for English Literature at a Top University?
Even at most Cambridge colleges, the only requirement to study English is that you take English Literature at A-level, and some might accept English Language and Literature as a substitute. However, we’d highly recommend that you take English Literature as an A-level where possible.
Here are some more suggestions for complementary subjects to English Literature:
- A Modern Foreign Language
- A classical language such as Latin or Greek (if possible)
- Philosophy (note that if you’re applying to a top university such as Oxford or Cambridge, we wouldn’t recommend choosing Philosophy at A-Level).
Best A-Level Subject Combinations: Biology, Chemistry or Physics
If your preferred subject is one of the Physical Sciences, then your A-level combination choice is quite simple.
Pair two or more of the Physical Sciences together, and include Maths if you can. For A2, the following combinations are popular and feed into a strong application for Science-based degrees at top universities:
- Biology, Chemistry, Maths
- Physics, Chemistry, Maths
- Biology, Physics, Chemistry
If you want to keep your options open a little, and you want some variety in your A-level subjects, just make sure the additional subject you choose is a facilitating subject.
For example, English and History would provide some balance to a primarily science-based A-Level subject set.
Focus on Biology
In addition to the required A-level in Biology, you’ll want to take at least one more Science, if not two. Maths is a secure final option.
Here are our complementary recommendations if you’re applying for Biology at university:
- Physics/Further Mathematics
You could consider replacing Physics/Further Mathematics with an essay-based subject to diversify your A-Level combination, but if you’re applying to study Biology at a top university you’ll want to focus on your Science-based subjects.
Focus on Chemistry
If you want to study Chemistry at university, then you should study Chemistry and Mathematics at A-level. We would then advise choosing another science and Further Maths:
Here are our complementary recommendations for Chemistry:
- Further Maths
Focus on Physics
In addition to Physics, we’d suggest taking Maths, and preferably Further Maths. Alongside these three subjects, take one of:
- Human Biology
If you don’t want to take Further Maths, you can replace it with one of the three subjects above. However, this might put you at a disadvantage if you’re applying to a competitive university.
Best A-Level Subject Combinations: Maths
Suggested Subject Combinations
Maths is the most popular A-level choice, and it’s a fantastic subject when it comes to applying for university and building a transferable skill set to help you in your career.
The subject requires a lot of expertise and the ability to focus on a specific issue: these skills are invaluable when working in the finance and technology sectors.
You can’t really go wrong when combining subjects with Maths, as it’s such a versatile subject. Here are a few of our favoured A-level combinations that work well with Maths:
- Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology
- Maths, Physics, Economics, Business Studies
- Maths, Psychology, English, Economics
- Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Computing
A lot of top universities request that you combine Maths, Further Maths, and Physics when applying for courses such as Computer Science and Engineering.
It’s also worth noting that Maths is often a required subject for Medicine, Economics, Maths and Natural Sciences degrees.
Applying for Maths at a Top University?
If you’re applying for Maths at Cambridge, you’ll need to take Further Maths alongside Maths at A-level.
Oxford colleges don’t require you to take Further Maths, but we’d highly recommend that you do: your chances of admission without Further Maths are significantly lower than if you take the subject.
Physics is required if you’re applying to Maths and Physics, and even if you’re not, it’s a good idea to take the subject.
We’d recommend Chemistry for your fourth A-Level, although you might get away with taking Computing or Statistics if you’re not applying to Oxford, Cambridge, or a top US university.
Modern and Classical Languages
Modern Languages are a little more challenging to incorporate into your A-level collection.
You should have a specific language in mind as your main Modern Language A-level. Once you’ve picked that A-level, you’ll have two options:
- Pair it with other subjects you enjoy
- Make your decision based on the degree you’d like to study.
Still unsure? Here are a few subjects we think combine really well with a Modern Language:
- If you’re talented enough to be able to speak another foreign language, doubling up on languages is never a bad idea
- English Language/Literature
- Business Studies
Applying for Modern Languages at a Top University?
If you’re applying for Modern Languages at a top university, it’s important, of course, to take at least one foreign language at A-level. If you can take two then that is preferable.
Other than that, few universities have any other required subjects for Modern Languages. However, there are many Modern Languages degrees that combine with subjects such as History, Classics, or Linguistics.
Therefore, we’d suggest taking History and English Language and/or English Literature alongside a Modern Language or two at A-Level.
As with English Literature, it’s a great idea to pair essay-based subjects together at A-level. This really demonstrates your valuable transferable skill set.
Here are a few recommended subject combinations:
- History, English Literature, Psychology
- History, English Literature, Economics
- History, Economics, one of Philosophy, Sociology or Theology
Geography is an interesting A-level choice. It’s a multi-disciplined subject, and there is a wide range of complementary options when it comes to your A-level subject combinations.
However, certain universities might not regard the Geography A-level as highly as they do the History one.
In terms of A-level combinations, there are a lot of options, from combining with other essay-based subjects to adding Maths or Economics.
Here are some recommendations:
- Geography, Biology, Economics
- Geography, Biology, Maths
- Geography, History, English
Applying for Geography at a Top University?
