Choosing a course

How to choose

Look ahead. What could your course lead to?

You may already have an idea about your future, such as applying for higher education or a particular career. Some careers and university courses require you to have qualifications in particular subjects. Speak to an adviser or check the individual courses. If you’re not sure, it’s usually best to go with subjects you are likely to do well at and enjoy. You will still need to check what you can do with these subjects and try to keep your options open.

Your adviser will be able to discuss this with you in more detail, but you will need to find out some information yourself.


Courses available

Vocational courses

Levels 1, 2, 3

Vocational courses train you for specific jobs, such as catering, hairdressing, carpentry, bricklaying, motor mechanics and childcare. Vocational qualifications include those at Level 1, 2 and 3 and others such as City and Guilds qualifications. During a vocational course, you will be assessed on your practical skills and your ability to do the job.

Vocational qualifications are available from colleges, training providers, employers and some school sixth forms. They are best suited to people who know exactly what career they want to do and who are practical learners. Although vocational courses train you for a particular job, they can lead to a higher level job or apprenticeship in your chosen area or to higher level study.

General vocational courses

General vocational courses cover broad vocational areas, such as health and social care, travel and tourism, engineering, and performing arts. They combine academic study with practical learning.

Academic courses

Level 3 courses

The most common academic qualifications are A levels.

With A levels, most people study four subjects in the first year (or year 12) and achieve an AS level in each subject (some may take fewer than four subjects or study five).

In the second year (or year 13), most students will continue with three subjects and achieve A2 level qualifications.

A and AS levels started to change in 2015. The new A levels are two-year linear courses. This means that if you sit an AS level, the grade will not count towards your final A level grade.

The new A levels are being phased in. Subjects now available are art and design, biology, business, chemistry, classical Greek, computer science, dance, drama and theatre, economics, English language and literature, English language, English literature, French, geography, German, history, Latin, music, physical education, physics, psychology, religious studies, sociology, Spanish

Other subjects will be introduced from 2017 onwards. These include design and technology, environmental science, history of art, music technology and philosophy.

Core Maths

Core Maths is an exam that you take in the 6th form or at college alongside your A levels. It has been designed to maintain and develop real-life maths skills. You don’t study just theory, you study maths that can be applied on a day-to-day basis in work, study or life and most courses will include a financial maths element. It will also help with other A level subjects, in particular with science, geography, business, psychology and economics.

It has been developed so that students keep up their maths skills after GCSE as these skills are becoming increasingly important in the workplace and in higher education. Many students who study maths after GCSE improve their career choices and increase their earning potential. It is a Level 3 qualification that attracts UCAS points.

The International Baccalaureate (IB)

Students choose six subjects, three at higher level and three at standard level and combine this with a ‘Core’. This core consists of study and life skills and is taken by every IB student.

The AQA Baccalaureate

This consists of three A levels plus an AS level or Level 3 Core Maths qualification. It also includes an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and core enrichment activities, which include work-related learning, community or voluntary work and personal development activities such as public speaking, first aid, photography, sport or performing arts.

Choosing your Level 3 subjectsChoicesWeb-Image-8

Your choice of subject at Level 3 could have some impact on which university courses will accept you so you need to plan carefully.

Some higher education courses require specific subjects, grades (at GCSE as well as at Level 3) plus relevant work experience, so you’ll need to do some research before making your final choice of subject.

For example, if you hope to go into medicine, most medical schools will ask for A/A* GCSEs especially in sciences and A/A* at A2 in chemistry and biology plus one other A2 and an AS in an additional subject. You will also need to take an admissions test (such as a BMAT) and they will expect you to have gained some relevant work experience during your A level studies.

Some popular degree courses, such as law and psychology, would prefer that you did not take those A level subjects for their degree courses.

To find out exactly what is needed, use the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website: You can then find out exactly what each course requires.

For further help, speak to your head of sixth at school, your adviser or phone/email university admission departments to ask their advice.