Choosing the right A-Level subjects can be vital for your university application: that’s because some subjects work better together than others, and when you apply to a competitive course it’s crucial that you choose the subject combinations that the admissions board are looking for.
There are three main ways of making this decision:
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, how competitive that particular university is, and how impactful your A-Level choices will be.
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. Though for some university courses, choosing English over Physics might put you at a distinct disadvantage.
Similarly, some subjects are best avoided. You’ll find that soft subjects like General Studies, Media Studies, Dance and Home Economics aren’t well respected by universities. Though in some cases you might get away with taking one of them.
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.
If you’re not sure what subject or course you want to study at university, a good strategy is to choose your best subject and build your other subject choices around it.
When taking this approach, it’s important that the subject you build your other choices around is a facilitating subject, rather than a ‘soft’ subject such as media studies, or photography.
Facilitating subjects are those that are commonly asked for in the entry requirements of universities. This means that whichever course you intend on applying for, these subjects are a sound choice.
As a rule, if your primary interest is in the sciences and/or mathematics, you want to take at least two subjects out of Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. If you’re more interested in the arts and/or humanities then you should choose two out of English Literature, History and Geography. If your main aim is to keep your options open, then choose this collection of subjects: a humanities subject, English, a Science subject, and Maths at AS Level. This collection gives you the ability to become more specialised when you narrow your subjects for A2.
Choose your favourite core subject and we’ll give you the best A-Levels to combine with it:
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.
As such, universities are always looking 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:
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.
If your preferred subject is one of the Physical Sciences, then your A-Level combination choice is quite simple.
Pair the physical sciences together, and/or include Maths. For A2, the following combinations are popular and create a good combination for applying to science-based degrees at university:
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.
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 skill and the ability to focus on a specific issue: these skills are invaluable when working in the finance and technology sectors. They’re also guaranteed to be vital skills for anyone in the workforce in the future.
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 featuring Maths:
A lot of top universities request that you combine Maths, Further Maths and Physics when applying for courses such as Computer Science and Engineering. And Maths is often a required subject for Medicine, Economics, Maths and Natural Sciences degrees.
Modern Languages are a little more challenging to incorporate into your A-Level collection, but if you want to combine A-Level choices with a Modern Language, it is likely that you’ll have a specific language in mind that you’d like to study, and that will feel like the best A-Level to choose. If that’s the case, you’ll have two options:
Still unsure? Here are a few subjects we think combine really well with a Modern Language:
As with English, it’s a good idea to pair essay-based subjects together. This really demonstrates your valuable transferable skill set:
Geography is an interesting one. It’s a multi-disciplined subject, and there are a wide range of options you can combine it with. However, sometimes universities don’t regard it as highly as they do History.
In terms of A-Level combinations, there are a lot of options, from combining with other essay-based subjects to adding Maths or Economics:
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.
If Art is your passion, and you choose an art-based A-Level, here are some combinations to consider. We would always recommend including two facilitating subjects alongside an Arts A-Level:
If you know which course you want to take at university, it becomes a lot simpler to choose your A-Level subjects and combinations.
Some universities are more strict than others in terms of the A-Level subjects they require for you to have taken to get onto their courses. For example, Trinity College, Cambridge might have slightly different course requirements to an Oxford college, so it’s best to head online, read each college’s course materials, reach out to your chosen universities or work with an education consultant to make sure you’re making the right choices.
However, as a general guide, here are some combinations that should work at most universities for some of the most popular degree choices.
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:
Mathematics and Physics allow you to demonstrate an understanding of the core principles of Architecture, and whilst some Architecture courses are more art-based than others, it’s a good idea to be able to demonstrate your creative skills through your A-Level subject choices.
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 a sound 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 balance 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:
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:
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 subjects.
For most universities, you will need to take two 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.
So our recommended subject combination here is 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.
If you want to study Chemistry at university, then generally Chemistry and Mathematics are both considered essential subjects. We would then advise choosing another science and Further Maths:
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 provide ab initio courses for those who haven’t studied either subjects at A Level. However, they’re a requirement for some courses, so we have to include them in our recommended A-Level options:
If you can’t take Latin and or Classical Greek, you should take one or two modern foreign languages and look for a course with a four-year option or summer school so that you can show your ability in one of the classical languages.