Not many universities have specific entrance requirements for their Geography courses: they often don’t even require you to have taken Geography at A-level. However, if you want to study Geography at a top university, you should take the subject at A-level.
There are a lot of subjects you could choose to pair with Geography, but we’d suggest picking a mixture of Humanities and Science-based subjects. You could also include English Literature to demonstrate your essay-writing ability.
Any of these combinations would work well as part of your university application:
- Geography, History, Biology, Maths
- Geography, English, Physics, Chemistry
- Geography, History, English, Maths
Feel free to swap any of the Sciences in these combinations for another Science-based subject of your choice. Some Geography departments will like it if you take Latin or a Modern Language at A-level.
An Art-Based Subject
As a rule, we would advise that you only take Art, or an Art-based subject, if it is key to getting into the course you’d like to study at university or if it is a crucial stepping stone to the career you would like to pursue.
We would always recommend including two facilitating subjects alongside an Arts A-level.
If Art is your passion, and you choose an Art-based A-level subject, here are some combinations to consider.
- Art, English, History/Geography, a Modern Foreign Language
- Art, English, History/Geography, a Science
- Art, English, Maths, a Science (brilliant for pursuing Art and keeping your options open for a number of university courses and careers)
- Art, Maths, Physics (this combination is often preferred by Architecture degree courses)
- Art, Maths, Business, English
- Art, Computer Science, Graphic Design (this is a little more niche, and only really works if you’re looking to pursue a career in graphic design or video game animation)
Applying to Fine Art at Oxford?
It will come as little surprise that you’ll need to study Art at A-level if you want to earn an offer for this degree.
If you’re looking for complementary subjects, it’s never a bad idea to take English (there is often more essay-writing in a Fine Arts degree than you might expect).
Other than that, just make sure you avoid “soft” subjects. Most importantly, you should work on creating an outstanding portfolio that shows off your artistic passions and talents.
Best A-Level Subject Combinations for Specific University Degrees
Here, we’ll do an in-depth rundown of which A-level subject combinations you should consider when it comes to applying for more specific, niche, or vocational university degrees at top institutions.
Applying for Architecture?
Most Architecture courses don’t require specific A-level subject choices. It’s more likely that you’ll have to present a portfolio of relevant work that demonstrates your transferable skills.
The lack of required subjects means that your choices need to be more strategic. You need to be able to build a portfolio and demonstrate the raw skills required for an Architecture degree.
Here is our recommended A-level subject combination for Architecture:
- Further Maths
Mathematics and Physics allow you to demonstrate an understanding of the core principles of Architecture.
Some Architecture courses are more arts-based than others, so it’s a good idea to be able to demonstrate your creative skills through your A-level subject choices.
Applying for Biochemistry?
Choosing Biology and Chemistry as A-Levels are clear and obvious choices for Biochemistry, but filling your last A-Level and choosing a subject to study at AS can be a little tricky.
Maths is an obvious choice: it’s not essential for Biochemistry, but the skills that you’ll develop in terms of interpreting statistics and data are beneficial. You’ll also improve your calculation skills.
For your final choice, you can either focus on your scientific skills or for a bit of intellectual balance you can demonstrate your communication skills and ability to form an argument with an essay-based subject such as English or History.
Here is our recommended A-Level subject combination when it comes to applying for Biochemistry:
- Physics, English or History
Applying for Biomedical Sciences?
For most universities, you will need to take two subjects out of Biology, Chemistry, Maths, and Physics, preferably Biology and Chemistry.
Whilst some universities will then accept two other, preferably facilitating, subjects, top universities will expect you to choose all four of these subjects.
Therefore, our recommended subject combination here is pretty simple:
A lot of universities, such as Warwick, exclude General Studies and Critical Thinking in their course requirements, so it’s best to avoid “soft” subjects when you’re applying to the top institutions.
Applying for Classics?
Ideally, you would study one of the classical languages, whether it’s Latin or Classical Greek, at A-level.
However, many universities understand that not all schools offer these A-levels, and these universities will provide ab initio courses for those who haven’t studied either subject at A-level.
However, taking a Classical Language A-level is a requirement for some university courses, so we have to include them in our recommended A-level options:
- Latin/Classical Greek
- History of Art
If you can’t take Latin and or Classical Greek, you should take one or two modern foreign languages and look for a university course with a four-year or study abroad option so that you can develop your ability in one of the Classical Languages from scratch.
Applying for Computer Science? Best A-Level Subject Combinations
Most university courses don’t require you to have taken Computer Science at A-level to study it at university, however, if it is an option for you then it’s worth taking.
Mathematics is an essential subject, and Further Mathematics is advised. Taking one other science is also a good idea.
It’s common to assume that taking IT is advantageous when for most universities it is in fact wiser to avoid taking that particular subject.
We’d advise taking Maths, Further Maths, and two of the following:
- Computer Science
Applying for Economics?
Economics is another mathematics-based subject, so you’ll need to take Maths, and Further Maths if you’re applying to study at a top university. If not, then just taking Maths might suffice.
You should take Economics at A-level if you can, but don’t worry if your school doesn’t offer it.
Combine Maths and Further Maths with two of these subjects:
- Business Studies
- Government and Politics
Applying for Engineering?
For an Engineering degree at a top university, you’ll want to choose Maths and at least one more science. Physics is your best bet.
Whilst not many universities require Further Maths, it’s a good idea to take it, and it’ll give you skills that will be beneficial on your course.
Therefore, we’d recommend that you take Maths, Physics, Further Maths and one of the following:
Some universities might accept Engineering or Design and Technology, but if you’re applying to a top university, you’d be better off choosing Maths, Physics, Further Maths, and either Chemistry or Biology.
Applying for Law? Best A-Level Subject Combinations
Both Oxford and Cambridge recommend an essay-based subject if you’re applying to study Law, but neither have specific subject requirements. Despite what you might think, you don’t need to take Law at A-level to study it at university. However, it might be a good idea to take that Law A-level to ensure you enjoy the subject.
If you do choose to take Law at A-level, we recommend pairing it with at least two essay-based subjects such as English and History. You should then choose either Geography, a Modern Foreign Language, or Maths as your final option.
It’s also not a bad idea to take Critical Thinking because it should help with the LNAT. However, we only recommend this as a fifth A-Level and not as one of four subjects.
Applying for Materials Science?
If you’re looking to study Materials Science as a degree, then your A-level choices are actually quite simple.
- We’d then recommend Further Maths as your fourth A-Level, though at most universities it’s not required
Applying for Medicine?
Technically, if you’re applying for Medicine at most universities, you’ll need only to take Chemistry with one of Maths, Further Maths, Biology or Physics as a complementary subject.
However, if you’re looking to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, it’s worth considering that most applicants will take three or four sciences.
We’d recommend this subject combination if you’re applying to study Medicine at a top university:
- Physics/Further Maths
Applying for Music?
Most top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have very similar subject requirements for a Music degree. You’ll require an A-level in Music, though most universities would consider a decent certification in ABRSM Grade 8 Theory to be a fine replacement.
When you’re applying to the best universities, the safest bet is to have both a Music A-level and a Merit or Distinction in ABRSM Grade 8 Theory. Cambridge colleges will look for that Grade 8 certification, while Oxford colleges will also look for candidates with a Keyboard Ability of Grade 5 or above.
Other than taking the Music A-level, you’re better off focusing on working on your musicality and ability than worrying too much about A-level choices. However, as always, top universities will prefer that you take facilitating subjects as part of your A-level subject set.
Applying for Natural Sciences?
You should take at least two Science A-levels alongside Maths.
All Cambridge colleges require at least two science subjects at A-level if you’re applying for Natural Sciences, and some require three.
We’d suggest taking three, if not four Science-based subjects. In addition to Maths, you should consider taking:
- Further Maths
Applying for Philosophy?
While there are usually no set requirements for studying Philosophy at university, we’d recommend a mix of Arts and Science-based subjects. An Arts-based subject will give you essay-writing skills, while Science subjects help to develop your logic and reason.
We’d suggest choosing four of the following:
- English Literature
- English Language and Literature
Physics and Philosophy is a popular undergraduate degree at Oxford, so we’d recommend that you consider taking Physics as one of your choices at A-level.
Applying for Philosophy, Politics and Economics?
There are no set subject requirements to study PPE at university, and even Oxford will consider any subject combinations.
However, as with most subjects, there are preferences and various factors to consider. If you’re applying to a competitive university, you should follow the following recommendations.
We think that taking History and Maths is essential if you’re applying to study PPE at Oxford. It’s also advised if you’re applying to another competitive university. In addition, consider English, Economics, Geography, or a Modern Language as one of your other options.
Applying for Politics?
Politics degree courses don’t usually carry any specific entrance requirements, and a mix of Humanities and Science-based courses will provide a solid foundation and good general knowledge.
We’d recommend any of the following A-level courses if you’re planning on applying for Politics at university:
- Government and Politics
- English Literature
- Foreign Language
Applying for Theology and Religion?
There are no specific subject requirements to study Theology and Religion at most universities. However, you should try to take an essay-based subject, such as:
- A Modern Foreign Language
- A Classical Language such as Latin
The Final Thoughts: Choosing the Best A-Level Subject Combinations for Applying to University
There are several factors to consider when you’re picking the best A-level combination for applying to the top universities.
Try to pick a facilitating subject as your top A-level choice, then build the rest of your choices around that subject.
You should also try to think about what you want to study at university and pick out a combination of subjects that sets you up to submit a strong application for that particular degree.
Some universities are more strict than others in terms of their A-level subject requirements. For example, Trinity College, Cambridge might have slightly different course requirements to an Oxford college, so it’s best to head online. Check out each Oxbridge college’s subject requirements.
If you’re looking at non-Oxbridge universities, head to the relevant department’s website to see their A-level requirements. You can also reach out to your chosen universities or work with an education consulting service to make sure that you’re making the right choices.
To get in touch with us, book a free consultation at A&J Education to chat with one of our expert mentors.