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Choices at 16

How can I help my child choose their A Levels?

About A Levels

A Levels are Level 3 qualifications which your child can choose to take after GCSEs -  in schools, 6th form centres or at a Further Education College.   A levels are linear qualifications, studied over two years with final exams and assessments taking place at the end.  Most students will study 3 subjects at A Level and each school and college will have set entry requirements for students to start A Levels. These will differ in different schools, but young people will often need to have at least 5 GCSE passes at Grade 5/6 or above and, for the subjects they wish to take at A Level, they may need a Grade 6/7 for some subjects - check with your school/college. Full details of requirements will be on the school or college websites.

Your child can stay on at their school for A Levels (if they have a sixth form) or they can apply to study at a different 6th form or college. Not all schools and colleges offer the same A Levels so it is worth looking at all the possibilities.

When helping your child with their A Level choices, you could consider the following:

  • Have they considered the other options open to them at this stage, such as vocational qualifications, apprenticeships, T Levels? Are you up to date with the different pathways they can choose?  Careerpilot has more information on the Choices at 16.
  • Encourage your child to really find out what is involved in the A Level subject. Often students assume that the A Level is going to be very similar to the GCSE but it may be very different, both in content and in the way it is taught. They may be expected to do much more independent work or there may be less practical work. 
  • If your child has a career idea in mind, or several ideas, encourage them to find out if they need specific A Levels. Careerpilot has information on 800+ jobs. If they have a specific degree in mind, they could check out the entry requirements on the UCAS website, (which has detailed information about all full-time higher education courses) as they may need specific A Levels. It is important they realise that they could change their mind about their current career idea. Therefore: their choices should be based on subjects which will keep their options open; which they will enjoy; which they believe they will do well in.
  • There is a huge range of subjects to choose from. A Levels provide an opportunity to carry on with a subject they really like or start a new subject which was not available as a GCSE. Some A Level subjects are regarded as subjects that can lead on to many options later, known as ‘facilitating‘ subjects -  such as maths, English, physics, biology or chemistry, history or geography or a language. It is good to have a mixture of facilitating and non-facilitating subjects, check exactly what the course requirement are as some courses ask for specific A levels.
  • Talk through the possibilities with your child to find out what they like and dislike about the possible A Level subjects. With your help and with advice from their teachers, they should be able to make a realistic appraisal of their ability in different subjects. It is often very difficult for a young person to see beyond a ‘passion pitch’ that a teacher may make to your child, especially if they are academically strong in many subjects. Everyone likes to hear that a teacher would really want him or her in his or her class, but this is about your child choosing the right subjects in the right combination for them.
  • Many schools and colleges hold open days or evenings throughout the year and it is a good idea for you both to attend as this will help you to discuss the possible options. Many schools also offer taster lessons in the subjects they are considering taking. It is not uncommon for schools to have very early closing dates for the 6th form, to help with planning the timetable and staffing but, there is nothing to prevent a student from making more than one application and then holding these places before making up their mind later on.  

How to choose your A levels

About AS Levels

AS Levels are stand alone qualifications and are about the equivalent of half an A level.  They are stand alone qualifications taken over 1 year and no longer count towards achieving a full A level.  They can be studied alongside A levels and attract UCAS points. 

More information

  • Careerpilot has more information about A Levels here

  • Schools and colleges will provide information and advice that will help your child to make the right decision for them.

  • UCAS, which is the site with information about all full-time higher education courses and how to apply, provides further information about choosing A Levels which you can read here.

  • This article from gives you five points to consider and The Uni Guide gives you six points to consider when choosing A Levels. 

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