Most 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:
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:
For an engineering degree, you’ll want to choose Maths and at least one more science. Physics would be the best option.
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.
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 English Literature where possible.
Taking English Literature will allow you to further develop and demonstrate your writing, critical thinking, and comprehension skills. You can pair English Literature with more subjects that require similar transferable skills:
Universities are always looking for students with writing, critical thinking and comprehension skills. These skills are beneficial for almost any subject you choose to study at 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, we think it’s a good idea to take Geography.
There are a lot of subjects you could choose to pair with Geography, but we’d suggest a mix of humanities and sciences. You could also include English Literature to demonstrate your essay-writing ability.
Any of these combinations would work well:
Feel free to swap any of the sciences in these combinations for another science subject of your choice and some universities will like it if you take a classical or foreign language at A-Level.
Some universities might not require History as an A-Level, but it’s worth considering that the vast majority of course applicants will be taking History, so it’s definitely a good idea.
If you want to study History at university, you’ll know that it’s an essay-based subject. So it’s a good idea to combine it with other essay-based subjects. This really demonstrates your ability and your transferable skill set:
It will come as little surprise that Art is recommended, though not usually required. However, the vast majority of students applying for a Fine Art degree will have an Art A-Level, so not taking Art will leave you at a distinct disadvantage.
English isn’t a bad idea – 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 and that you have an outstanding portfolio that shows off what you’re capable of.
Both Oxford and Cambridge recommend an essay-based subject, but neither have specific subject requirements. Despite what many believe, Law is not a required A-Level to study Law at university, though it might be a good idea to take that A-Level to ensure you enjoy the subject.
If you do choose to take Law at A-Level, we recommend also at least two essay-based subjects such as English and History. You should then choose either Geography, or preferably a Modern Foreign Language or Maths.
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.
If you’re looking to study Materials Science as a degree, then your A Level choices are actually quite simple:
Mathematics is essential, and whilst Cambridge colleges require Further Mathematics, Oxford colleges do not (it is however highly recommended, your chances of admission without Further Maths are significantly lower than with 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, and you might get away with taking Computing or Statistics if you’re not applying to Oxford, Cambridge or a top US university.
Technically, you need only take Chemistry with one of Maths, Further Maths, Biology or Physics. However, if you’re looking to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, it’s worth considering that most applicants will take three or four sciences.
It’s important, of course, to take at least one modern language. If you can take two then that is preferable. Other than that, few universities have any other required subjects. However, there are many modern languages degrees with subjects such as History, Classics, or Linguistics. So we’d suggest taking History and English Language and/or English Literature alongside a modern language or two at A-Level.
Both Oxford and Cambridge, along with most universities, have very similar subject requirements for a Music degree. You’ll require an A-Level in Music, though most universities would consider ABRSM Grade 8 Theory at Merit and above as a substitute.
When you’re applying to a top university, the safest bet is to have both a Music A-Level and ABRSM Grade 8 Theory at Merit and above. Some Oxford colleges also like an applicant to have Keyboard Ability of ABRSM Grade 8 Theory at Merit and above.
Other than Music A-Level, you’re better off focusing on working on your musicality and ability than worrying too much about A-Level choices. Though, as always, top universities will prefer that you take facilitating subjects.
As a sciences subject, science A-Levels are recommended, and we’d highly recommend taking Maths at A-Level.
All Cambridge colleges require at least two science subjects at A-Level, and some require three. So we’d suggest taking three if not four. In addition to Maths, you should consider taking:
In addition to Physics, we’d suggest taking Maths, and preferably Further Maths. Alongside these three subjects, take one of:
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.
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 develop your logic and reason.
We’d suggest choosing four of the following:
Physics and Philosophy is a popular undergraduate degree at Oxford, so we’d recommend you seriously consider taking Physics as one of your choices.
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 if you’re applying to a competitive university, it might be risky not to follow these recommendations.
In our opinion, taking History and Maths is essential if you’re applying to Oxford and is advised if you’re applying to another competitive university. In addition, consider English, Economics, Geography or a Modern Language.
“The first year course in PPE is mostly introductory courses in each of the three disciplines. This is important, as it means that it is not necessary to have studied any of the three areas before. After the first year the course is more varied, as you can choose to drop one of the three subjects (or continue with all three).
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:
There are no specific subject requirements to study Theology and Religion at most universities. However, taking essay-based subjects is advised: